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Pratyahara: Inward Journeys Create Outward Balance

Last week a dear one was away for the week surfing in Mexico. It wasn’t until a few days after he left when I texted him, and did not receive a reply that I realized he was off the grid. Being accustomed to exchanging texts almost daily, it felt weird to suddenly be unable to connect with him.

At first glance, I found myself dancing the twist and shout with the Ego mind (imagine the Elaine Benes dance on Seinfeld) because I felt disconnected from my friend. As the Santa Ana winds blew through Santa Barbara, I watched my vata dosha get all wonky (one of the haha gunas) and the next thing I knew, I was feeling lonely and insecure about being out of touch with this dear one. It only lasted a few minutes, but the feeling got my attention. Where the attention goes, prana goes…and the desire to understand such a sudden and irrational feeling. So I asked myself, “why does this feel like such a big deal and what is there to learn from this situation?”

I knew there was no way I was going to find the answer to this question in my mind, so I sought the refuge and counsel of my beloved yoga mat. Within seconds of dropping into calming breath in triangle pose, another thought appeared. At second glance, I found myself dancing the let go and flow with the heart (imagine the graceful Gene Kelly singing in the rain), and I immediately felt reconnected to not only my sweet friend, but to the Source of inner peace in my heart.

One of yoga’s gifts is discovering and experiencing the magic and power of the subtle body. Suddenly I felt being off the grid with my friend was actually allowing me to connect with him in a subtle yet deeper way. I felt his essence in my heart space. Or in the case of this guy, the smile space, which to me is as sacred as the heart space.

But more importantly, I was reminded why I practice yoga. On the mat I learn how to maintain order – order in my body and mind. When I am on the mat, the laptop and cell phone are off. When I am on the mat, I am off the grid. Yoga is the path where I move beyond the limits of time, space, the body, and the mind. Beyond the external world and its noise and distractions, the mind calms and quiets; I arrive at the haven of my heart. The experience of being off the grid with a loved one reminded me of the necessity and beauty of Pratyahara.

Pratyahara means to draw the senses inward. In other words, to withdraw…to unplug…to go off the grid. It’s an active choice and a passive state of shifting from external communication to internal communication. Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. It shares a close relationship to the fifth chakra, the throat chakra, which relates to communication.

As I realized last week, there is a tendency to become attached to texts, emails, and phone calls. We somehow believe the more of these messages we receive from our loved ones, the more connected we are to them. And the more we send, the more we can maintain that connection, and the more secure we feel in the relationship. And yet, one of the main requirements for both healthy communication and relationships is space. One of my favorite quotes about relationships is by the poet Kahlil Gibran. He wrote, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of heaven dance between you.”

All healthy relationships require a balance between space and intimacy. Perhaps this balance is formed by allowing space to create intimacy, by practicing pratyahara or going off the grid. By letting go of the need to connect through technology, which requires the mind and senses to often work overtime, we can discover the subtle ways the heart communicates in the space of silence. By going off the grid, whether it’s by disconnecting from the Smartphone or the mind, we reconnect to our breath, which leads us to our heart. There we discover the magic of the heart space, where communication and connection is always clear, smooth, honest, sacred, and balanced.

Pratyahara offers us the space to unplug from anything which stresses our body and drains our energy. Pratyahara creates the place where we plug into our internal power Source – the sustainable, renewable, and Divine energy in the heart. A tonic for the body and any relationship, Pratyahara restores all to its natural state of clarity, ease, and balance. We only need to choose to go off the grid for a few minutes each day. At the moment, I meditate eleven minutes a day. And while some folks may consider this sissy meditation, I know it works for me. I suggest finding a time frame which works for you and every day sit a spell on your beloved yoga mat, meditation cushion, or favorite tree branch.

I am grateful my friend was off the grid last week, because I unplugged from the hi-tech devices a little more. It was off the grid and on the mat where I rediscovered the gorgeous benefits of Pratyahara. While my friend surfed the swells on the waters in Mexico, I surfed the breath on the mat in Santa Barbara. The refuge and counsel of my mat provided me the perfect space to turn inward. On the mat, the dance between space and intimacy helped me greater appreciate the grace and power of Pratyahara. For in this space, I allowed the winds of heaven to dance between me and my friend. But more importantly, in this sacred space of Pratyahara, I paused between the inhalation and the exhalation and found myself arriving in the divine space of the heart center. There, peace and love are found, and smiles abound.