pratyahara

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II.55 tataḥ parama vaśyatā indriyāṇāḿ

tataḥ: then, from that

parama: the highest

vaśyatā: subdued, controlled, governed

indriyāṇāḿ: of the senses

Pratyahara results in the absolute control of the sense organs.  (Source: Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, B.K.S. Iyengar)

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Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of practice. It is the process of withdrawing the senses (indriyas) from objects of distraction, desire, or aversion, both outside of and within the mind. This prepares us for equanimous concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Like tributaries moving toward a greater body of water, the busy, individual trajectories of the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin are redirected for the purpose of reflection and insight. 

— Melanie Jane Parker

yoga sutra 1.4

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Drawing for Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, Robert Smithson, 1970

1.4 वृत्तिसारूप्यमितरत्र ।।४।।

vṛtti-sārūpyam-itaratra

At other times (itaratra), it takes the form (sarupyam) of the mental activities (vritti). or: Conformity to the operations elsewhere.

It is natural for our minds to identify with our thoughts and with the objects around us. This is the basis of avidya, or ignorance of our real Self — confounding all the changeable things around us with our own true nature. This true nature (atman, purusha, soul, the seer) is said to be eternal and unchanging, and is pure awareness.

This sutra tells us that when we lose touch with our own being, chitta (the mind, or thinking faculty) manifests itself in place of the seer. We then become bound by time and space.

When the mind is not resting in its own true being, it takes the shape of the vrittis. We think the thoughts we have are who we really are. This avidya, the source of all suffering, clouds our perception. When we ‘clean’ our minds our thoughts and actions are not colored and dictated by our misperceptions.

With practice, we can avoid behaving in ways we don’t intend, and can stop ourselves from saying things we regret. Practice allows us to make a habit of being true to ourselves. This intention becomes a habit of awareness. Though we will fluctuate back and forth, identifying ourselves with our mental activities, we can catch ourselves and let go.

Vyaas Houston of the American Sanskrit Institute has said:

“If I don’t remain the seer, continually aware of the field; if nirodhah is not occurring, there is conformity to the vritti. I never lose my original identity — I just think I do.

One or the other is taking place. Either yoga is taking place or there is identity with vritti.”

— Jenny Meyer + Barbara Verrochi

 

yoga sutra 1.3

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Still Life Apples and Pears by Gustave Courbet, 1871

1.3 तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम् ।

TADĀ DRAṢṬUḤ SVA-RŪPE ‘VASTHĀNAM

tadā — then
draṣṭuḥ — of the seer (draṣṭṛ — the seer)
sva — one’s own (as in ‘swami’ — boss, owner)
rūpe — in being, (rūpa — form, body)
avasthānam — established, abiding, standing
from ‘ava’ — a prefix meaning away, down, off
and ‘sthāna’ — standing, from root ‘sthā,’ to stand’

When the vṛttis, or turnings of the mind, become quiet, when we are no longer bound by the patterns of our mind (Sūtra 1.2), we can fully connect with our inherent stability.

The seer (draṣṭṛ, pure consciousness) is unchanging and not subject to the vṛttis.

In the Bhagavad Gītā, the seer is called the Ātman, and is described by Kṛṣṇa in this way:

Neither is this (the embodied self) born nor does it die at any time,
Nor, having been, will it again come not to be.
Birthless, eternal, perpetual, primeval,
It is not slain when the body is slain. bg 2.20

Weapons do not pierce this (the Embodied Self),
Fire does not burn this,
Water does not wet this,
Nor does the wind cause it to wither. BG 2.23

It is said that this is unmanifest,
Unthinkable, and unchanging.
Therefore, having understood in this way,
You should not mourn. BG 2.25
—translation Winthrop Sargeant

yoga sutra 1.2

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Northeaster, 1895, Winslow Homer

1.2 योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः

YOGAŚCITTAVṚTTINIRODHAḤ

YOGAḤ-CITTA-VṚTTI-NIRODHAḤ

Yoga means stopping mental activity.

Patanjali defines yoga as nirodha, or a quieting of the vrittis (fluctuations) of the citta (mind, intelligence, and ego). ‘Nirodhah’ literally means ‘stopping,’ so ‘stilling’ is a good way to understand this sutra. The word ‘nirodhah’ is cognate to ‘erode.’ ‘The root is rudh — to obstruct.  And it seems the vrttis (the whirlings of the mind) are gradually worn away like that — eroded as we become established in our own being.

yoga sutra 1.1

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Violet Leaf on Orange Background (Palmette), 1947, Henri Matisse 

1.1 अथ योगानुशासनम्

atha yogānuśāsanam

here upon, the lesson on yoga.

This is the first sutra of 196 sutras on the teachings of yoga by Patanjali. “Atha” translates as now. Now, at this moment, the teaching begins. And now, at this moment, we can begin our practice. No other time is better than now. Pema Chodron succinctly describes beginning our spiritual practice in How to Meditate.

You start where you are. You might feel that you are the single most stressed-out person on Planet Earth; you might be hopelessly in love; you might have six children and a full-time job; you might be going through a depression or a dark night of the soul. Wherever you are, you can begin there.