Yoga – an 8 limbed system – Part 5

By Chris Irrgang

Continuing with our journey through the 8 limbs of yoga, we come to the 5th & 6th limbs.  I am combining these two limbs because they are so closely related.  The 5th limb is Pratyahara which translates to the withdrawal of the senses.  Doesn’t that sound mystical?  Actually, whenever we practice yoga postures or breathwork, we are practicing Pratyahara.  As a reminder, the five senses are touch, smell, taste, vision, and hearing.  When we allow the senses to become passive, the mind can turn inward, this is pratyahara.  A natural example of this is sleep.  Some other examples of pratyahara are getting a massage, a vacation by the sea or a walk in the woods.  

As the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara is the bridge between the physical and the meditative aspects of yoga.  I’m sure everyone’s favorite example of yogic pratyahara is Savasana.  Think about it, your eyes are closed, and you are encouraged to relax and let external stimulants pass by.  

The 6th limb of yoga is Dharana which translates to concentration.  Now we are going further inward.  Have you ever been so engrossed in what you are doing (painting, running, refinishing a dresser {me}) that everything else seems to float away?  Well, that was Dharana.  When we concentrate on something, the rest of the mind seems to calm down.  I’ve talked about this a bit in my classes.  I talk so much about what to do with your body in a posture, that any worry or nagging thought can be let go for at least a few moments.  

The mind is a muscle that we can train.  Focusing on one point and releasing extraneous bits is how we strengthen our mind.  The mind is constantly looking for entertainment.  Just look at the popularity/addictive nature of social media or our phones.  Our whole country needs to learn how to practice Dharana!  We are so proud of ourselves in our ability to multi-task.  But is that a good thing?  Try it!  Next time you are waiting at an appointment, don’t look at your phone.  Just be there, concentrating on the blue sky outside.  It’s hard, I know it is for me!  

As you practice, your concentration will get better and then you will be ready to tackle meditation.  But that’s the next blog.