Category Archives: Pratyahara

drishti

While a drishti can be described as a fixed focus, the eyes should be soft as if looking through the object of the gaze. It is a transcendent and unforced awareness that looks beyond the surface.

When we get caught up in the outer appearance of things, our prana (vitality) flows out of us as we scan the stimulating sights. Allowing the eyes to wander creates distractions that lead us further away from yoga. To counteract these habits, control and focus of the attention are fundamental principles in yoga practice. When we control and direct the focus, first of the eyes and then of the attention, we are using the yogic technique called drishti.

The increasing popularity and influence of the Ashtanga Vinyasa method of yoga, taught for more than 60 years by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, have introduced drishti to thousands of practitioners. On a simple level, drishti technique uses a specific gazing direction for the eyes to control attention. In every asana in Ashtanga, students are taught to direct their gaze to one of nine specific points.

In Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-Facing Dog Pose), for instance, we gaze at the nose tip: Nasagrai Drishti. In meditation and in Matsyasana (Fish Pose), we gaze toward the Ajna Chakra, the third eye: Naitrayohmadya (also called Broomadhya) Drishti. In Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), we use Nabi Chakra Drishti, gazing at the navel. We use Hastagrai Drishti, gazing at the hand, inTrikonasana (Triangle Pose). In most seated forward bends, we gaze at the big toes: Pahayoragrai Drishti. When we twist to the left or right in seated spinal twists, we gaze as far as we can in the direction of the twist, using Parsva Drishti. In Urdhva Hastasana, the first movement of the Sun Salutation, we gaze up at the thumbs, using Angusta Ma Dyai Drishti. In Virabhadrasana I (Warrior Pose I), we use Urdhva Drishti, gazing up to infinity. In every asana, the prescribed drishti assists concentration, aids movement, and helps orient the pranic (energetic) body.

The full meaning of drishti isn’t limited to its value in asana. In Sanskrit, drishti can also mean a vision, a point of view, or intelligence and wisdom. The use of drishti in asana serves both as a training technique and as a metaphor for focusing consciousness toward a vision of oneness. Drishti organizes our perceptual apparatus to recognize and overcome the limits of “normal” vision.

Our eyes can only see objects in front of us that reflect the visible spectrum of light, but yogis seek to view an inner reality not normally visible. We become aware of how our brains only let us see what we want to see—a projection of our own limited ideas. Often our opinions, prejudices, and habits prevent us from seeing unity. Drishti is a technique for looking for the Divine everywhere—and thus for seeing correctly the world around us. Used in this way, drishti becomes a technique for removing the ignorance that obscures this true vision, a technique that allows us to see God in everything.

Drishti—The True View

Throughout the history of yoga, clear, true perception has been both the practice and goal of yoga. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells his disciple, Arjuna, “You are not able to behold me with your own eyes; I give thee the divine eye, behold my Lordly yoga” (11.8). In the classic exposition of yoga, the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali points out that in viewing the world, we tend not to see reality clearly, but instead get deluded by the error of false perception. In Chapter II, verse 6, he says that we confuse the act of seeing with the true perceiver: purusha, the Self. He continues, in verse 17, to say that this confusion about the true relationship between the act of seeing, the object seen, and the identity of the Seer is the root cause of suffering. His cure for this suffering is to look correctly into the world around us.

How are we to do this? By maintaining a prolonged, continuous, single-pointed focus on the goal of yoga: samadhi, or complete absorption into purusha. The practice of drishti gives us a technique with which to develop single-pointed concentration of attention. The hatha yogi uses a kind of “x-ray vision” comprised of viveka (discrimination between “real view” and “unreal, apparent view”) and vairagya (detachment from a mistaken identification with either the instrument of seeing or that which is seen). This basic misidentification is called avidya (ignorance), and its counterpart, vidya, is our true identity.

Like all yogic practices, drishti uses the blessed gifts of a human body and mind as a starting place for connecting to our full potential—the wellspring that is the source of both body and mind. When we clear our vision of the covering of habits, opinions, ideas, and their projections about what is real and what is false, we gaze beyond outer differences toward the absolute Truth.

