pratyahara play

“The best vision is insight.”

-Malcolm Forbes

Pratyahara is the Sanskrit word for insight that comes by withdrawing the senses from distractions. If you don’t click with Sanskrit, you can drop the word pratyahara and substitute it for something that makes sense to you personally: maybe inner focus, sense control, or even introspection. But none of those fully does justice for me, and I’m feeling the need to add an element of play to my practice, hence the subtitle of this post: pratyahara play.

Why do I want more play in my yoga practice? Simply because I don’t think my daughter should be the only one that gets to play and also because if there is an element of fun and wonder, then I can more easily practice when she is around. That is one of the secrets to a mom’s yoga practice. No need to wait for a perfectly quiet moment or serene setting. Practice anyway, anywhere or you may not practice at all. At least this has been true for me.

So when it comes to pratyahara, how do we ‘practice anyway,’ amidst distractions and interruptions? Let’s narrow it down to pratyahara and one sense: sight. I normally meditate with eyes closed. But I’ve realized that although meditation with eyes closed can bring more attention to other sensations, such as my sitz bones on the ground and the sound of my breath, there is also more potential for my mind to wander when I don’t have a visual focus. Somehow, having a visual anchor can help keep me present. There’s less room for daydreaming and more space for appreciating the simple beauty of something right in front of me.

There is a yoga practice called trataka, which traditionally involves fixing your gaze on a candle. As moms, though, we don’t always have time to set up a special spot with a candle and/or maybe we have small children that might try to play with the candle...or, if you’re like me, maybe you like creating new traditions or ways of doing things. So here are some creative ways, non-traditional ways to practice pratyahara by focusing your gaze:

  1. This time of year, you might have a Christmas tree, lights, or other holiday decorations. Pick one and take a moment at least once a day to pause and gaze at it as your relax your breathing. You don’t even have to sit down, unless you want to.

  2. Post a reminder where you habitually stand and do something simple. Everyone who washes dishes, raise your hand! Whether you love or hate it, this can be a moment of coming back to your body and breath. The “reminder” can be a little souvenir from a vacation, a religious or spiritual image, a flower, or anything else that is uplifting to you (this applies to all the other examples below where I mention a “reminder”).  Just make sure you feel your feet on the ground and notice your breath as you gaze.

  3. If you have a little baby, you can gaze into their eyes as you hold them, or at their tiny hands or feet. Luckily, there are so many opportunities for this throughout the day; you just have to remember to do it.

  4. If you have an older kid, try having a staring contest! You can even teach them to notice their body and breath as they play.

  5. Mount a reminder on your door so that as you leave the house, you pause for a single deep breath and get grounded before heading out. 

  6. Place a reminder on your headboard or somewhere near your bed so that before you go to bed, you have at least a brief moment of meditation on your breath and body. Eyes opened or closed, take a deep breath, or even a few slow, deep breaths. Maybe this will inspire you to meditate before bed!

You get the idea. I personally don’t have time for long meditations every day unless I get up extra early, and I bet you are in the same boat. But the act of remembering to pause for these brief, mindful moments can be surprisingly refreshing!