Pratyahara: The Fifth Limb of Yoga
"It is not the daily increase, but the daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential."
-- Bruce Lee
Pratyahara: The 5th limb of yoga is this, the practice of drawing the senses inward, or removing the illusion of attachment to external objects.
Pratyahara asks us to address our attachment to the external world, and sense objects. So often we are triggered by our external world and go into auto-pilot mode, allowing our thoughts and behaviors to take us down a path of desire, greed, or the need to obtain 'something' in order to be complete or whole beings, in order to create a sense of validation for who we are in this world. These external objects are limitless; the latest apple device, a new car, clothes, food, alcohol, drugs, relationship to others. Please don't misunderstand, these things are not inherently bad, it is our dependency and addiction to them in order to fill a void that is what is insidious and harmful. We allow them to mask our true lessons in life. We allow them to provide temporary happiness because lasting happiness requires journeying within, which can be scary and daunting. Left unchecked this cycle of apparent need, desire, and attainment goes on and on for most of our lives. We end up feeling like we are living our own personal groundhog day. We forget to pause and question our motives. Why do I think I need this or that? What void is this filling? We forget that we are whole, complete beings, as we are. We are not broken. We do not need to be fixed.
What follows are a few methods that have helped me along my journey inward, and my hope is that one or more of these options helps you too:
1. Notice: It takes awareness of something to begin transformation. The first step is to observe when you begin to become triggered. Sometimes we are well beyond the trigger point by the time we notice we are hooked. This is okay. Simply notice, ah, this is attachment to something I think I need. Do this without judgement of yourself. Simply become aware.
2. Breath: At whatever point you notice your attachment, pause, become still, if at all possible sit down. Even if you are unable to sit, this exercise of simply noticing, then beginning to breath deeply, is highly effective. Take a deep breath in, and see if you can lengthen your exhale. Perhaps even bring the mind along with the breath. On the inhale, breath in the mantra "I am enough" on the exhale breath out "I am complete". Try for five rounds of breath (complete inhale, complete exhale).
3. Practice: It is always harder to remember to invoke this practice of mindfulness when you are already hooked and spiraling. We can all take five minutes out of our day to practice observation and breath work. I recommend setting the alarm clock five minutes earlier and finding a place to be still and notice your mental state, breathing in "I am enough" breathing out "I am complete". You can even do this in bed, lying down! Overtime, perhaps, work towards sitting up on a cushion or chair in a comfortable position.
4. Decrease: I want to address the quote at the beginning of this article: "It is not the daily increase, but the daily decrease." This may sound counter-intuitive to the practice that I just asked you to add to your day. Here me out. Practice letting go of something. What habit do you want to break? What attachment do you find yourself reaching for over and over again, only to find yourself unsatisfied? Set a goal of living your life without this thing for 60 days. Mark your calendar. Begin. If you miss a day, begin again, take as many beginnings as you need.
For example, when I was going through teacher training, I decided to stop texting for 60 days. I wanted to decrease the habit of hiding behind my device to connect with others. I wanted to decrease my reliance and attachment to my phone. I started by letting my friends and family know of this exercise and the purpose behind it. I did break my 60 day practice a few times, and I simply started my 60 days over, each time it got a little easier. Each day I realized that I didn't need my phone as much as I thought I did.
I recommend journaling throughout this process to notice what comes up and how you start to react. Often times these attachments are many-layered and we must peel back the onion to see what surfaces next.