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Pratyahara and Dharana, transitive limbs of yoga.

In our previous articles, we described how Patanjali's philosophy shaped the development of yoga and how its eight limbs are primordial elements of many yogic traditions. We've talked principally about the first limbs of yoga, which are external practices that prepare the yogi's mind for consciousness expansion.

In this article, we will talk about the two limbs of yoga that act as a transition between the external and the internal practices: Pratyahara and Dharana. These steps are essential for the yogi to attain the Samadhi, or union with the global consciousness. We'll explain why.

External and internal practices.

First, what are the external and internal practices? What do they mean, and what is their objective? The concept is pretty simple. The yogic traditions believe that we must remove external distractions before being able to get into ourselves and reach the Yog.

The practices described by Patanjali are thus separated into two categories, external and internal.

The external practices are the five first limbs of yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara. Those practices are meant for the yogi to learn to withdraw from outside distractions. The techniques of Yama and Niyama allow the practitioner to harmonize his actions with others and himself, the asanas lead the yogi to sit for an extended period without getting distracted by the body's many sensations, and pranayama concentrates and controls his life energy. These four limbs are essential to practice pratyahara, the withdrawal from the senses, about which we will talk more extensively shortly.

Completing the five first limbs of yoga is essential before practicing the advanced stages. Those last steps are called internal practices because they now focus on the mind and consciousness of the practitioner himself until its union with the global consciousness happens. These internal practices start with Dharana, the withdrawal from the thoughts and manifestations of the mind, and progress with Dhyana and Samadhi.

Pratyahara is thus the last step of the external practices, withdrawing the yogi's mind from outside distractions. Dharana is the first step of the internal practices, removing the yogi from the distractions of his mind.


Pratyahara

To fully understand the concept of Pratyahara, one must realize that the ordinary mind is constantly affected by what is happening outside of ourselves. That occurs through the action of the senses, always perceiving and transmitting the information. The senses of hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting send new information to our brains every second. It allows us to be aware of and understand the world around us. Still, it also prevents us from concentrating on our inner self to reach the unity desired in yoga.

Pratyahara comes from the Sanskrit word Prati, meaning withdraw, and Ahara, meaning food or generally referring to anything outside us. The general goal of Pratyahara is thus to withdraw from external influences.

This can be done through different meditative techniques, and it is how beginners start meditation practices. You can probably remember some of your first meditations, where you were asked to pay attention to the sounds around you without analyzing them, letting them come and go. Since it is impossible to stop hearing, seeing, smelling, touching, and tasting on demand, the concept of Pratyahara teaches the practitioner to stop analyzing the information sent by the senses.

With Pratyahara's prolonged and regular practice, the yogi becomes gradually less affected by his senses and the outside world. He is then able to focus entirely on his inner self. This is the moment of transition towards internal practices, and it is where Dharana comes in.


Dharana

The concept of Dharana is similar to the one of Pratyahara in that its goal is also to withdraw. In the case of Dharana, the yogi wants to stop the distractions created by his mind.

Once again, to understand the concept of Dharana, we must admit that the mind also creates distractions by itself. In fact, it is rarely silent and keeps thinking about past experiences and creating future projections. In yoga, the mind is often talked about as a moving and unsettled thing, and it is compared to the waves in the sea. The goal of Dharana is to slow down and stop this movement.

The word Dharana means concentration of the mind. It is the focus of our full attention on one thing to stop the constant flow of our thoughts.

To do this, the practitioner is invited to choose a symbol as a focal point for his attention. This symbol can be anything, from an image to a god/deity or even a mantra. It is essential that the chosen symbol strongly attracts the practitioner. It has to be something personal to him, on which he will be able to direct his full attention easily. If that is not the case, the mind will keep wandering around and creating new objects of attention, and concentration will not be reached.

Once the yogi can concentrate his mind entirely on one specific element, he is ready to become attuned to his inner self. Dharana is thus also a transitive step toward internal practices. It is essential to master to pass to the next limb of Dhyana, which we will explore in a future article.


To resume.

In conclusion, Pratyahara and Dharana are, respectively, the last limb of the external practices and the first step of the internal ones. Their goal is both about withdrawal. While Pratyahara is meant to withdraw from outside distractions by reducing our senses' influence, Dharana targets the removal of the distractions created by our minds.

They are mandatory steps to achieve the goal of yoga: unity with Global Consciousness.


At Japam, we teach Hatha and Ashtanga yoga according to the philosophy of Patanjali. Our Yoga therapy classes are also oriented toward the eight limbs of yoga. Don't hesitate to contact us for more information about our courses.


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