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Pratyahara: A Useful Tool of Mental Health Management
Mindful meditation has undeniable benefits for promoting positive mental health. The practice of sustained, focused concentration on the internal stimulus, originally thought Buddhist, is now attributed to ancient Vedic teachings. The following text examines how pratyahara is emerging as a mental health management and maintenance strategy.
What is Pratyahara?
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of the eight-limb path of yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is the practice of withdrawing the senses inward, away from external stimuli, and is considered a crucial step in the journey toward self-realization and enlightenment. There has been considerable backing for these antique practices as well. Dhodne and Gowda found that regular application of pratyahara practices was positively correlated with positive mental health identifiers in both the adolescent and adult populations.
Two Sanskrit words, prati and ahara, are combined to form the word "pratyahara." Food or "whatever we take into ourselves from the outside" is called "ahara." The preposition "prati" means "against" or "aside." Pratyahara translates as "gaining mastery over external forces" or "managing ahara." It has been likened to a turtle curled inside its shell; the shell represents the mind, while the turtle's limbs represent the senses. Although the phrase is typically interpreted as "separation from the senses," it means much more. According to yogic philosophy, there are three degrees of ahara, or food. The first is physical nourishment, which provides the five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and ether—that the body needs to be nourished. The second is impressions, which bring in the subtle substances required to feed the mind.
The sounds, touches, sights, tastes, and smells make up the subtle elements: sound is ether, touch is air, sight is fire, the taste is water, and smell is earth. Our affiliations, or the individuals we hold dear to us, are the third level of ahara. They help feed our souls and impact us through the sattva, rajas, and tamas gunas (the prime qualities of harmony, distraction, or inertia). Pratyahara has two aspects. It entails letting go of undesirable foods, undesirable impressions, and undesirable connections while simultaneously opening up to desirable foods, desirable impressions, and associations. Without a portion of healthy food and healthy relationships, we cannot regulate our mental impressions.
However, the main benefit of pratyahara is the control or withdrawal from sensory impressions, which frees the mind to wander inside. Pratyahara improves the mind's immunity by removing our consciousness from unfavorable impressions. A healthy mind is as resistant to the harmful sensory effects surrounding it as a healthy body is. You should do Pratyahara if the noise and commotion around you quickly jar you, and you will not be able to meditate without it.
Types of Pratyahara
The four basic types of pratyahara are indriya-pratyahara, which is the control of the senses, prana-pratyahara, which is the control of the breath, karma-pratyahara, which is the control of action, and mano-pratyahara, which is the withdrawal of the mind from the senses. Each has unique techniques.
Control of the Senses (Indriya-pratyahara)
The most significant type of pratyahara is indriya-pratyahara, or control of the senses, even though this is not something we want to hear about in our culture that values mass media. Due to the continual barrage of media from newspapers, magazines, books, computers, television, radio, and everything else, most of us suffer from sensory overload. For our commercial society to work, our senses must be stimulated. Bright colors, loud noises, and dramatic experiences are always around us. Our society's primary source of entertainment and sensory enjoyment is what we were reared on. Pratyahara focuses on getting the appropriate impressions in. Most of us are selective about the foods we consume and the people we spend time with, but we might not be as selective about the impressions our senses give us. We tolerate impressions from the media that we never permit in our private life. Through television and movies, we welcome visitors into our homes that we never would. Strong sensations make us act insensitively, carelessly, or even violently because they numb the intellect.
Control of the Prana (Prana-Pratyahara)
Prana must be developed and controlled to govern the senses since the senses follow prana (our vital energy). We will not be able to master the senses until our prana is powerful. Our senses will likewise be disorganized and disturbed if our prana is dispersed or disrupted. Pratyahara is prepared for via pranayama. In pranayama, prana is collected, while in pratyahara, it is removed. The toes are the starting point for prana withdrawal techniques described in yogic books, and we can conclude the process at the third eye, the heart, the top of the head, or any other chakra if that is where we want to focus our attention.
Control of Action (Karma-Pratyahara)
Without additionally managing the motor organs, we cannot control the sense organs. In actuality, our motor organs actively engage us with the outside environment, and we become more sensory-engaged due to the motor organs' ability to convey impulses from our senses. Since there is no limit to want, achieving our goals does not make us happy; rather, it makes us happy to require anything from the outside world no longer. In the same way, the sense organs are controlled by the impressions we take, and our actions control the motor organs. This entails practicing karma yoga, giving back to others, and turning daily activities into revered rituals. By renunciation all desire for personal gain from our actions and treating everything we do as an act of service to God or humanity, we can practice karma-pratyahara.
