Some of you might know about the eight limbs of Yoga. These are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi.
On the path of Libration (Libration from the sufferings), Yama, Niyama and Asanas are considered totally foundation of yoga or you can say preparatory yoga. Practice of higher yoga begins with the Pranayama (actually when you practice with bandhas and mudras).
Yet in yogic Shastras/scriptures, practice of Pranayama considered the external part of spiritual practice.
Our Yogis classified the whole practice of yoga in two parts :
Bahirang yoga (External) that includes the practice of Yama, Niyama, Asanas and Pranayama. Almost whole practice of Hatha yoga and kriya yoga is a practice of Bahirang yoga. That prepares one for Raja yoga (higher yoga)
Antaranga yoga (Internal) that includes the practice of Dharana, Dhyana and samadhi. It's totally the practice of Raja yoga.
Pratyahara acts something like a bridge between the External and Internal practices.
Meaning: the word Pratyahara is made up of two words: Prati + Ahara.
Prati means: "not" or opposite, against, in return.
Ahara means literally food or nutrition but here, food means food of the senses, or to consume or to take in.
Now, definitions: Pratyahara is a practice/process for not allowing the unnecessary things through the senses and mind.
Or, Pratyahara is a technique to disconnect the senses, and mind from the external objects that is responsible for all the sufferings, pain and miseries.
What sage Patanjali wrote in Patanjali Yogasutra- 2/54: Sva_vishaya asamprayoge chittasya_svarupa_anukarah eva_indriyanam Pratyaharah.
Different words to define the Pratyahara:
Withdrawing the senses, mind and consciousness from contact with external objects, and then drawing them inward towards the seer/self, is Pratyahara.
By B K S Iyengar ji:
Pratyahara refers to restraint of senses, a state when senses don't jump to perch on objects, but instead remain stable/firm.
Pratyahara is the liberation of the senses from the objects those attracts them and become cause/source of sufferings.
Pratyahara is a process of mental control through the withdrawal of the mind from sensory functions.
Buddha said "Mind is the leader of the senses." In Hatha Yoga pradipika, Swami Swatmaram ji wrote: "Mind is the king of the senses."
If we look these both statements, then it will be easy to understand what is required for withdrawal of senses.
Answer is easy to get, that is: Control of the mind. Because without the energy of the mind, senses can't make the union (bandage) with the objects.
That's our mind who supply the energy to all the senses.
It's necessary to save and store/accumulate the energy of the mind for higher and intense practices.
Pratyahara is a practice/process of self-restraint or self-control where practitioner/sadhaka tries to keep his/her senses away from the temptations of objects (those provides only momentary and sensual pleasures) of the materialistic world. For the success of the Pratyahara, one has to practice Vairagya (freedom from desires or non-attachment or dispassion) along with the practice of Yama, Niyama, Asana and Pranayama.
One can't get the absolute control/mastery over the mind and senses directly by practicing one particular technique for few minutes or hours in a weeks/months. It requires regular, constant and serious practice for longer period of time. So whatever other limbs/forms of yoga or other techniques you are practicing, all are fine, you should continue those. But along with those practices you must practice Pratyahara and Vairagya (dispassion) simultaneously.
In essence, I would love to say, state of Pratyahara is a result or fruit of serious and constant practice of Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayamas and other practices like a Kriya yoga, Vippassana...etc. In this state, one can see oneself completely away from the body and mind. One could able to see the nature of the external objects, body, senses, mind and also their relationships.
Yoga Nidra is one of the best practice for experiencing the state of Pratyahara. In the beginning, it may possible that you may sleep or state of Pratyahara come just for few moments. You should accept it and don't loose the patience, with regular (few weeks or months, depends on your intensity and the accumulation of past Sanskaras) practice of yoga nidra you will get success in it...
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