In this complex information technology era, particularly during current restrictive lockdowns, not only our physical immunity is challenged, so is our psychological immunity, and in a way that affects everyone on a daily basis. We often find ourselves emotionally vulnerable or reactive, with our own thoughts frequently disturbing us. Peace of mind is hard to attain and uncertainty about our future hangs over us.
We must spend more time before computers and cell phones, looking at screens, interacting electronically. This is a necessity for work and communication but has side effects on our psyche. It strains our minds, nerves and senses, as well as our bodies and digestive systems.
Education is becoming online even for children, who are losing their time to learn through life and human contact. Our direct social interaction is diminished and our time spent in the world of nature is reduced.
What is the main Yoga practice we can do for developing our psychological immunity, emotional calm, and inner equipoise in these difficult times? First, we must note that the principles and practices of Yoga overall are about mastery over the mind, so they all aid in psychological immunity, resilience, and the ability keep the mind from being dominated by external influences. Yoga in its deeper sense is a way to gain psychological wellbeing, without which any higher consciousness is not possible.
Yet one Yoga practice stands out as most important for improving psychological immunity and calming the senses and emotions. This is the practice of Pratyahara, the fifth of the eight limbs of Yoga that allows us to move into the inner Yoga practice of meditation. It follows from Pranayama, in which the Prana is calmed and precedes Dharana in which the mind is concentrated.
Pratyahara is usually regarded as control of the senses, which is part of its field of concerns. Yet it is essentially the ability to turn our current of thought within, either aided by techniques or directly by the mind, consciousness, or an awakened willpower.
We need not necessarily shut down our senses, though we must reduce their level of agitation. We must learn to use our senses in a contemplative and meditative manner, from the witnessing consciousness or Seer within. We can begin by appreciating the beauty and wonder of nature, and the nuances in nature’s formations from the ground to the sky.
We can open our inner seeing and hearing, our powers of direct perception and deep listening. We can learn to hold our attention within, even when our minds are busy outwardly, by withdrawing from distraction.
Simple Pratyahara Methods
One simple and easy healing Pratyahara practice is to meditate upon the dark night sky full of stars, which soothes the eyes and the mind. Alternatively, we can gaze at a distant horizon during the day, whether an ocean, lake, mountain or sky. If these are not possible, we can contemplate the boundless space in our own minds, visualizing the vistas within us that we normally fail to recognize.
Such visual practices help us restore our depth vision, apart from the two dimensional screens that make our minds superficial and reactive. When we have such depth vision and detached observation, we are capable of objective judgment, not simply emotional reactions. We realize that life cannot be reduced to a formula or data base.
Another method is to visualize a sphere of golden light circulating around our body and mind, energized by the solar mantra Hreem, to bring light, intelligence and prana around us and ward off negative forces. This helps strengthen our pranic and mental energy fields, awakening our buddhi or inner intelligence.
Along with Pratyahara, we can learn to hold our attention either at the third eye and Ajna chakra or in the spiritual heart (hridaya), gathering the mind and senses at these points of focus and unity. Such Dharana or concentration practices are the culmination and support for Pratyhara, as Pratyahara and Dharana always go together.
We can establish a sacred space in our homes, a meditation or puja room, as a protective sphere for the mind beyond all outer disturbances. We can energize it with incense, oil lamps, flowers, sacred stones and murtis – or whatever strengthens our connection with the whole of life. Chanting of mantras, bhajans, kirtans and stotras creates a musical Pratyahara to remove sensory disturbances from the mind and connect with the Nada or inner sounds that take us into the infinite.
The practice of Pranayama, in which we draw the prana down into the heart or the navel, is a kind of Pratyahara because the senses move along with the prana and follow it within. Concentrating the prana through slow deep breathing helps slow down and concentrate the mind and senses.
Deep sleep is our daily Pratyahara that allows our mind and prana to be renewed from within. Using mantra and meditation to facilitate deep sleep is part of this deeper Pratyahara of sleep that can take us into Yoga Nidra and transcendence of body and mind.
Actually, we are always practicing Pratyahara of some sort as our senses and mind are selective. When we give our attention to one object we must withdraw it from all others. Yet most of the time we focus our mind and senses on some sort of stimulation, entertainment or distraction, not any pursuit of higher consciousness.
So let us practice the highest Pratyahara of seeing our Self in all beings and all beings in our Self. This is to embrace the universe and the Supreme Brahman within us!