 

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article See More Clearly By Practicing Drishti by David Life, the cofounder of Jivamukti Yoga

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pratyahara?

Pratyahara

Pratyahara is derived from two Sanskrit words: prati and ahara, with ahara meaning food, or anything taken into ourselves, and prati, a preposition meaning away or against.

Pratyahara or the ‘withdrawal of the senses’ is the fifth element among the Eight stages of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, as mentioned in his classical work, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali composed in the 2nd century BCE. It is also the first stage of the six-branch yoga (ṣaḍaṅgayoga) of the Buddhist Kālacakra tantra, where it refers to the withdrawal of the five senses from external objects to be replaced by the mentally created senses of an enlightened deity. This phase is roughly analogous to the physical isolation phase of Guhyasamāja tantra.

For Patanjali, it is a bridge between the bahiranga (external) aspects of yoga namely, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and the antaranga (internal) yoga. Having actualized the pratyahara stage, a practitioner is able to effectively engage into the practice of Samyama. At the stage of pratyahara, the consciousness of the individual is internalized in order that the sensations from the senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell don’t reach their respective centers in the brain and takes the sadhaka (practitioner) to next stages of Yoga, namely Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (mystical absorption), being the aim of all Yogic practices.

From Wikipedia Article Pratyahara

Isolation Tank

An isolation tank is a lightless, soundproof tank inside which subjects float in salt water at skin temperature. They were first used by John C. Lilly in 1954 to test the effects of sensory deprivation. Such tanks are now also used for meditation and relaxation and in alternative medicine. The isolation tank was originally called the sensory deprivation tank. Other names for the isolation tank include flotation tank, float tank, John C. Lilly tank,REST tank, and sensory attenuation tank.

The flotation tank was developed in 1954 by John C. Lilly, a medical practitioner and neuro-psychiatrist. During his training in psychoanalysis at the US National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Lilly commenced experiments with sensory deprivation. In neurophysiology, there had been an open question as to what keeps the brain going and the origin of its energy sources. One hypothesis was that the energy sources are biological and internal and do not depend upon the outside environment. It was argued that if all stimuli are cut off to the brain then the brain would go to sleep. Lilly decided to test this hypothesis and, with this in mind, created an environment which totally isolated an individual from external stimulation. From here, he studied the origin of consciousness and its relation to the brain.

Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie of the University of British Columbia began experimenting on the therapeutic benefits of flotation tank usage in the late 1970s. They named their technique “Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy” (REST).

From Wikipedia Article Isolation Tank

Further Reading

John C. Lilly and E.J. Gold’s Tanks for the Memories: Flotation Tank Talks
The chapter “Altered States” from Richard Feynman’s Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!


vayu pratyahara

Image

Pratyahara is a Sanskrit word that means “to hold back,” and it denotes the fifth limb of Patanjali’s classical eight-limb system of yoga. Simply put, the practice requires you to detach your normal outwardly directed awareness from the world around you, retract it, and redirect it inward toward the self.

The result of such efforts is that the senses—your sight, hearing, taste, and the like, which trot along behind awareness like loyal dogs—naturally turn away from the world, too. This effectively cuts you off from distractions in your environment, collects your usually scattered awareness, and prepares you for the sixth and seventh limbs of classical practice, dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). The process is traditionally likened to a tortoise pulling its head and limbs into its shell. Vyasa, Patanjali’s earliest commentator, aptly compares our senses to a swarm of bees, equating our awareness with their queen: “Just as bees follow the course of the queen bee and rest when the latter rests, so when the mind stops, the senses also stop their activity.”

While this makes for some fine imagery, Patanjali and his commentators did little to clarify how exactly to practice pratyahara. Thankfully, there are a few concrete techniques. One of them is recorded in the Yoga-Yajnavalkya-Gita (“Yoga Song of Yajnavalkya”), which takes the form of a teaching dialogue between the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife, Gargi.

