“At its most basic level– attention– what we allow ourselves to notice– literally determines how we experience and navigate the world.” – Sharon Salzberg
My Air Conditioning unit is right below my back deck; that thing is beyond loud. I yell over the whirring of the AC motor like it’s no big deal until it abruptly kicks off and suddenly my back yard dissolves into a muggy, oppressive quiet. I’m always surprised at how loud it actually was and by how much mental effort I was using to tune it out.
In Yoga Philosophy, there is a concept called pratyahara which encourages tuning out extraneous sensory stimuli in order to bring a definitive focus to our internal sensations and perceptions. It is classically translated as “withdrawing the senses inward.” (Read more here: pratyahara.)
Typically, we think first of our 5 first-grade senses: sight, sound, smell, hearing and feeling. But did you know that most biological neurologists agree that humans have 9 senses in total? (Personally, I’m on board with eco-psychologist Dr. Michael Cohen who believes we have 21 senses, including our sense of responding to gravity, air pressure, motion, thirst and pheromones, but for the sake of focus, let’s focus on the top 9.)
The additional 4 senses are:
- Thermoception– your sense of heat
- Nociception– your sense of tissue discomfort and pain
- Equilibrioception– your sense of balance
- Proprioception– your sense of where your body is in space and in relation to itself
These additional 4 senses are primarily perceptions of the sensations under the skin.
When taking into account the massive amount of external stimuli that bombards our bodies, and the huge amount of internal data being processed by our brains every moment, it makes sense that “withdrawing the senses inward” would help relieve mental distraction, which is the ultimate goal of yoga.
I appreciate the direction of pratyahara because it asks me to dial in my mental focus by tuning out the whirring distractions that are trying to steal my attention and instead focus my energy on what really matters to me.
Sound helpful? Try these 2 Pratyahara Guided Meditations with me:
Sensory Awareness Guided Relaxation
Guided Meditation Teachings
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