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Fall Back
5 November 2015

Fall Back
5 November 2015

Fall Back

To "fall back"....it's an interesting phrase and our hint, this time of year, as to which way we wind the clock: We fell back on Sunday (and some of us "fell back" to sleep. Divine!). "Fall back" can also mean to retreat, to recede, to withdraw. Which seques me neatly to pratyahara, or "the withdrawal of the senses."

Pratyahara is the fifth limb in Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga, and is a kind of loading dock between the physical limbs (asana, pranayama) and spiritual limbs (dharana, or concentration and dhyana, or meditation). It also lies smack in the middle between the external practices (yama, niyama, asana and pranayama) and the internal practices (dharana, dhyana and samadhi.) It's a tricky one. Withdrawing our senses—Sight, sound, touch, taste, hearing... how are we supposed to cut all of that off? And do we really want to? If a fire starts in our house, don't we want to be able to smell the smoke? If we eat a piece of chocolate don't we want to be able to taste it? Yes and yes.

It has to do with how the senses feed the mind.

"Just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs, so when a man withdraws his senses from the sense objects, his wisdom becomes steady." -Bhagavad Gita

It's instructive to look at pratyahara within a contemporary and realistic context. Not to minimize its spiritual heft, but to find real-life, practical context. As I explore seated meditation with a renewed sense of purpose, I am finding this relevant and timely.

The word pratyahara breaks down into "ahara", which means food, and "prati" which means away. "Food" is anything we take from the outside and bring to our inside. The senses feed the mind constantly with information. We are literally "stuffed" with it. How can this information always be truth when it is biased by our interpretations? The untrained senses, governed as they are by past experiences and instinct (desire, fear, cravings), latch on to the pleasure or aversion of the moment and don't consider the bigger picture.

 "For the mind which follows in the wake of the wandering senses, carries away one's discrimination, as the wind carries away a boat on the waters.
Therefore, Oh Arjuna, his knowledge is steady whose senses are completely restrained from sense-objects."
(2:67 Bhagavad Gita)

Without a disciplined mind and right understanding, we suffer from the distractions of our uncontrolled senses.

So if we know it's a good thing, how do we accomplish this? How do we withdraw the mind from the senses, and exert some control over the senses themselves?

The first and obvious example: limit digital sensory input by making a conscious decision to turn off your electronic devices for a period of time. Turn off facebook for an hour. Or a day! shut off your phone. How about abstaining from speaking for a day? You could practice Yoni Mudra (see photo of drawing above), which uses the fingers and thumbs to block the senses. You could meditate, as this trains the mind and the senses, simultaneously. You could devote your next yoga practice to seeing if you can internally connect with every single cell of your body, feeling the soles of your feet, the depth of jaw relaxation, the ends of your hair. And my current "must do": Being a chronic insomniac I shut down my computer and all electronics by 8 pm. Before I go to sleep, I spend some time trying to say nighty-night to my senses one at a time: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch.

Perhaps most effective: I am finding that the practice of meditation itself slows and refines the pace of my sensory reactions to the world around me, makes me more observant of what I am seeing, hearing, tasting. Rewires response time to allow for more time between stimulus and response, and in this experience, I feel I am beginning to more viscerally understanding what pratyahara is.

I invite you to ask yourself the question: how can I find a little pratyahara in my own daily life?

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ACCOMMODATIONS:

The building itself was renovated to be energy efficient, and the room is moderately heated in cooler seasons to promote a good, healthy sweat, but not heated to an excessive or wasteful degree. There are cubbies in our large office to store your personal belongings, a spacious changing room, a comfy sofa and a water cooler (please bring a water bottle to fill, to cut down on paper cup usage). Two nice, clean bathrooms are located just down the hall. There are also cubbies in the studio itself for valuables, which students are welcome to use. We have a full lending library of yoga books, and encourage students to borrow freely. Gift certificates are available for purchase in any amount.

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GUIDELINES FOR PRACTICE

Please do not wear perfume or any strong scent

People with allergies can be very sensitive to scent. Also, lots of people sweating in a closed space is less stinky than lots of people all wearing different brands of perfume or deodorant.

Wear comfortable clothing

Not so tight it binds, not so loose it gets in your way. And please do not wear clothes that “gap” and are inappropriately revealing.

Practice on an empty stomach

If possible, don’t eat at least three hours before practice. If you know that this isn’t possible for you, eat easily digested food one hour before class.

No food or outside beverages inside the studio

If necessary, bottled water is okay, but remember we are trying to generate internal heat; constant sipping cools the body. After practice, drink plenty of pure water.

Bring your own mat

Shared mats are not hygienic; you may borrow one from us if one is available, until you are able to purchase your own, but please clean it afterward with the mat wipes provided. Please understand mats may be borrowed on a first come basis….we have only a few to borrow, and do occasionally run out of them.

Keep your eyes on your own practice

The practice is richer when it happens from the inside out. It’s not about comparing yourself with the person next to you. Be present with your own experience.

Be kind and loving to yourself

Rest when you need to. Honor where you are in your practice. Use the energy of those around to inspire, not diminish, you. Remember: you are perfect just as you are now, and yoga is meant to enhance that understanding and let that perfection shine. Have fun!

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If you are new to Upper Valley Yoga, you can purchase a 3-class pass for $30! (For our first-time guests only, package expires 15 days after purchase)

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*Full time high school and college students, Seniors 60+

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One month, Student or Senior* rate, $120

Unlimited yoga with no commitment required.

*Full time high school and college students, Seniors 60+

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