Yajnavalkya’s technique, called vayu pratyahara (wind withdrawal) or prana pratyahara (life force withdrawal), involves fixing your awareness and your breath sequentially on 18 vital points, called marmans, in your body. Varying sources highlight different points (traditional Ayurvedic sources name 107), but Yajnavalkya’s 18 marmans are the big toes, ankles, midcalves, “roots of the calves,” knees, midthighs, perineum, “center of the body,” generative organs, navel, heart center, “throat well,” root of the tongue, root of the nose, eyes, spot between the eyebrows, forehead, and crown of the head. Yajnavalkya suggests following the sequence from the crown to the toes, but many of my students prefer climbing from toes to crown.

To experience vayu pratyahara, take any comfortable seated yoga pose or your favorite reclining position, such as Savasana (Corpse Pose).

If you like, touch each marman so that each energy center is clearly anchored in your awareness. You could even imaginatively invest each point with a favorite deity, teacher, or mantra, which is another traditional practice. Then pinpoint your awareness in your big toes for the ascending sequence (or the crown of your head if you’re descending) and imagine you are breathing into and out of them.

Consciously climb the 12-rung marman ladder to your crown. You can run through the points rapidly, spending just a breath or two at each one, or if you have the time and inclination, you can linger at each point for several breaths or longer. The former version of the practice challenges your ability to quickly and decisively direct both your awareness and breath; the latter challenges your ability to concentrate both awareness and breath over time.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Still Life by Richard Rosen

 


kali’s threefold bija: krim hum hrim

Each deity has its mantras, starting with single-syllable seed or bija mantras and extending to longer mantras, prayers and supplications. Kali’s primary single syllable mantra is KRIM (pronounced Kreem). KRIM refers to Kriya or the power of action, but action of a yogic nature.

KRIM is composed of three primary letters. The letter-k is the first of all the consonants in the Sanskrit alphabet. It indicates manifest existence, power and force. The letter-r is the seed of fire and light. The letter-i is focused energy and will power.

Out of this single seed mantra is developed a longer threefold mantra or three seed-mantras as KRIM HUM HRIM. This has yet more energy and efficacy in awakening the Goddess within us. It begins with the mantra KRIM and builds upon its power.

The mantra HUM (hoom) is composed of two primary sounds. The letter-h is the seed syllable of the element of space or ether. It also represents the sun, Prana and the Purusha principle. The letter-u creates a force field that can both serve to hold in and to push out. HUM represents an explosion of energy, an expression of great power that is pranic, electrical and fiery. HUM is the power of Agni or fire particularly as directed by the wind or Vayu. Whereas KRIM awakens the electrical force or Shakti, HUM serves to direct it with great force, to use it to make great efforts.

HRIM (hreem) is the great mantra of the spiritual heart, hridaya. It is composed of three main letters. The letter-h, as in HUM, represents, space, prana and light. The letter-r as in KRIM represents light and fire. The letter-i as in KRIM represents focused energy or a ray of light, the Shakti as such. Through the mantra HRIM alone one can enter into the spiritual heart and the small space within its lotus (dahara akasha) in which the entire universe is held.

These put together, Kali’s threefold mantra serves to awaken and energize the spiritual heart, hridaya.

The mantra KRIM serves to cut the knots of the heart. It works like a sword. It stimulates the heart energy within us, its primal desire or wish for immortality, love and light.

The mantra HUM gives power to the heart, expanding the energy of prana and Agni (fire) in a strong, if not explosive manner.

The mantra HRIM opens the energy of the spiritual heart which is like the Sun, spreading it into the Infinite.

This threefold Kali Heart mantra can be compared to a kind of spiritual adrenaline. KRIM awakens the energy of the heart, like an electrical jolt to a heart patient whose heart is failing. HUM expands it this current with great force. HRIM stabilizes it as an infinite power and eternal presence.

