Pratyähära-Withdrawal of the Senses

Pratyahara is the 5th limb of Ashtanga Yoga. It is necessary for the highest level of raja yoga, to perfect dharana (concentarion), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (absorbtion into the highest).

Patanjali defines pratyahara as “the process of the senses imitating the mind’s withdrawal by withdrawing contact with their respective objects.” (II.54) He then proceeds to mention, “from that follows the highest mastery over the senses.” (II.55)

The yogic texts, often speak of meditation after reminding that it is to be done by one who has their senses controlled. The Bhagavad Gita teaches to “Expel outside contacts and put the gaze between the two eye-brows” in V.27. The mind must be unattached to the senses, in order to focus. The senses feed the mind and spur it on, withdrawing them allows the mind to attain one-pointedness.

Yagnavalkya gives us four different definitions of pratyahara.

[1] “Conscious effort is said to be pratyahara .
[2] Whatever you see, look upon all of it as [being] in the self, and as the self. This is also called pratyahara by great people who have realized [the essence of] Yoga.
[3] For all beings, the mental practice of the daily duties that are prescribed (by the Vedas), through mind, devoid of external actions – this is also said to be pratyahara . This pratyähära is the greatest yogic practice and is praised and followed by yogis always.
[4] Having drawn the prana from one point to another, holding in the 18 marmasthanas is spoken of as pratyahara. The Ashwini Kumaras who are the best among physicians of the devas have spoken thus of the vital points in the body, for the attainment of liberation through yoga.” (Yoga-yajnavalkya, VII. 2-7)

“I shall explain all of them in an orderly manner. Listen, One who adheres to the Veda. The big toes, the ankles, and in the mid-shanks, the root of the calves, the knees, middle of the thighs, the root of the anus, then the center of the body (Dehamadya), the generative organ, the navel, the heart (hrdaya) and neck pit, Gargi. Then, the root of the palate, the root of the nose, circular orb of the eyes, the point between the eyebrows, the forehead, and the crown of the head, best among sages (Gargi), these are the vital points. Listen to their measurement one by one.” (8-11)

“One must focus and retain the prana, by the mind, in these vital points. For one who does pratyahara, drawing the prana from one point to another, all diseases are destroyed. For him yoga attains fruition.” (Yoga-yajnavalkya, VII. 20-21)

Yajnavalkya list 4 types of pratyahara. The Gherunda Samhita takes the subject from a fifth angle focusing on direct withdrawal of the senses and mind. Gherunda teaches how pratyahara has the ability to destroy desire.

Gherunda said: Now I shall tell you about the great pratyahara. By such knowledge will all passions like lust, etc. be destroyed. (4.1)
Whenever the chitta (thinking principle) wanders away, attracted by various objects of sight, bring it back under the control of the Self. (4.2)
When faced with praise or censure, good or bad speech, withdraw your mind from these and place it under the control of the Self. (4.3)
From sweet smells or bad smells or from whatever odour, withdraw your mind and place under the control of the Self. (4.4)
From honey-sweet or sour tastes, from bitter or any other by which the mind may be attracted, withdraw it and place it under control of the Self. (4.5)

One of the results of pratyahara is the desruction of desire through the control of the senses. This improves health as one of the biggest factors of disease is Prajnaparadha, ‘the mistake of the intellect’. You know you’ve had enough but you have more because it tastes so good. You know you are tired and should take rest but you want to see more. When we are free from sense desire, we have the freedom to follow our internal knowing.

[6] Yagnavalkya mentions another technique called Yoni Mudra (when focused on the Ajna) or Shanmukhi Mudra (when done with pranayama), which is considered a primary technique of Pratyahara.

“Thus is the means for mastery over prana, One with a beautiful Countenance (Gargi)! Having assumed a posture that one is capable of [staying in], with a focussed mind, then having drawn by force the senses away from sensory objects and completely controlled them, the wise one, pulling the apana upwards, having controlled the mind using the pranava, restrain the ears and other senses with the hands. Close the two ears with the thumbs, the eyes with the pointers, and the nostrils with the middle fingers, [and having thus restrained the senses,] focus on the crown of the head, till the state of Ananda is experienced.” (VI.50-53)

Mudra is generally considered a meams of Pratyahara. Swami Satyananda Saraswati says that “once the dissipation of prana is arrested through the practice of mudra, the mind becomes introverted, inducing states of pratyahara or sense withdrawal and dharana, concentration. Because of their ability to redirect prana, mudras are important techniques for awakening kundalini.”

According to Yoga, the senses take prana out of the body and can deplete the body of its vitality. It is this loss of prana that makes you tired at the end of the day. Mastery of pratyahara is one of the main yogic techniques for rejuvinating the mind-body. Preventing depletion is easier than fixing it. the regular practice of pratyahara keeps the mind-body rejuvinated, young and healthy. Early morning is the most rejuvinating time of the day and for the most powerful rasayana (rejuvinating) results it is best to have a morning practice. Take time every morning to conserve energy, and spend time with the internal self. Use technique number three in your morning practice. Take time at the end of every sadhanna (yoga practice) to rejuvinate with pratyahara. Use technique number four in shavasana. Develop a strong ability to create pratyahara before your meditation, use technique number six. Become aware of technique number one in your daily activities, watch the mind as it naturally withdraws the senses to it focus on a single task. In daily life practice technique number two in order to reach the final goal of Yoga.

Techniques of Pratyahara

[1] Conscious effort
[2] Look upon all as being the self
[3] Manas Puja, mental practice of worship
[4] Moving prana through the vital points
[5] Watching your reaction to sensory stimuli
[6] Mudra



Hari Dass, Baba, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras . not in print but distributed through the Mount Madonna Center , Watsonville , CA .

Mohan A.G., Yoga-yajnavalkya . Ganesh and Co. Madras , India

Praëavänanda, Yogé, Pure Yoga . Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi , 1992

Swami Sada Shiva Tirtha, The Ayurvedic Encyclopedia . Ayurvedic Holistic Center Press, Bayville , NY . 1998

Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Asana Pranayama Mudra Bhanda . Bihar Yoga Bharati, Munger, Bihar , India , 1997.

Freedom Cole

Freedom lives half the year in India and abroad, the other half in the USA teaching classes and workshops on Yoga and Jyotisha. He is also available for private instruction in Yoga, meditation, Ayurvedic diet and herbal consultations, and Vedic Astrology Readings.

Yoga Rahasya of Nathamuni
präëaprakopätsarväëi vikñiptäni caranti hi |
manasä saha bähyeñu viñayeñu viñatmasu ||
tasmätpräëaà nigåhnéyät recapürakakumbhakaiù ||
On account of the movement of the präëa,
all the senses, along with the mind,
wander towards external objects.

So one should control his präëa through exhalation, inhalation, and retention. (çloka 42)

Yoga-yajnavalkya, VI 35-38 “Kumbhaka pranayama, causes the appearance of Nada. Retaining the prana within the body is called Pranayama. This leads to mastery over the prana (kevala kumbhaka), leads to absence of disease and death. I will tell you, in the proper manner, the methodology to attain mastery over prana to a certain degree. Having inhaled the air from outside and filled the chest and abdomen, one must endeavor to retain the prana, through the mind, in the navel, tip of the nose and the big toes during the sandhya (dawn, noon, sunset) always. The practitioner lives free from all diseases, free from fatique.”