The fifth limb of Patanjali's yoga is Pratyahara, or Withdrawal Of the Senses. This is important on our path toward union because our senses are powerful forces, constantly drawing our attention outward. The goal of Withdrawal Of the Senses is to free the mind from the distraction of the world of our senses and the world of our bodies. The consciousness can then turn inward to the peace and stillness within, eventually leading to a greater cosmic understanding and union.
Once we begin to notice it, the outward draw of our senses is obvious and ever-present. We even create situations in which our senses are stimulated in order to avoid our inner selves.
Sight - Television, movies and video games offer sight stimulation that draws our mind outward. I have heard that our mind is more active when staring at a wall than it is when watching television.
Hearing - Background music is the big culprit here. Every store, restaurant and bank has music playing to stimulate our sense of hearing. And most people listen to the radio or music in the car or when studying. All of these instances of aural stimulation draw the mind outward and distract it. Conversation often acts as a distraction too. We talk and listen specifically to draw our mind outward and avoid silence.
Touch - Fidgeting, twiddling of thumbs or fingers, scratching, face rubbing, beard scratching, self-hugging, chewing gum and clenching teeth are all examples of distracting our minds through the sense of touch. This also includes sex and eating.
Taste - With our highly developed system for creating edible "foods" with powerful taste properties like processed sweet, salty and fatty snacks, taste is commonly used for drawing the mind outward. Especially whenever we eat because we are bored. That is a perfect example of using taste as a mental distraction.
Smell - I actually don't know of any ways in which we use smell as distraction. I encourage your thoughts and feedback if you have any.
FOOD & TELEVISION
Eating is especially powerful distraction due to its multi-sensory nature. It stimulates our taste through its flavors. It also stimulates our sense of touch through texture. Food making companies invest lots of research into making their foods "feel" just right, with the right consistency or crunch. Food also stimulates our hearing. Our mouths are right next to our ears, so whenever we eat our hearing is deeply engaged, especially in crunchy foods.
Television is also a multi-sensory distraction. Its quickly moving light projections draw our eyes/sight outward, and the sounds draw our hearing. A third element of television is its attraction to our 6th "sense," our mind. The stories and dramas of television, movies and sports engage our minds in a kind of distraction. We are enticed to consider the nature of the plots or get invested in the outcome of the big game.
It all pulls our minds outward. The concept of withdrawing the senses suggests avoiding or ignoring these stimuli as much as possible. Without these stimuli, our minds become quieter and more sensitive. We can examine ourselves, our nature and the nature of the universe with far greater subtlety.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga