Observe the sensations that arise at each of the sense doors to see that they're just sensations happening, pure and simple. It's not the case that we're sensing these things. For instance, the eye sees forms. It's not us that's seeing them. There's simply the seeing of forms by means of eye-consciousness, pure and simple. At that point, there's not yet any labeling of the sight as good or bad. There's not yet any thought fabrication following on the sensation of contact. We simply watch the simple sensation and the stop right there, to see the characteristics of the sensation as it passes away or as it's replaced by a new sensation. We keep watching the passing away of sensations, keep watching until we see that this is simply the nature of the eyes and ears: to register sensations. That way we don't latch onto them to the point where we give rise to suffering and stress the way we used to.
I’ve written so much about the importance of community, and I’ve written on how I kind of suck at teaching yoga and Buddhist philosophy. But we are all assured repeatedly that without practice what we suck at will never improve. With that as my guide I am going to attempt to write about a timeless practice for well being: pratyahara of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, or indriya-samvara of the Noble Eight Fold Path of the Buddha. These are what has been translated as “sense-withdrawal” or “guarding the sense-doors”.
A quick refresher: the senses are what the body uses to perceive the world and itself. The senses are the eyes (perceive visible objects), ears (perceive sound), nose (smells), tongue (taste), skin, muscles & fascia (touch) and mind (perceives mental emotions & thoughts).
When the governor’s proclamation was made known to us and I sent out the class cancellations, I was very touched to hear from many of you that I take the teaching to an online platform. I’m so grateful what I have been sharing is resonating for you.
I didn’t for a moment consider doing it, though.
Why? Because there are already many, many highly qualified, extremely good teachers and platforms available out there. Some of those are even local, in my lineage and their only income is from teaching. Please pay them your dollars. My day job is “Essential Personnel”, I have a steady paycheck.
Because I thought, how about for a change, you take this opportunity to practice what I have already taught you. How about you take what I have taught and put in into your body and make it your own? Practice strengthening the body's (touch) sense of physical stimuli, such as pressure and vibration, as well as the sensation of position?
(No one has ever described me as a warm, soft and fuzzy person- more like a 2 X4 swinging around.)
I did offer to email written sequences to each of you, upon request. No one took me up on the offer.
I practice yoga and do my workouts inside. Inside my body and my senses. Just me and a piece of paper with a sequence written out, I am not focused on externals: following the instructions, keeping up, the person next to me, the clock, just to name a few. I can’t rely on a person outside of me to feed me information regarding where I am in space and time. Just me and a sequence, trying to activate what I have been learning. This requires all the interoception and proprioception I have. It is all autonomy and personal responsibility. It is personal emancipation.
It’s always hard to work with translations and certainly English translations of pratyahara in yoga and indriya samvara can elicit negative connotations. Consider this- well established science tells us how screen time is addictive, how the brain is stimulated into a form of agitated craving, how we are pulled out of self- sufficiency to seek more and more stimuli. Consider how our eyes, our vision and our mind, our thoughts and emotions dominate, even drown out input from the other senses. Can you stand on one foot? Can you stand on one foot with your eyes closed? Do you have to listen to music or have the TV or radio on to drown out the thoughts in your head?
“Pratyahara empowers one to stop being controlled by the external world, fetch one's attention to seek self-knowledge and experience the freedom innate in one's inner world.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pratyahara
I love the internet and online learning maybe as much as the next. I pay for ad-free YouTube, take an online continuing ed class to learn more about how bodies work. I listen to podcasts, audio books and stream movies from the library. For about 10 years I used a high quality online yoga class service.
I hope you keep up your practice. I challenge to you this: Up Your Game and practice yoga with no screen, no other person or voice telling you what to do. Take note if it is hard to interocept- perceive conditions within the body, or do you believe you require exteroception- external stimuli acting on the body.
Yoga, and you all call what we are doing at Aspiration Community Yoga “yoga”, is a practice for quieting the domination of disturbance and agitation. Take advantage of this opportunity.