pratyahara play

“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.”

― Margaret Atwood, Der blinde Mörder

In traditional yoga texts, there is so much about sense withdrawal from the stimulation of worldly life. Why? They say so that you can discover and experience the inner light that’s within each of us (that’s the essence of namaste: the light in me bows to the light in you).

But as moms, our lives are often overstimulating, especially as our kids start talking and exerting their wills. Even beyond the joyful noise of childhood, there is so much stimulation in just trying to sift through all the parenting books, news from our communities that affect families and schools, and the constant juggling act of playing all the roles that we do: mothers, partners, housekeepers, cooks, not to mention those moms who also work either from home or outside the house.

So how can we define pratyahara besides ‘sense withdrawal?’ Just as telling yourself to clear your mind while you meditate can seem impossible, completely withdrawing your senses from external stimulus is unrealistic for someone with kids. You need to be present and aware of your surroundings even while you tune into that ‘light’ within you. Your parenting is, in fact, a great opportunity to apply yoga to life.

Earlier this month I wrote about tuning into specific sounds to practice pratyhara. Now I want to dive into the sense of touch, which is such a primal way for us to show connection to others. But what about connection to ourselves? How can we use our sense of touch to create a sense of nurture and self-acceptance? Sometimes as we lay in savasana, relaxing at the end of yoga, we can bring attention to all the areas of our bodies that are in contact with the ground as we lay face up. Other times, we might be in downward dog, pushing firmly down through the hands and really feeling each finger pushing with equal effort into the yoga mat. Touch is present all throughout our practice on the yoga mat in how we play with gravity, push against the earth, and sometimes surrender our weight so we can be supported by the earth as in meditation or savasana. That is how we can practice pratyahara on the yoga mat, in motion. Try closing your eyes as your practice to heighten your tactile sense.

But we don’t always find time to practice on the yoga mat. So how can we bring that peaceful awareness we cultivate on the yoga mat into other areas of life? In my opinion, one of the pleasures of practicing yoga is being barefoot. But if you are out playing with the kids without much spare time for solitude, maybe try something else, like wiggling your toes while standing in the kiddie pool or wading in other water (like a pool, lake, or the ocean), or practicing yoga on warm sand (I’m picturing a beach, but I guess the sandbox at the playground could work, too). One of my favorites is doing a few-minute foot massage on myself, which I incorporate right before bed as part of my bedtime routine. 

Other ideas: A hand mudra; holding a rock while you meditate; wearing a warm, fuzzy sweater as you walk on a cold day; holding a hot cup of tea or coffee as you sit up tall in your chair for one long, slow, steady breath. Here’s the trick: it can be pratyahara using the sense of touch only if you are mentally present with the sensation. You might not be doing a traditional yoga posture, but the ‘posture’ of your mind is what counts, and that same awareness of your breath that you would have if you were doing downward dog or triangle pose, for example.

This is all deceivingly simple, but here’s the hard part: actually remembering to do these little things throughout the day. Think of a way to help yourself fit it in: set a timer on your phone to go off every couple hours; wear a necklace or bracelet that you’ll easily notice and each time you fiddle with it, and then come to your breath and the way your feet feel on the ground; or plant post-its around your home or workplace that remind you to be aware of how the air or your clothes feel on your skin or how your hands feel under the running water as you wash dishes; or even fit in one pose at the kitchen counter or against the wall every time you enter the kitchen or another room. Just one pose or moment and one breath are enough to bring help you touch your center.