Pratyahara is the 5th limb of yoga, and is withdrawal of the senses. But what does withdrawing the senses do for yoga practitioners? It gives yogis the chance to get away from the constant stimulus of daily living in modern society, and withdraw into the mind, in hopes of finding and cultivating the true self or Atman. In practicing pratyahara, we must not let any external stimuli into our awareness. This leads us to deep meditation, and eventually samadhi (dissolving of the ego).
Pratyahara is considered by BKS Iyengar to be the “hinge” or pivotal point in the yogic journey, because it is the step where we move from our behaviors and action in the outside world, to diving deep within in order to “gain knowledge of the self”. Pratyahara is literally the opposite of what we have learned since birth; instead of looking outside of ourselves for happiness or reaction, we consciously move inward to the mind and the self.
BKS Iyengar also points out that in turning inward, we must “self-study” intensely, because of the grip of the ego. The key to dropping ego is through concentration, attention, curiosity or flow. Iyengar states that practicing pratyahara must come out of the previous limbs, specifically asana, and pranayama, which begin to still the sporadic mind. Meditation is a great start to dive closer to the self, but for deeper sensory withdrawal experiences, people are going all over the continent, and many to Vancouver to try Isolation tanks.
Isolation tanks float users in water infused with Epsom salts at the same temperature as their skin for 90 minutes to two hours. The user is effectively weightless, in pure darkness, and closed off to outside noise. Welcome to the theater of the mind. Users of floatation tanks report deeply spiritual experiences, along with vivid visualizations, or hallucinations in some cases. Many isolation tanks centers are popping up across North America, offering users the anti-gravity experience. Other benefits of isolation tanks include: increased magnesium absorption, deep meditation, pain management, heightened senses, increased endorphins, “super” learning, and increased healing and rejuvenation.
Whether or not you consider using an isolation tank, ask yourself what practices you could begin to begin to include in your day, to slow or stop the external stimuli from coming in, in exchange for deeper self-awareness, and inquiry into the self.
Matt Cooke is a 200-hour Kripalu Certified Yoga teacher and 5th year senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, studying Health Promotion/Wellness and Musical Theater. Matt’s yoga classes are a sweet blend of living optimally, and taking action to soften to our Creative Warriors!
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