Pratyahara: An Ancient Practice for Modern Times

Pratyahara is a Sanskrit word meaning “to turn away from the world.” The term was coined by Sri Aurobindo in his book The Life Divine (1905). It refers to a state of spiritual awakening or enlightenment achieved through meditation. Pratyahara is not necessarily associated with any particular religion; it may refer to anything that leads one out of the cycle of birth and death into higher states of consciousness.

The term is derived from the Vedic hymn Prithivi (“Turn Away”) which describes a similar experience of turning away from the world. According to Sri Aurobindo, the phrase “turning away” is a metaphor for awakening to deeper levels of being.

Sri Aurobindo’s description of pratyahara has been used to explain various practices, such as the Vipashyana meditation technique, the Sivananda Yoga Tantra method of meditation, and other forms of transcendental meditation.

In contrast to some modern definitions, Sri Aurobindo did not mean that pratyahara meant complete cessation from all activities. Rather he believed that it could be attained only through certain yogic techniques. For example, he believed that one must learn to quiet the mind through meditation before one could begin to achieve pratyahara.

The description below outlines the techniques of achieving pratyahara through meditation.

Seek out a secluded spot to begin your meditation. This may be your bedroom, a corner of your room, or any place that is not likely to be disturbed. You may sit either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, whichever you find most comfortable.

Do not undertake this practice lightly. It is an extremely taxing process that involves complete focus and discipline. Sit up straight in your chosen position, close your eyes, and begin to take slow, deep breaths. You want to completely relax your entire body during this process. Try not to think about anything; just focus on your breathing. After a few minutes of deep breathing, repeat to yourself the word “one.” As you breathe in, say the word “one” in your head. As you breathe out, say “one” again. Continue this for several minutes. When you feel yourself slipping out of focus or your mind starts to wander, quietly return your attention to your breathing and the word “one.” Continue in this way until you feel you are done with this part of the practice. (You may also continue for as long as you like or as long as you find useful; this is a meditation technique, after all.) After some time, move on to the next step. Focus on a single object in the room where you’re sitting. It can be anything: a chair, the floor, a picture on the wall. Just pick something and focus on it. Don’t worry if your mind starts to wander during this process; that’s perfectly normal. Whenever you notice that your mind has wandered, quietly and gently return your focus to the chosen object. After some time, you will feel yourself beginning to lose focus. That is the key moment. As soon as you notice that you are no longer focusing on the object of your meditation, close your eyes and draw your focus inward. This is a moment when many people get scared or feel as if something unnatural is happening. If you feel fear at this point, do not be alarmed; it is perfectly natural. After you close your eyes, take a deep breath and mentally repeat the word “one” several times.

Still feeling anxious?

That’s okay. It’s perfectly normal and you’re not going crazy! Whenever you feel anxious during meditation, take a deep breath and just keep focusing on the word “one.” After a few minutes return your focus to the room you’re sitting in. If you still feel anxious or as if something unnatural is happening, get up and immediately seek out other people to be around. Do not worry; this feeling should pass after some time. And when you return, try the meditation exercise again. With regular practice, it will get easier and you will see progress in your abilities.

The most prominent feature of this technique is keeping a gentle focus on a single object without allowing your mind to wander. You may retreat from this technique by closing your eyes and repeating the word “one” several times to focus yourself. However, many people also choose to sit quietly with their eyes open and focus on a particular object.

Pratyahara: An Ancient Practice for Modern Times - Picture

Both techniques are useful and which one you chose is personal preference. That’s it! In actuality, the basic concept behind this technique is very simple and can be summed up in four words: Focus on One Thing. That being said, meditating for long periods of time may become boring or repetitive for some people. Do not feel pressured to spend hours and hours meditating; a half hour every other day should be enough to reap all of the benefits.

Sources & references used in this article:

Concept and scope of pratyahara in management of mental health by KM Tripathi – Foundations of Indian Psychology Volume 2 …, 2011 – books.google.com

The history of yoga from ancient to modern times by YMD Bhavanani – 2011 – icyer.com

Yoga body: The origins of modern posture practice by M Singleton – 2010 – books.google.com