The fifth limb of the eight limbs of yoga is Pratyahara. Pratyahara is most commonly described as the withdrawal of the senses. Swami Satyananda Saraswati describes Pratyahara as the “disassociation of consciousness from the outside environment,” and according to the Shiva Sutras Pratyahara is “both withdrawal of the mind from its object and withdrawal of the senses from their objects.” Through the practice of Pratyahara the yogi can withdraw his consciousness and attain control over the elements.
There are six senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, and thought. Besides the typical five senses, thought is considered a sixth sense because thought, like things we see, hear, taste, smell, and touch, is a distraction for stilling and silencing the mind. The practice of Pratyahara is to turn our perceptions, our energy, and our awareness inward. We simply observe what our senses detect and the thoughts that arise, and then let those senses and thoughts pass as they will. Practicing Pranayama, which brings our focus inwards to our breath and prana, is integral for stilling the mind and withdrawing from the perceptions of the senses and the external environment and elements. Through the practice of Pratyahara we can quiet the mind so that our consciousness, our True Self, can arise.
When we looked at pratyahara, we saw that freedom offers us a choice – either to go on as before, driven by external forces and gratifications, or to turn inward and use our gentle powers to seek out the Self.
– B.K.S. Iyengar, Light On Life
It is good to tame the mind, which is difficult to hold in and flighty, rushing wherever it listeth; a tamed mind brings happiness. Let the wise man guard his thoughts, for they are difficult to perceive, very artful, and they rush wherever they list: thoughts well guarded bring happiness.
– Dhammapada 35-36
Luminous is this mind, brightly shining, but it is colored by the attachments that visit it.
– Anguttara Nikaya
The contemplative does not cease to know external objects. But he ceases to be guided by them. He ceases to depend on them.
– Thomas Merton