Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Pratyahara and Non-Attachment July 3, 2011

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is pratyahara, the drawing-in of the senses. When we practice pratyahara, we refuse to let our senses make our decisions for us. So often, our senses will identify something they like and want more of it. That pizza tastes good! I like watching this show! It’s comfortable to relax on the couch! and so we eat more pizza, we watch two more episodes of Doctor Who, and we curl up on the couch for four hours. The problem is not in any one of those things in themselves. It’s fine to eat pizza sometimes, and Doctor Who is probably my favorite show. The issue arises when I’m not making my decision for myself but rather letting my senses make the decision. Two or three slices of pizza is great, but I don’t need to eat the whole pie, and I don’t need to order another pizza tomorrow. When I let myself binge out on something, I’m not consciously making that decision but rather allowing my senses to overdose on things that I like. Practicing pratyahara means that maybe I have some pizza today, but not every day, and I have a side salad or maybe go jogging afterwards; it means that I watch one episode of Doctor Who, but then I get up off the couch and start my evening routine so I can be in bed on time and get a good night’s sleep. If I make decisions consciously, then I will be taking better care of myself.

Non-attachment goes hand in hand with pratyahara. When our senses get used to having their way all the time, they begin to crave the things they like. When I haven’t had any pizza for a few days, I start to feel it. I WANT pizza. If somebody in my office gets pizza for lunch, the smell wafts over and I get all jittery and want it so badly. If I let my senses be in charge, I’d be running for the elevator, walking down to my favorite pizza shop, and trying to justify it because after all I did get the veggie slice. Practicing non-attachment, though, allows me to separate myself from that craving. I take a minute and think, do I really need pizza today? The craving doesn’t run my life, I do not NEED a slice of pizza right now, and I have a perfectly good lunch in the fridge waiting for me.

When we practice non-attachment with the objects in our lives, we can still enjoy things, still go shopping, still have stuff, but all those things don’t run our lives. We’re able to clean out our closets and take the old clothes to Goodwill. We’re able to lend out our books without stressing out about when or if we’ll get them back. If a vase gets broken, oh well, there are plenty more vases. If your husband eats the ice cream you were saving for Saturday, it’s not a big deal. Any one of those things could be upsetting or frustrating, but if you’re practicing non-attachment, you can come at the situation more calmly, with a little bit of distance that allows you to see things more clearly. Your husband didn’t know you were saving that ice cream; whoever broke the vase feels terribly about it. Having a little distance allows you to choose how you’ll react, so that rather than just yelling, you can choose to treat the other person with kindness and make a bad situation better instead of worse.

What are some ways you know to take control of your senses, rather than letting them rule over you? How do you cultivate non-attachment in your daily life?


June Teacher Training Weekend: Saturday: pratyahara, meditation, and teaching practice June 29, 2011

In Saturday’s teacher training class, we continued our discussion of relaxation and moved on to pratyahara and meditation.

Pratyahara refers to the drawing-in of the senses. It’s a gateway to higher levels of consciousness, which makes sense when you think about it, because it’s our senses that distract us from meditation and spiritual practice. We want to look out the window, we hear a strange sound, we adjust our clothing or shift around, something smells funny, and it all leads to distraction, whether you’re in a church or on your yoga mat. Our senses exist to protect us and help us to survive, but in the modern day and age, we rarely need to rely on our senses for survival anymore. Drawing in the senses, blocking out the outside world, can help us to focus on our meditation or spiritual practice.

J gave a great talk on meditation as well. Meditation begins with concentration, and we actually start meditation right in the middle of yoga practice as we concentrate on our asana postures. Then we take that concentration and apply it to focusing our minds. This month, I’ll be talking a lot about concentration and meditation as I practice these things every day. Here are this month’s homework projects:

  • Read the book Passage Meditation by Eknath Easwaran
  • Read book II of the Yoga Sutras (we’ve read some of this; just need to finish whatever we haven’t done yet)
  • Practice meditation daily
  • Keep a journal of my meditation practice; write a reflection paper based on the experience
  • Write up a guided relaxation sequence
  • Pose of the Month write-ups: two backbends

When I first heard the homework assignments, I was excited because I’ve wanted to do more with meditation for a long time. Then J began to talk about how important it is to practice meditation every single day, always at the same time and in the same place. This month, F and I are going to be moving to a new home – there won’t be a same time, same place for a while, at least not every day. As J talked, I began to feel discouraged before I even began. I asked J for advice, and he said, “Then practice meditation sitting with your boxes.” He said not to let the situation get in the way of my practice, and to focus on appreciating the boxes – after all, they mean we’re moving to a beautiful new home! I felt so much better and was glad I’d said something.

Saturday’s class was a big help to me because I always feel like I’m doing meditation wrong. I read a lot of books by Buddhist monks and other spiritual authors, and they always say that it’s difficult to calm the mind, but I figured, a Buddhist monk has no experience with the insanity going on in my brain. I thought I must be terrible at meditation because I keep getting so distracted. Now, though, I feel a little more reassured that getting distracted is part of the experience – that’s just what happens, and it happens to everybody. I’m not doing it wrong, and I’m actually doing it not too badly. I have a variety of meditation exercises to try this month, and I’ll share them all with you here.

At the end of Saturday’s class, we did some yoga teaching practice. J told us to pair up, but my pair decided to join with another pair into a group of four. This meant that none of us got quite as much teaching practice – instead of teaching half of the time, we each taught a quarter of the time – but the experience more than made up for this. It was really good to work with my classmates and hear their voices as teachers. We’re all getting much more confident! We also had the freedom this time to teach poses that aren’t necessarily part of J’s or N’s usual repertoire. Sarah gave us some challenging standing poses to do, and I taught some of my favorite seated poses. We’re all getting there! I don’t know if I’ll have time to practice teaching on friends and family this month, but I hope I get the chance soon.