My family has a small cottage upstate, a very simple, quiet place on a lake. I grew up going there and during my 9 years of living in New York City have made it a ritual trip every summer. I went last weekend and, as always, I was struck by the simplicity it offers. For the longest time we didn't have a TV nor wifi. It is a place where you sit on the dock, lie in the hammock, gaze at the stars and things start to slow down. Even though we now have a couple of modern upgrades, it still encourages these habits that enable one to take a step back and have some much needed reflection time.
The cottage, affectionately referred to as the lake, instills the values of a life simplified, where just being is the goal and the to do lists and worries about the future melt away. The beauty is that when offered the opportunity to step back, so often it is the very time when one is gifted with inspiration, solutions, motivation. Sometimes all we need is just a little space, a little distance so we can return to our thoughts with a clearer perception.
At the Shala we have been making our way through the 8 limbs of yoga, focusing on one limb each month. More often than not, when we think of yoga we think of the 3rd limb of yoga, the physical element of the practice. Of the 8 limbs of yoga, Asana practice, the physical practice, is an incredibly important part of yoga but our practice and lives can benefit from taking a look at the other 7 limbs.
August’s focus has been on the 5th limb, Pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses. As the limbs progress, they move from an external focus to a more internal one with Pratyahara as the limb that initiates this transition. In an age where we are constantly plugged in, we are at risk of sensory overload and we could all benefit from a bit of introspection that can be found with this practice.
Fall always comes with a ‘back to school’ feeling, when not only kids go back to school but we return to our usual routines after a summer where there is often travel and/or schedule shifts. I usually take the lake trip in August and this time enables me to recharge my batteries, collect my thoughts and pave a clear mental path on which to travel when the Fall begins.
We can find this same space and sense of ease, minus the 5 hour drive to the finger lakes, by practicing Pratyahara. By noticing when our attention starts to move externally, we have the opportunity to bring it back. This practice enables a break from distractions and creates room for some clarity that will leave one replenished, restored and ready to embrace the autumn ahead.
Ways to Practice Pratyahara:
Take a Technology Break
Turn off your phone, shut down the computer. Whether you are outside or indoors, cut down on your distractions.
Find a tall seat, close your eyes, focus on your breath. Even if just for a few minutes, meditation practice can do wonders to help you turn the senses inwards.
Focus on Drishti, or eye gaze, during Yoga Practice
Paying extra attention to where the eyes focus in practice is a great way to decrease distractions.