PRATYAHARA

Photography by Hailee YoungThe ancient yogis teach about the value of taking time to withdraw our senses from the world in order to bring our attention to our inner experience. Pratyahara is this process of temporarily turning away from the intense stimulations of the world so that we can tune into the subtle elements of our inner experience.

Pratyahara is comprised of the word ‘prati’ meaning ‘away’ and the word ‘ahara’ meaning ‘food. This can mean taking a break from eating food in order to rest the body. It can also mean taking some time to meditate and withdraw from the outer world or it could also mean going away for some time to retreat from the demands of everyday life. It is when we take a break from something that we are able to return to it with fresh eyes and senses. This invites us to appreciate those every day things and people in our lives that we may take for granted.

Taking time to do a 1-3 day juice fast is a wonderful way to practice pratyahara. It gives your digestive system a rest and allows it to heal. As you remove toxins, new cell growth is created. It also allows you to cleanse emotions that have been lodged in the body. I believe it is best to do gentle cleanses with support throughout the experience. Going away to retreat gives you time to be gentle with yourself and listen to the needs of your body, as well having the support of others on the retreat. When you are true to yourself you will always feel more whole and healthy.

I have experienced many retreats over the past two decades. In the silent retreats we withdraw from talking so we can bring that energy inside to observe the on goings of the monkey mind. It is quite enlightening once you realize that this monkey mind controls so much of our words and actions. It is through this practice of pratyahara that you can quiet the mind and clean the inner-lens of perception. This allows you see things more clearly; to see things actually how they are. Sometimes we don’t want to see the truth, but ultimately this is the only path to true freedom.

Mindful eating is also a wonderful practice of pratyahara. It invites us to slow down the experience of eating so that you pay more attention to what you are eating and to your body. This allows us to be more in tune to how much we eat and what is best for us to eat. We are all unique so we can all benefit from listening to the wisdom of our bodies. My first invitation to mindful eating was from a Priest who taught me Yoga and we ate a peach together. The smell before we ate it was glorious and the feel of the fuzzy texture tickled my lips. As we took the first bite, I felt a cool sensation of the juice drip down my chin. Then the flavour burst inside my mouth! All of my senses were alive in that moment and I had never felt so appreciative of a peach before. Mindful eating invites us to be fully present in the moment which cultivates gratitude for all we have.

We can practice pratyahara by creating space for yoga and meditation practice. It is best to eliminate as many distractions as possible so that you can bring your attention inwards. Imagine going away for a weekend retreat (or longer) and taking time to unwind from the busyness of life. This can be challenging for many who have a hard time letting go. We tend to want to stay in control and retreat is about surrender. This can bring up uncomfortable emotions and you may want to run from them. The practice invites us to stay, even if it is challenging, and to ride the waves of each moment. As we give ourselves this time to rest and reflect we do come through to a place of renewal. It is best when you can withdraw from the world a little each day and even better when you can get away for longer periods. You will return feeling more vibrant and alive!

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