Life is challenging, especially now. There is turmoil, anger, uncertainty, and it is all being presented through ego. There are a lot of external forces that deeply upset me. But this trying time is exactly why I practice yoga and reminds me of its need in the world, now more than ever.
To focus on a very tiny component of on this incredibly intricate and ancient science that is thousands of years wise, I want to focus on one of the eight limbs of the practice and how it helps guide me through these tumultuous times. I also want to preface that this definition is my personal interpretation and translation of the ancient Yoga Sutras written in Sanskrit and I highly encourage you take some time to read the Sutras and find your own interpretation and meaning for yourself.
Limb number 5 resonates with me today because of my constant practice guiding me through the prior 4 limbs, and if you have any questions about any of them, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Pratyahara (turning inward)
For me, Pratyahara is one of the most grounding principles of the practice. In our daily lives, there are thousands of external forces and distractions. We are drawn to our phones every time a text message bings, we incessantly look to our social media accounts to see how many hearts or likes are there, or even at work or on a run, our minds are racing in regards to all of the other things we have to get done.
Pratyahara asks us to take a step back from these externalities and draw our intention inward towards ourselves. When we turn our off our phones, shut out the lights, and stop distracting ourselves with everything that is happening around us, we are forced to deal with what is happening within us. By turning off the external and focusing inward, we are able to learn about ourselves, what is happening within our minds, and how to find peace with ourselves in the present moment.
But it does not stop there.
We practice sitting in silence so we can use those tools, that ability to find peace with the own discomforts of our mind, and apply it to all other aspects of life. If we cannot find peace when there is stillness around us, it is going to be that much harder when we try to find peace when the inevitable chaos of life surrounds us.
One of my teachers, Stephen Bethel, speaks of yoga as he does farming. He runs and organic farm and yoga center. As he teaches about farming, he explains that the goal is not to eradicate all of the bugs in the ground, but that it is to create resilient soil so that plants may thrive, despite the inevitable challenges that nature brings. To me, that is why we practice yoga and meditation. Through Pratyahara, we create resilience in our minds so that we may handle the bugs and parasites of life. It does not happen over night. It takes years and years of consistent practice. But we start now, so that the seeds we plant today may flourish for years to come.
Today, there are a lot of bugs in the ground. But my practice and the principles behind Pratyahara help me aspire to find peace within myself so that I may carry that same contentment within the chaos of the world. That does not mean I do not pay attention to what is happening in the world around. I do not ignore it, but I don’t let it get to me. I notice how it makes me feel, I notice the repercussions on all living things, and I practice finding contentment within myself despite these things and I try to carry that into my daily life. For me, this means standing up for causes that I believe in and offering compassion to all, even those I disagree with. It’s hard. And I fail time and time again. But I keep breathing. I keep practicing.