I’ve been spending a couple of days in Sedona, AZ, thanks to a friend who gave me three nights at his timeshare. On one of my hikes yesterday, to the top of a small knoll, I saw a woman sitting in meditation. I chose another part of the rock, some distance from her, and took my own perch. I was jotting notes on my phone, having forgone a journal for this trip. Being that Sedona is a destination for world travelers, it didn’t surprise me that a family speaking French was there along with two separate Asian families. I enjoy listening to different languages, maybe because I’m stuck in my first and only language of English. I heard the father give directions to the two girls to stand in a certain place so he could take their picture. Though I didn’t understand the words, I could pick up on the intonation. They thought the views were incredible and that Sedona was a beautiful place. They were glad to take back lots of pictures of this little piece of America. Their conversations, as well as those of English-speaking couples and families, were like the rocks and junipers and wind to me, just part of the experience of being there. After about ten minutes, the woman who was meditating got up and said to her partner, “I’m going to follow them back down and talk the whole way.” I smiled and shook my head. It’s a public place. There were visitors from around the world. It was the perfect opportunity for her to practice pratyahara, a withdrawal from the senses.

Whether we’re on the mat doing asana or meditation, there are distractions. The sound of the person next to us breathing heavily, the extra bendy girl in front of us, the temperature of the room, the granola bar that we ate just before class that lingers on our tongues, the strong perfume of the woman behind to us, and even our own judgements and criticisms that play on a sometimes endless loop in our mind all serve to distract us from what is happening in the present moment. Allowing feelings and emotions to come and go without being disturbed by them is the practice of pratyahara.

As a precursor to dharana (concentration), pratyahara allows us to focus on what we want to focus on, not what the mind thinks is keeping us from the moment. The moment includes all that is in our environment, everything that our five senses take in and whatever thoughts or emotions our mind and body create. In an asana class, pratyahara can be practiced by not allowing ourselves to be distracted by others in the room. Sure, we know they are there, what everything smells like, what people sound like, what they look like, but then we anchor ourselves on the breath and allow all that distraction to be there as we focus on the sensations in the body, on our experience. Unlike the woman who was trying to meditate on the hill and couldn’t because other people were talking, allow all those distractions to just be. They can pull us from out experience, as the woman allowed them to do, or they can be part of the experience.

Perhaps the next step could be that we are okay with traffic and lines and weather not to our liking, to all be part of our experience. If we can do that, then concentration is easier because we don’t allow ourselves to be distracted when we’re engaged  in a task. And from concentration, we begin to blur the lines of ourselves and that of the experience. But maybe, along the way, we can live with a little less annoyance and anger, a little more contentment.

Pratyahara, and all of the yamas and niyamas, has its own poem in my project, Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Part I. You can view it on my website:   Do you have a story to share about practicing pratyahara? Please share in the comments.