Now I appreciate this is probably not a subject for contemplation by many who go to yoga, however I do find if you ask people the question, most will stop and ponder with some sincerity.
My guru, Shri Rudra Bala Yogi, as I understand him, teaches the brain as the tool for driving the sensory organs; ears, nose and eyes. And yes, this is easy enough to understand. As our senses detect smells, view and feel our brain picks up those messages and the mind interprets. The mind tells us, “yes this is good, “no, this is bad”, “ this is beautiful,” and “this is ugly, yuck.” These judgements coming from years of impressions made on the mind since time began. Kind of simple, yes.
If you have been to a half-decent yoga school you may have heard of the term ‘pratyahara”. It is a sanskrit term often referred to as meaning withdrawel of the senses. It is why yoga schools teach yoga at room temperature, without music and mirrors, so one has the best change to observe the movements of their mind.
Pratyahara is an important concept of yoga as it leads to a calming of the mind making us less vulnerable to being thrown off course by the emotions and trials of life. Yes, we still experience things but the highs and lows, the attachments and dramas to these experiences less binding. We experience them with more freedom.
And I must say, as a practitioner of yoga, until recently I though the concept of withdrawal of the senses was a pretty apt way of describing pratyahara. However, after reading my guru’s teachings and listening and sitting with him I am beginning to realise it is not actually the withdrawel of the senses we are chasing. We do not want the eyes to stop seeing, the nose to stop smelling or the ears to stop hearing. What we are chasing is the ability to experience these messages from the brain without the mind becoming active. Without the mind becoming busy and making judgements. To just sit in a state of awareness, peacefulness, experiencing our lives without becoming a slave to our minds interpretations of the brain messages.
I know for sure that whilst I am genuinely working towards a more peaceful mind I am still definitely a slave to my brain rather than a master of my mind. And this is the skill, the enlightenment that is slowly unravelling for me over years of yoga practise. My brain is definitely my friend as long as I have awareness of my mind, without awareness of my mind activity, the brain can become a terrible master.
Being a female, I find this is especially helpful when I am suffering from PMT or feeling anxious due to hormone imbalances. I can console and strengthen myself, lessen my suffering through reminding myself to not allow my mind to be caught up in the messages my brain is sending. Knowing my mind is responding to conditioning and imprints, many of which came prior to my birth and this is affecting my judgement of my feelings. Stop judging and just be, keep my mind still. The criticality of meditation here cannot be understated to assist in this process.
Without the light of a true Master to guide me I am sure I would not have been able to come to this small understanding. And I know, I still have a long way to go. But perhaps, if you’re having a bad day, this small insight can help you endure better and be less affected by an experience you are feeling as negative. If you really want to move towards the truth, my Guru says you must find yourself an enlightened soul to guide you, “Read the books and throw them into the Ganges.” He says. And it is true, most books are only written by another person’s imaginations.