It was an unseasonably nice day yesterday and a warm and inviting evening. The studio windows just begged to be open, but as soon as I opened a window, a truck went by and I had second thoughts about my decision. I turned to the student closest to the window and gave her the option of closing it if the outside noise became a bit much, but my next thought was, maybe the noise is an opportunity.
Pratyahara, or the withdrawing of the senses, in what I see as its simplest form, is moving beyond the noise and distractions that we gather from our senses to turn the focus inward. The street noise gave an opportunity to practice and an opportunity to discuss.
In the discussion, one of the students in class (who also happened to be my mother…) said just remember pratyahara the next time your kids are fighting and whining and screeching. A more challenging task than a little bit of street noise, right? For sure. But also a really valid point.
The practice of pratyahara has so many applications to everyday life. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by distraction, I know that I could benefit from a better ability to turn inward, remove some distraction and awaken my intuitive mind. This is no easy task with the constant technology and sound and flashing light and smells and screeches of everyday life, but we can be more aware of the things that we are letting ourselves be distracted by. We can make an effort to notice when we are mindlessly thumbing through our phone instead of doing what we told ourselves we were about to do. We can give ourselves permission to focus and breathe and do despite the barrage of stimuli that are vying for our attention.
Sometimes I find myself so distracted by the things that are happening around me that it seems like I am struggling to accomplish anything at all. I will set out to complete a task and pick up a new task or twelve along the way; hear an argument and pause to mediate, see a toy in the middle of the floor and stop to grab it, notice that it feels kind of chilly and go adjust the heat, hear a vibration and check a text message, notice a funky smell and pause to take the garbage out, see a red light flashing and check a message. Wait, what was I doing?
While some of the distractions of day to day life may truly be a reason to drop whatever you are doing to deal with them immediately, many, many more of those distractions are certainly not. For me, real life application of pratyahara means working to avoid letting those less pressing distractions have the opportunity to do so much distracting. The world will not stop spinning if I do not immediately answer that message or if I step over that toy in the middle of the floor. These things can certainly wait until I accomplish the task at hand.
Bringing it back to last night’s class, the window remained open for the duration of our practice. Throughout class, I didn’t notice any street noise. The first time that I was reminded of my concern with distraction was as I was holding court over my students in savasana and worried that the noises would be disruptive to them. They all had that blissed out look as we closed our practice, though, so I’m calling it a win. Now to keep that bliss as we get bombarded by distraction outside of the studio space.
An edited version of this post was published by the good people at Elephant Journal. Here’s the link: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2016/03/noise-what-noise-thoughts-on-applying-pratyahara/