Saturday, December 1, 2012

Pratyahara and Non-Attachment

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Pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras and I feel it is one of the least understood (or most neglected) parts of our yoga practice. It was first described to me as a withdrawal of the senses, and practiced mainly in meditation or savasana, final relaxation. I was given the analogy of a turtle drawing back into its own shell when life became too dangerous as a way to experience pratyahara. I practiced this way for years and felt I was an epic failure at it, because no matter how hard I tried to withdraw, I was forever seduced by the senses: the barking dog, the tickling fly, the nagging thought, the smells of lunch being cooked across the hall, etc. In a 10 minute savasana, I was a slave to my senses and deep relaxation was rare.

It was during a conversation with a student that I realized I was going about this all wrong. On day 2 of her 6-week pain management program, she asked how any of what we were teaching her was going to stop her pain. I responded by saying, "It's not. There is no magic bullet for chronic pain. The tools we will offer you will not stop the pain, but they will allow you to feel differently about it." Directing that same idea inward, I understood that for me, withdrawing my senses doesn't work, because the stimuli continue to cry out for attention; however, I can change my attitude toward them so that I don't feel the same seduction. Yes, the dog is barking; yes, my nose itches; yes, my thoughts are getting sticky... Yes, all these things are happening. I am not going to actively try to cut them out (which doesn't work anyway); instead I will acknowledge them without doing anything else about it. They exist and I experience them and that's all. Clean and simple, but not easy.

In his book, The Heart of the Revolution, Noah Levine describes this as non-attachement, which is different from detachment. There is no removal of reality; there is only a clean acceptance and equanimous response to the stimuli. This is not something we are encouraged to practice in our daily culture; in fact, we are bombarded by stimuli and advertisers are forcefully demanding that we do something, rather than accept it. Every so often, it's important to me to remove myself from the strongest of stimulation and work with the subtler distractions - mainly, the ones that arise within. To that end, I will be taking a silent retreat in mid-December. I'll still be challenged by my own obstacles to pratyahara, but I will take the approach of non-attachment in order to accept and soften around them. The next time you find yourself in savasana and you are carried away by the car alarm going off outside, try this practice of non-attachement and see how it feels to you.


  • Schedule changes for 2013 are in the works, so check Lorien's schedule page often.
  • New Year's Day special classes: noon-1:15pm Wellness Yoga, followed by 1:15-2:00pm Breath and Meditation at Breathe Los Gatos. Join us and start your year off with ease, mindfulness and intention!