Withdrawal of the Mind (Mano-Pratyahara)
According to the yogis, the mind is the sixth sense organ and controls all the other sense organs, making it the sixth sense organ. Only when our minds are focused can we pick up sensory experiences. We always engage in pratyahara. Because the mind can only focus on one sensory impression at a time, we must block out other perceptions to focus on one. We naturally fail to notice other things while we focus on one thing. By turning our focus away from our sensations, we can control them. The Yoga Sutras II.54 states that pratyahara occurs when the senses emulate the character of the mind rather than conforming to their objectives.
Psychological Effects of Pratyahara
Cultivating Mindfulness and Self-Awareness
When external stimuli constantly bombard us, it can be difficult to find a sense of inner calm and tune into our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. By practicing pratyahara, we can create a space of inner quiet and stillness that allows us to turn our attention inward and become more attuned to our inner experience. This can help us to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, and it can also help us to cultivate a more peaceful and centered state of mind. In addition to helping us to turn inward and become more self-aware, pratyahara can also help us develop greater awareness of our surroundings and the present moment. When we are not constantly distracted by external stimuli, we can become more attuned to the subtle nuances of our environment and the present moment. This can help us cultivate a sense of presence and fully engage with the world around us rather than being lost in our thoughts or caught up in our mental distractions.
Managing Stress and Emotions
This is another facet of the practice of pratyahara and a characteristic feature of Buddhist meditation. A fast-paced world makes it difficult to focus our lenses on fleeting thoughts. When confronted with adversity, there is a tendency to relegate the automatic thoughts to being resolved independently. Mindfulness practices like pratyahara allow us to intentionally attend to the thoughts beneath the backdrop of active consciousness and recognize how they influence our waking. This enlivens our self-awareness and allows us to gather more agency in our lives rather than simply being victims of unconscious forces.
Deepening Spiritual Practice and Connection to the Divine
Pratyahara can be a helpful tool for deepening our spiritual practice and connection to the divine. By withdrawing the senses from the external world and turning inward, we can create a space of inner stillness and silence that allows us to connect more deeply with the divine and experience a sense of unity and oneness with the universe. It is to be noted here that the word "divine" does not necessarily refer to the God of a particular religion or sect. Rather, it is a reference to
Develop Self-Compassion and Improving Self-Concept
Pratyahara can also help individuals develop a greater sense of self-compassion. By acknowledging and accepting their struggles and imperfections, individuals can learn to be more understanding and kind towards themselves rather than constantly striving for perfection or judging themselves harshly. This can be particularly beneficial for those struggling with mental health issues, as it can help them feel more resilient and better able to cope with life's challenges. Furthermore, pratyahara can also help individuals develop a greater sense of self-acceptance. By recognizing and valuing their unique strengths and qualities, individuals can learn to feel more confident and positive about themselves, which can, in turn, help improve their mental health and overall well-being.
Derivatives of Pratyahara
The pratyahara sense of withdrawal is a key principle in many Indian philosophical and spiritual traditions. It has several derivatives that are also important in promoting mental health and well-being.
These derivatives include
Dharana, or concentration, is the principle of focusing the mind on a single object or thought. This principle is closely related to pratyahara, as it involves withdrawing the senses from external stimuli and focusing the mind inward. By cultivating Dharana, individuals can learn to calm their minds and be more present and focused in their daily lives.
Dhyana, or meditation, is the principle of sustained concentration on a single object or thought. This principle is closely related to pratyahara and Dharana, as it involves withdrawing the senses from external stimuli and focusing the mind inward for an extended period. By cultivating dhyana, individuals can learn to cultivate a sense of inner peace and clarity and to be more mindful and present in their daily lives.
Samadhi, or enlightenment, is the principle of merging the individual self with the ultimate reality. This principle is closely related to pratyahara, Dharana, and dhyana, as it involves a deep concentration and mindfulness that allows the individual to transcend the ego and connect with the ultimate reality. By cultivating samadhi, individuals can cultivate a sense of unity and oneness with the world and experience deeper meaning and purpose in their lives.
The practice of pratyahara can have a wide range of applications in our lives, from cultivating mindfulness and self-awareness to managing stress and emotions, improving concentration and focus, and deepening our spiritual connection. It is an important step towards self-realization and enlightenment and can bring inner peace, balance, and fulfillment to our lives.
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