“Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spates of time sitting on park benches, observing ants and the canopy of treetops.”
~ Maya Angelou
On more than one occasion, in the months of February and March this year, I needed a timeout. Like most of us who live and work here year-round, during the winter months of “season” when the Island population swells, we are a few notches above “busy.” So, when June rolls around we are happy to invite the sluggishness of the summer heat, and economy into our lives, if only for a few weeks. I remember days at my desk when the stack of notes I had written as reminders of the tasks that needed to be completed, concealed my keyboard and “post-it” notes hung on my monitor like confetti. My rear-end had congealed into the seat of my desk chair, and Juicy Fruit substituted for lunch. During the months of madness I do not wish I was doing something else, anywhere else because I feel privileged to be living and working in a place where I once vacationed, but I admit there are times when I’d choose solitude over chocolate cake.
Over the last few weeks I have introduced the first half of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. The Eight Limbs are simply a guideline for living in the yogic tradition. The first of the Limbs are the yamas (observances), niyamas (disciplines), asana (postures), and pranayama (breath). The fifth of the guidelines, according to yoga sage, Patanjali, is pratyahara or withdrawing from the senses. Pratyahara comes from the Sanskrit words ahara, meaning food or anything that we bring into ourselves, and prati, which means against. So pratyahara is translated to mean “control over external influences.” I think of pratyahara as timeout.
When our kids were little, timeout was a daily occurrence. Sometimes I’d direct them to sit on a chair or at the base of the steps, with an egg timer parked next to them, set for five minutes. Other times they were separated from one another until the mess was cleaned up. Once in a while, the child would recognize their misdeed and surrender to timeout without any direction from me. Before I could impose the punishment, they were already doing their time, but looking back, I think I would have been wiser to put myself into timeout and let the kids work out their differences.
In yoga, timeout is intentional and takes self-discipline to achieve. Often pratyahara is compared to a turtle. The shell of the turtle represents the mind, and the turtle’s limbs are the senses, but it goes a bit deeper than that. Withdrawing from the senses in a mindful way means more than closing ourselves off from what we can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Pratyahara suggests that we also withdraw from the elements that don’t nourish our bodies. For instance, food that is toxic or does not foster health and growth. Withdrawing from anger, violence, hatred and jealousy is another aspect of pratyahara. And distancing ourselves from people and relationships that do not enhance well-being, is also considered in the practice of withdrawing from the senses.
Pratyahara might also be thought of as a moat, and our mind and body are the castle it protects. With the protective aura of pratyahara in practice, we are better equipped to filter what comes in and what goes out. We use a slow, controlled breath as the vessel that moves stimulus across the moat.
In the words of Maya Angelou, we all should take the time to withdraw from the activity around us and spend time just hanging out. The worries of the day seldom diminish on their own. Toxic relationships are not extinguished without focused intent. And M&M’s do not jump into my mouth unassisted. Practicing withdrawal of the senses and resisting the temptation of overindulging in what doesn’t serve our best interests might just leave more time and more space for aimless wandering, or the quiet enjoyment of the peacefulness we hold inside.
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.