|Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga. It's literal translation is prati which means against or in opposition to and hara which means receiving or obtaining. So to practice Pratyahara is to oppose receiving. and so the trans-literal meaning has most commonly come to be the withdrawal of the senses.
Pratyahara is a crossroad in the yoga practice bringing the practitioner from the physical to the mental realm. It is here where the meditation practice begins to form. How can we still the mind if it is busy with sensory input. It is the "fasting" of the mind.
The easiest way to start your Pratyahara journey is to find a place that is as much devoid of stimulus as possible. This could be a quiet darkened room. Find a comfortable seat or better yet start by lying down with a blanket or bolster under your knees.
While sleep is a form of Pratyahara, we really want to work towards a state of awake in which we have simply closed off the outside world.
If you are having a challenge shutting out the world, try adding an eye pillow and earplugs. Or add a single stimulus to shut out the rapid changing stimuli. For example, stare at an object, such as a statue, flower, or picture, to keep your eyes from wandering. Use quiet soothing music to keep from hearing distracting noises. Use a blanket if you are cold. If your sense of smell is distracted by the environment, try using a pleasant scented candle or incense.
The ultimate goal of our Pratyahara practice is to be able to do it anywhere with any stimulation. We should try to find a comfortable seated position so we do not fall asleep. We gradually become able to have stimulation around us with our focus inward and not hear, see or feel what is happening outside of ourselves.
Pranayama controls our energy through breath. Bringing our breath in concert with sensory withdrawal takes us ever closer to a meditative state. You can use many breath techniques to enhance your Pratyahara. For example, begin with 3 part or square breath or if your energy feels out of balance, perhaps a few rounds of Nadi Shodina.
Another simple technique is to count your breaths backwards from a selected number. By determining your number of breaths per minute you can also discipline your practice with a built in breath timer. So let's say your regular breathing rate is 8 breaths per minute. Starting at 40, you could then create a short Pratyahara exercise for 5 minutes.
A five to ten minute practice every day or so will give your mind a fantastic break and help guide you on your path to successful and fulfilling meditation.