Yoga Journal

The Draw Of The Senses

ON A BEACH trip when I was about six years old, my mother pointed out the colorful coquina clams on the shore. Each time a wave drew back into the sea, the tiny creatures, sensing their exposure, would send out a soft foot and dig themselves back into the cool, wet sand. I gently picked one up and observed its jellylike extension. When its little feeler made contact with my fingers, it immediately retreated back into its shell.

I am reminded of this experience whenever I practice, the retracting of the senses. In English, pratyahara is often referred to as sensory withdrawal, which can suggest a kind of deprivation. But in Sanskrit, it means “fasting” and is an intentional—and often challenging—practice of resting from sensory intake in order to quiet the mind so that we can know our true selves.

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