Sunday, April 5, 2009
Honoring the Inside
The five senses are used to quest outward, tasting, touching, smelling, hearing and seeing our way through the world. Even as we are learning about the first four limbs of yoga (and their components) we are using our senses going outward to integrate ourselves peacefully into the world. In the first limb, Yama, we watch ourselves acting in the world, and ask, are we harming, lying, stealing, etc.? It requires that we watch the outer world to get feedback and see how we are doing. Similarly with the second limb, Niyama, we must watch and see, are we expressing purity, contentment, discipline, etc.? Are we doing these things? Are we living life according to these tenets? The third limb, Asana, is what we do with our bodies, as in posture. And the fourth limb, Pranayama is breath control. How are we breathing? How are the ribs moving? How is the belly moving or not? These four limbs have landmarks in time and space, directly related with the physical world, and looking to it for feedback towards the aim of growth.
The fifth limb in Ashtanga yoga is Pratyahara, sense withdrawal. It calls for us to turn the senses away from external stimulation. We relax the eyes, not looking outward. Release the tendency to listen outward when practicing Pratyahara. Can we use the sense of touch to feel internal and subtle sensations? As the yogic explorer we ask, what is inside? What is there besides the world of external stimulation? In Pratyahara we devote the sense organs to who we are apart from the external life. It honors the inner self, prepares the space for going deeper into practice, and sets the stage for the next three limbs.
Pratyahara also informs my experience of myself, by teaching me to go inward. Instead of only a recorder and absorber of life’s energies, I also become a generator. I begin to consider and see what I want to put out there, instead of only wondering what I can take. Looking inward aligns us with our highest goals.