Learn how to withdraw from the distractions of the outside world and find happiness within.
The eight limbs of yoga
Almost 2,000 years ago an Indian sage, Patanjali, created the Yoga Sutras, a collection of ancient yogic texts. One of the main teachings is the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga) which can be described as the foundation of yoga and is commonly practised today by yogis all around the world. The Eight Limbs comprises of eight steps that lead us to enlightenment. If practised regularly they can help us to live a happy and meaningful life.
Patanjali’s Eight limbs are:
1. The Yamas (restraints)
2. The Niyamas (self-disciplines)
3. Asana (yoga poses)
4. Pranayama (breathing techniques)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (absorption)
In our modern lives, there is such a large focus on the external world that sometimes we forget to look within. There is a saying, which is something along the lines of, “everything we need is within us,” and although it may sound a little corny, there is so much truth to this concept. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses. Practising this limb involves withdrawing energy from the senses and sending it inward. Our internal world can be just as interesting as the external world.
The senses often provide many distractions. Pratyahara is concerned with controlling how much energy that these distractions consume from us. There are so many sensory inputs that we can feel like we are pulled in many different directions. Often we fall into the trap of multitasking. Perhaps watching TV whilst online shopping, or listening to music when we are cleaning. We are sometimes so used to constantly receiving outside stimulus it is difficult to unwind and feel calm. When we practise Pratyahara, the end goal is to sit and meditate in any environment without being distracted. However, this can be difficult for many, which is why we use assistance in our yoga classes such as essential oils or music.
Practice Tip: Bhramari is a great pranayama to use that allows us to close off from the senses for a few minutes. I also love this breathing technique as it uses vibration to calm the nervous system. Placing the thumbs over the ears, index figures over the eyebrows, middle and ring fingers placed on the eyelids and the little fingers placed just above the lips. Breathe in through the nose and as you exhale make a humming sound. This is a quick and easy way to draw your senses inwards. Learn more about this technique here.
There are many instances where we can rely too heavily on using external factors to provide us with pleasure, rather than trying to find peace and happiness through introspection. If I think of some examples, I know there are many times where I have poured too much energy into external factors in my life. I have used alcohol in social gatherings just to feel comfortable and confident, relied on social media to validate my self-worth, compared myself to others, held high expectations of those who are close to me to make me feel happy and secure, purchased certain things hoping others will perceive me in a certain way. I’m not saying that having a drink at a party or buying a nice dress in wrong. It is a problem if we use external sources as a distraction from addressing how we are feeling. In yoga, it is important to notice emotions as they come up and to just sit with these feelings, without labelling it as good or bad, trying not to push it away or ignore it. In Yin Yoga, we work through meditations that can help us become more aware and accepting of our internal landscape.
Practice Tip: If you have difficulty remaining still and focused in meditation and you find that you are constantly distracted, the first step is to focus your attention on just one of your senses at a time. For example, if you lay in savasana you can start with your eyes open and take notice of what you see. Look at the various objects in the room, notice the colours, perhaps even notice marks on the ceiling or walls that you have not seen before. Then close your eyes and move onto the sense of smell. Pay attention to any scents in your environment, perhaps it is the aroma of your perfume or food. Continue to do this for all the senses. If you want to complete this meditation, you can access the link here.