Pratyahara – Withdrawing the senses.
Pratyahara practices have been described in a number of texts and are transmitted in the oral tradition. These begin after one has learnt the shithili-karana (relaxation) kriyas. These kriyas grant entry into pranamaya kosha, and revive even the most weakened energy in the body. They leads one to gather the sensations and desires of the senses and of the body, raises them on the pathways of the breath, and into the calmest core of the mind whereby the senses may then merge into mind’s calmness. The breath is felt as flowing between and among the 16 or more adharas, points of concentration, listed in the yoga texts. The breath is felt as though flowing between and among the points of various chakras. Very soon one feels the sensation of a subtle flow even though it is anatomically impossible for the physical breath itself to go into, say, the toes. The sensation is of the flow of prana which has now been unblocked to flow. There are at least four different ways the breath awareness may be experienced in this system of kriyas. We give here only the first sentences of four of the basic kriyas as they may be guided by a real teacher :
- inhale as though inhaling from the crown of the head; exhale as though from your toes.
- inhale as though inhaling from the ajna chakra and exhaling from the crown of the head.
- inhale as though inhaling from the toes; exhale as though from the crown of the head
- inhale as though from the crown of the head; exhale as though from the ajna chakra.
So, in a sequence among different points to be taught by one experienced. This, again, may be practiced with a mantra or without; with certain visualizations (to be prescribed by one’s guide) or without. The method may also be used for distributing the energy of mantra–nyasas in the body, especially for making vyapaka-nyasa efficacious. The breath awareness kriyas described above are only indications of the more complex systems which it is not effective or helpful to give in writing. These breath awareness kriyas lead one to experience
- sukshma-pranayama in which breath is forgotten and all pranayamas, starting from rechaka to different forms of kumbhaka etc. are experienced only in pranamaya kosha, and
- kevala-kumbhaka in which the breath becomes so subtle that without any preparatory exercises it ceases, merges into akasha-tattva.
Then siddhis like para-kaya-pravesha and iccha-mrtyu may be accomplished and/or samadhi ensues.
Let us close with the injunction from yajur-veda-samhita (29.55):
Upa shvasaya prthivim uta dyam
Make the earth and the sky breathe closely.