As a species, we humans are always on the lookout.
Sight dominates all of our other senses and is largely responsible for the way we perceive the world – that aggregate of impressions which we tellingly call our “point of view.
As long as we’re gathering visual information, our brains are busy. So it stands to reason that if you can quiet your eyes, you can begin to quiet your mind.
You could, of course, just shut your eyes. But in practicing yoga poses, we need our sight to help us align our bodies, and to keep our minds alert. Eyes closed is usually a signal for sleep.
In between the two states of eyes actively gathering sense impressions and eyes shut, there’s a third alternative: we can withdraw our awareness from the surface of the eyes. Once you master this action, you’ll find that it brings a quiet inward focus to your asana work.
With your eyes open, stand in Tadasana (mountain pose) or sit in a comfortable seated position – a chair is fine as long as your spine is straight.
Inhale and softly draw your eyes back into their sockets. Imagine that you are looking out from three feet inside a cave.
Not sure if it’s working?
Try the opposite: move your awareness to the front of your eyes and stare out from the surface. Withdraw your eyes again, and notice the difference between the two feelings.
Keep your eyes open, but soft.
Benefits: Withdrawing your eyes is a small first step toward withdrawing all of your senses. This yogic practice, known as pratyahara, is the fifth of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga.
The ultimate objective is to find the shut-off switch for sensory input and use it at will. Just learning to soften your eyes will help you turn down the volume on your mental chatter and connect with your body.
Sequence: As a stand-alone practice, commit to withdrawing your eyes every time you stand in a line, wait at a bus stop, or pause for a moment at the kitchen sink to regain good alignment.
No matter what other Five-Minute Yoga Challenge you may be practicing this week, try withdrawing your eyes while you do it, especially if it truly is a challenge.
Ouch: If you catch yourself flattened against the front of your eyeballs, straining to see into the world, resist the urge to criticize. Soften your eyes and start again.
Sanskrit Corner: Say: PRAT-ee-ya HAH-ra. Pratyahara means “withdrawal.” Pratyahara is derived from two Sanskrit words: prati and ahara. Ahara means food, or anything we ingest, physically or metaphorically, and prati means away, or against.
Do you have a pratyahara practice? Any favorite way of stilling your mind while doing asana practice? I’d love to hear from you.
Photo by Stuart, silverfox09
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