Meditation and the 8 Limbs of Yoga - Pratyahara

The foundation for the practice of meditation according to Patanjali's system of yoga is pratyahara, or the drawing inward of your senses.

For so much of our time our senses are directed outwards.  The world is a distracting place – there is nature, there are other people, there are conversations and plans to be made and there are the projections of the human mind (books, tv, movies, radio stations, music) to distract us.

Meditation begins with the simple desire to recoup your energy and focus by drawing your senses inward.  It makes sense when you think about it – you cannot meditate while your focus is directed to the outside world; you can’t be peaceful in the midst of all of the activities of the world without first learning how to maintain your inner focus no matter what is going on around you.

There are many techniques and methods for drawing your senses inwards.  The simplest way is to follow your breath.  This works on a number of levels.  If you take some time to focus on your breath, then it naturally follows that your breath slows down and this in itself promotes a feeling of inner calm.  Your breath is a very subtle thing and bringing all of your attention to it requires concentration, absorption and attentiveness - following it with your mind literally leads you inwards.  Taking time to appreciate the uncomplicated miracle of your breath is a simple, quiet pleasure far removed from the myriad distractions of modern life, but ultimately more deeply fulfilling and restorative. 

Here is an easy three-step practice to help you to experience pratyahara.

Sit comfortably with your spine straight and your chin level.
Begin to deepen your breath.
Close your eyes, or soften and lower your gaze.

1) Place a palm on your belly.  Breathe into your palm.  Feel your belly move to meet your palm as you inhale; feel your belly draw back towards your spine as you exhale.  Count 20 deep and even breaths and watch the movement of your breath and your body as you breathe.  This is the way your body moves when you breathe, but you don’t ordinarily notice it.  You are not in the habit of noticing yourself.
Bring your raised palm back onto your lap.
2) Now imagine your breath travelling with your inhale from the base of your spine, up your body to the top of your spine and beyond that up to the top of your head.  Imagine with your exhale the breath travelling back down your spine to the base of it.  Count 20 deep and even breaths.
3) Lastly, bring your attention to the bridge of your nose.  Notice the movement of your breath across the bridge of your nose; across this small, but sensitive part of your body.  Feel your breath, cool on your inhalation, warmer on the exhalation.  Listen to the sound of your breath in your ear.  Enjoy the sensation of your breath as it moves effortlessly in and out of your body.  Continue for 20 breaths.


I was waiting for an appointment at the doctor’s surgery and he was running late.  I watched a man opposite become increasingly irritated by having to wait for his doctor to call him through.  He huffed and puffed; he muttered under his breath; once in a while he got up and stalked impatiently across the room and back to his seat again.  I sat and waited. My breath was deep and calm.  His breath was short and fast.  My body was still and calm.  His body was tense and contracted.  We were both waiting.  We both had other places to be.   We were in the same situation exactly, but our mental and physical experience of it was totally different. 

You can transform your experience of life by understanding how your tendencies lead you towards suffering and pain.  You can improve your experience of life by learning how to wait, remembering how to enjoy the simple things, and how to stay calm in the face of frustrating situations.

"Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within; train it to rest in the self. Abiding joy comes to those who still the mind."
The Bhagavad Gita 6:26-27  


  1. The meditation suggestions are great. It can be hard to shake off those "tendencies" as you get so used to them, however it is freeing to do so! V.


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