KRIM draws the Prana from the breath, the sensory and motor organs and directs it into the heart. HUM turns the Prana into a force of fiery meditative power. HRIM connects the individual prana-mind with the power of the Supreme Self, the power of the light of consciousness (Chid-jyoti). This threefold mantra therefore creates a powerful Pratyahara in the yogic sense, it takes our energy back to the spiritual heart.

Excerpt from Article The Goddess Kali and the Spiritual Heart by David Frawley


4’33”

Up and down the main street through downtown Santa Cruz there are similarly odd and intriguing performances of compositions by musical pioneer John Cage . It’s part of a celebration in honor of Cage’s 100th birthday (Cage died in 1992).
Cage studied classical music and later experimented with radically altering the landscape of musical possibilities. He’s inspired musicians across many genres, from new age to ambient and contemporary classical; avant-garde to noise and punk rock. Cage is perhaps best known for his experiments with silence and using techniques of randomness for composing music. He was deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism.
Perhaps his most famous composition, 4’33’’, is performed by musicians who sit with their instruments and don’t play a single note, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The piece was partly inspired by Cage’s visit to a soundproof room. He was surprised when he heard two sounds inside the silence (…and it wasn’t Simon and Garfunkel). A sound engineer told Cage the high-pitched sound was his nervous system and the low sound was his blood flowing.
In meditative practices of Buddhism and Hinduism, these sounds are sometimes referred to as “nada.” I’ve heard Vipassana teachers and Buddhist monastics talk about these “sounds within silence,” which can be concentrated upon to bring deeper focus and calm. Baba Hari Dass, a Hindu guru who has maintained a vow of silence since 1952, once wrote: “The inner sound, nada, can be that of a flute, bells, sitar…”
John Cage’s experiments with sound, silence, and music remind me of some musical—and spiritual—ideals to live by:

  • Music can come from anywhere: crickets, ocean waves, a cactus, a human heartbeat. We just have to remember to listen.
  • Keep opening to the possibility of hearing and making new music.
  • Listening to sounds without judgment is a great practice for increasing our capacity to listen to ideas and beliefs of others without moral judgment.
  • We each have the freedom to decide where we draw the line between music and not music (if we draw that line at all).

Excerpt of Article Sound, Silence and John Cage: Four Musical and Spiritual Ideals to Live By By John Malkin


pratyahara

Pratyahara is situated directly in the middle of the eight limbs, its central position indicates that it is the point where the outer can become inner (and also the reverse). Pratyahara is the bridge limb that shows you how to use asana and pranayama to find dhyana and samadhi, how to use your postures for concentrating your mind, for accurately tuning in, for reading, and responding to your mental states.

Thus you can cultivate a more intimate relationship to your experience of sensation as a way inward towards concentration, towards buddhi, mental clarity, and thus towards self or individuation. Using your body and your breathing to change your relationship to the sensory information you receive helps you bring more mind, more psychology, more honesty and authenticity to your awareness and your self-reflection. You use these new dimensions, this new inner directed consciousness to find more accurate physical alignment that brings deeper significance, more beauty and more grounded weight to your postures and movement.

Lastly, one final unexpected gift from the fifth limb emerges from another less common translation of the word pratyahara: to recover the senses. To recover the senses as opposed to withdrawing them conveys a different flavor to pratyahara by suggesting that the senses are “lost” or somehow need to be re-found or reclaimed…

Sensual could then be an integral part of pratyahara, to cultivate your sensuality could mean to thoroughly apprehend and appreciate what you, your whole body, your nose, eyes, ears, heart, loins, and viscera takes in from the world as means of accurately reflecting soul in your depths and spirit in your aspirations. In fact purusa or spirit, the highest conception of samkhya yoga is also known as The Enjoyer. Who better than purusa to be essentially sensual, to consummately know and appreciate the myriad forms of creation by adopting the ultimate asana, the seat or the perspective of the supreme enjoyer, the one who takes it all in pure, bold, unashamed and unblemished enjoyment.

Excerpt From Elephant Journal Article, Pratyahara: Withdrawing The Senses And Truly Enjoying Your Yoga, By David Garrigues