Channeling Pratyahara: Practicing Yoga with your Eyes Closed
Have you ever closed your eyes while you were eating in order to savor your food more deeply?
Or while you were hugging a friend in order to better appreciate their touch?
The human eye transmits almost 10 MILLION bits of information to the brain per second, which can overwhelm our system & lessen our ability to engage with other senses. This is why we frequently unconsciously compensate by closing our eyes when we want to feel, hear, taste & smell more deeply.
In yoga, pratyahara is the practice of depriving the senses & gaining control over external influences. It’s often referred to as the ‘forgotten limb of yoga.’ In today’s information age, we’ve gotten so used to eagerly absorbing all of the available information that we’ve turned away from intentionally shutting superficial information out.
But doing so occasionally can be a wonderfully introspective experience! Try minimizing external distractions the next time you get on your mat. Turn off the music & close your eyes for the entirety of your practice. (Open them if you need to during transitions though - please don’t hurt yourself!) When you take away your eyesight, your gaze turns inward & you become more in tune with your body: individual muscles, your balance & your alignment. Lunge down into your warrior stance & you’ll feel the energy move up your legs & through your fingers as your hamstrings engage & your arms extend. Open your heart & stand tall in mountain pose & you’ll feel how firmly rooted you are to the earth. Lift your leg to enter tree pose & you’ll notice just how many muscles & bones are in your feet as you struggle to balance! Focusing your gaze inward can be a beautiful thing.
Wary of keeping your eyes closed for the entirety of your practice? Just experiment a bit! Have fun with it! Close your eyes for ten minutes & then open them. Or just try keeping your gaze focused downward. You’ll notice pretty quickly how distracting vision can be! Whether it’s someone else’s outfit in a group class or the askew alignment of your mat against the hardwood floorboards or your chipping toenail polish that desperately needs some TLC, distractions are everywhere!
That's not to say that all external influences are necessarily a bad thing. Music can be a wonderful addition to your practice & learning to focus your drishti (gaze) is an essential part of fully embodying any asana. But by recognizing the less functional external influences, you can guard against practices that don’t serve you. So the next time you find your eyes hungrily combing the room, searching for a distraction to occupy their attention, take a moment to identify WHY. Why are you searching for a distraction? Does your practice feel too easy? Make it a bit more challenging by throwing in some advanced poses like bhujapidasana or side crow. Are you feeling frazzled? Ungrounded? Take a moment to center yourself by closing your eyes, placing one hand on your heart and the other right below your rib cage. Breathe into your hands a few times & feel your warmth. Remind yourself that you are here. You are present.
True presence is simply a matter of intention. By engaging in pratyahara you are taking control of your practice & the external influences that might distract you from it. Once you’ve practiced without, by all means - reintroduce vision & music & any other tools to enhance your practice. But do so with intention! Bring your gaze up to your lifted thumb in triangle pose in order to shift your weight into your back hip. Gaze inward & upward at your navel in downward dog in order to keep the back of your neck long. Create a yoga playlist filled with all of your favorite calming, motivating songs to add a sense of rhythm while you flow! Use every tool you have at your disposal that serves you. Or use nothing but your breath & your intrinsic motivation. Only you know what you need!
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