Daily, I try to practice as many branches of yoga as possible. Many of us need to push ourselves to go beyond the most common yoga practices of breath and bodywork. Now, in my second month of quarantine, I strive to incorporate pratyahara, the fifth branch of yoga. But, it’s not as easy as the other forms of yoga. That’s why I’ve designed my own three-day silent retreat. It begins tonight, at sundown.
Sitting in a pose, or focusing on the breath, is pretty simple and straightforward. But pratyahara is harder to understand, much less practice. First, there’s no simple translation. Swami Sivananda explained, “Pratyahara itself is termed as Yoga, as it is the most important Anga (branch) in Yoga Sadhana (practice).”
A Yoga International article translated pratyahara as “gaining mastery over external influences.” The article further explains pratyahara “involves withdrawal from wrong food, wrong impressions, and wrong associations, while simultaneously opening up to right food, right impressions, and right associations. Just as a healthy body resists toxins and pathogens, a healthy mind resists the negative sensory influences around it. If you are easily disturbed by the noise and turmoil of the environment around you, you need to practice pratyahara.”
Definitely not that easy to comprehend. Or, practice. Michelle Fondin on chopra.com spelled out that pratyahara “teaches us to mindfully filter what we experience in our outer world so as not to live in constant fear or become overwhelmed.”
Our worlds, pre-quarantine, were so often overrun by an excess of unhealthy stimuli. Dodging vehicles, foot constantly on and off the brake pedal. A constant flow of billboards and enormous, sometimes flashing neon, signage can’t escape even our peripheral vision. Plus, responding to work/life demands 24/7.
Opening bills, which may include long lists of charges for non-essentials. Yet, items or services we have been led to believe we can’t live without. (Note: I have worked in marketing for more than 40 years.)
To intensify it all, we open our refrigerator or pantry. More often than not, piles of food items are crammed inside. Still, we grumble, “I have nothing to eat.” The same with our closets. Most are tasked daily with rifling through too many options of footwear, clothing, and accessories. Then again, we complain, “I have nothing to wear.” Overwhelmed by stuff. Choices. We may react by inaction. Or frustration. Purchase something new online.
Even worse, the unhealthy noise, messages, and images that blare from TV sets. Both programming as well as advertising.
Oftentimes, if there are four people living in one household, there are four smartphones, four cd players, and four televisions/monitors. Our society has created elaborate mechanisms to tune in to non-essential noise and visuals. Worse yet, we have no one to talk to. Communication is relegated to texts. As a result, we tune out others, along with ourselves.
As many of us are still trying to be safe at home, we should cherish — or seek — the doorway to our inner voice. Be safe with our minds and spirits. Listen to the inner knowledge. The inner self. Your inner voice. Not to say we shouldn’t be thankful to technology for connecting you with loved ones. But know when to disconnect.
Relish turning off external, unhealthy stimuli. Embrace isolation. Appreciate the sanctity of your home. For example, shut out whatever external annoying stimuli and noises still surround you. Conversely, appreciate the sound of silence. The chirping of the birds. What have you been shutting out from your own thoughts for far too long? Examine what is often ignored. Your true nature.
Humans were not intended to be packed in automobiles, tied to a computer, or working at an assembly line. We were created to be symbiotic with the planet. Rather than overtakers and eliminators of nature. Humans are just a speck in this universe. Not the focal point.
Embrace all that Mother Nature provides right now. The colors of the sky. The beauty of day and night. The perfectness in every stone, every blade of grass, every flower. The simplicity of growing your own fruit, vegetables, and herbs.
The word quarantine comes from the Latin word quadraginta, or forty. In Latin America, the cuarantena is a 40-day healing period. Lent, in Spanish, called cuaresma, comes from the same root. Dietary and lifestyle changes are best made over a 40-day period. It is said that Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Honor this period, even if it’s beyond 40 days.
Tune in to what’s been positive, and try not to tune back into the negative. Search for whatever healing is right for you during this societal game-changer. You don’t have to sit silently for three days. But, take the time to go within and listen to your heart. Determine what is your true north, and try to heed that, moving forward. Knowing that you’ve got those 40 days already under your belt.