Four ways to practice pratyahara in the modern age

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Eighties movies set me up for disappointment. Whenever the main character had to transform in some way there was this awesome music montage. A power ballad played as the plucky girl got a makeover, got into the college of her dreams, got the man of her dreams, and so forth. Change was visible and fast and pretty. When I arrived at adulthood seeking to transform, I wondered: Where is my Air Supply? OK, I"ll settle for Boston. Nothing? Transformation is not always observable from the outside. You can't always write the fiercest, proudest moments in the holiday card. You can rarely see them.

This is highlighted as we approach the darkest day of the year. Traditionally, this has been a time when humans throughout the centuries have drawn inward: the harvest is done and it's time to reflect on the year behind and the year ahead. It's a time to be close to those we love. It's a time to un-do and maybe even move into the dark places a bit more bravely.

We might have lost that connection to this quiet, introspective time in the modern era of blinking lights and screens brighter than the sun. However, I'd like to suggest that it's important to take some time to go inside. Into the quiet parts. Into the dark parts. I have experienced beauty, awakening, and transformation that no Cyndi Lauper montage can emulate. Seriously.

In yoga we call this pratyahara (drawing the senses inward). It is one of the eight limbs of the yoga practice. I'd like to offer you four ways to take a little time to draw into the quiet, even as we have a holly jolly time over the next few weeks.

1. Turn off the phone. No, really. Turn it off. My husband and I have a saying around the Brommel abode. When we are with each other and one of us is absorbed in Buzzfeed's funniest cats wearing Santa hats (totally hypothetical...totally didn't happen...last night), the other says, "Hello, I'm a real human. Want to go on airplane mode and talk to me?" When you're with your family and friends, see if you can really be with them. Maybe it's just for a few hours, but take the time to unplug and really be there. Use your breath as an anchor to the present moment and cultivate the attitude of explorer (I wonder what Aunt Bertha might say next...). I have the intention of turning off my phone at 9pm so I can light some candles and enjoy some restorative practices before bed. This is a nice time to check in with any residue from the day and perhaps meditate. (Tips on how to do that here.)

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2. Wrap your head. It's really as simple as that. You want a clean, breathable bandage that you can wrap around your head comfortably. I like the Indian-made bandages from the Iyengar tradition, but I hear ACE wraps work just as well. After you wrap, sit or lie comfortably and focus on lengthening and smoothing your breath. The slight pressure on your eyes helps to activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) part of your nervous system. It's amazing how immediately restorative this practice is, and it gets special points for helping with those holiday headaches. This is something you can do absolutely anywhere you don't mind looking like a mummy, too. (I'd do it on an airplane. Don't think I wouldn't.)

3. Allow time for un-doing.  Maybe you have to say "no" to a holiday party invitation or two. I have. That's OK. Find space and time to un-do. Maybe for you it's watching a movie, reading a book, going to yoga practice, watching the moon rise, or taking a hot bath. Use your mindfulness practice to assess when you are ready for more activity and when you need to just...be.

4. Meditate on the koshas. The koshas in yoga are the layers of our beings. Think of a Russian doll, with one inside the other. Seated quietly (anywhere will do... passenger side of a car works!), move through the layers of your being with the simple goal of sensing and feeling how that part of you feels today. Use the breath to air out any sensations that feel stagnate and send compassion to yourself as you move through. Systematically move through with an attitude of curiosity.

  •  Annamayakosha (physical sheath): How does your physical body feel? What sensations do you notice?
  • Pranamayakosha (breath sheath): How is your breath moving? Where does it fill your body? What is the texture like?
  • Manomayakosha (mental/emotional sheath): What patterns of mind are you experiencing? What emotions are with you? Where do you feel those emotions in your body?
  • Vijnanamayakosha (wisdom sheath): Can you connect with the part of you that feels the wisest? What does this part of you feel like? Does this part of you have anything to say?
  • Anandamayakosha (bliss sheath): What are you most grateful for in your life?

How do you get better at drawing inward and allowing space in the quiet? You practice, of course. Come practice with me this weekend, as we explore various yogic techniques which will allow us to savor some quiet space and prepare for a powerful 2014.

Saturday, 8:30a

Sunday, 2pm

Sunday, 6pm

Monday, 10am

All details here.