Pratyahara is the yogic term form for withdrawing your mind from the sensory input of the outside world. When we sever this connection, it allows the mind to find a place of ease.
The cellphone can ring, ping and buzz like an angry bee. We do not hear it nor feel it’s vibration. The television can strobe images of sensational news. We do not notice. The smell of a savory barbecue can waft through the windows from next door. We do not smell it nor salivate. We are within ourselves in a cocoon of solace. We are untouched and unphased by the outside world.
This is not easy to achieve nor always desirable. But, it is a nice tool to have when needed.
A few weeks ago I was teaching a yoga class to 20 women on an outdoor patio. Nearby, a group of buff and grey haired men were speaking loudly, over the sound of my voice and the music. One of the gym attendants asked the loudest man if he could bring the volume down just a notch. In response, he bellowed, “I will not be quiet!” Aside from being incredibly rude, it visibly upset all the women in the class. They gasped. Their senses were now supercharged. They started talking to one another in disbelief. This could have been a terrible way to begin a yoga class.
Instead, I saw this as an opportunity to practice sense withdrawal. However, not immediately. First, I tried to remain calm. I worked as manager at Nordstrom and one of the company mantras, “Lead my example,” rang in my head. I also channeled my inner valley girl, dropped my jaw and stated, “Seriously?” I flipped my hand in a dismissive fashion toward the space where this man’s blast arose.
I told the class that part of yoga was knowing how to release things and let them go. It was also important to stress that as yogis, we were not lambs but more like monkeys. We keep our sense of humor.
We began the class with belly breathing exercises and a strong exhale, with the word, “Ha!” We did 8 of those. After that, we proceeded with 30 seconds of “haha” belly breathing. At times I put my hand over my mouth and pretending that I was laughing, like a bratty monkey. Some of the participants were laughing by the end.
After clearing the space, we began breathing with movement and blocking out the voices of territorial men. We could bring our minds back into our bodies and flow with the breath alongside us, within us and around us. Throughout the class, I sprinkled a few more moments of the group surround sound , “Ha!”
Close to the end, we practiced a lot of lion’s breath. It looks like a Maori warrior prepping for a Rugby match. Tongue is out while saying a slow and long “Haaaaaa!” It really is not the prettiest facial expression. Try it in the mirror and you will scare yourself.
We settled into svasana or the final resting pose, a meditation while lying on our backs. This is where pratyhara can really manifest and the brain can restore and reset.
Based on everything, I figured that this was going to be one of the most restless resting mediatations I had ever seen.
Not so. The women were quite relaxed. Throughout the class, we found our voice. We responded in a slightly absurd and Lysistrata manner to a trespass. We blocked out the aggression of the animal kingdom by being playful.
After class I did speak with management and let them know what transpired. What happened was by no means acceptable behavior, but as yogis we learned resilience amidst this time of high emotions.
Personally, I have been on a writer’s withdrawal for over a year. I hope to write more consistently going forward. I have many tales of teaching yoga, encountering moments of wonder and disbelief. This was a moment of wonder. I guess this is what you would call, an “Aha!”
Peace and Yoga,