Dropping Into Our Roots
By Geoffrey Nimmer, November, 2017
I am so grateful to live in a place where I can feel so connected to my environment. Recognizing my connection to the world around me is a way I practice yoga off the mat. And a big part of that connection is through light: We are so lucky to live in a place known for its beautiful light, and I love watching how it changes.
The light changes moment to moment with the movement of the clouds. It changes from morning to night. The phases of the moon change the light at night. And the light shifts with the changing of the seasons. As we move towards the winter solstice and darker, shorter days, I notice the environment responding by turning inwards—I notice the landscape going dormant—and I feel like doing the same thing. I feel like turning inward, and cooling down after the brightness and the heat of the summer. This makes me think of pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga, defined as withdrawal from the senses, and considered the gateway from the more external outer limbs to the internal subtler ones.
The term pratyahara is made of up of two Sanskrit words—ahara, meaning food or anything taken in, including what comes in through our senses; and prati, meaning away or against—that is, moving away from sensory input. Practicing non-attachment to our senses moves us along the yogic path to the deeper limbs—dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
I think about trees and plants shedding their leaves in the fall. Not only do the leaves of plants provide nourishment, they are also the way plants receive information from their surroundings. Leaves are the trees sensory organs; through their leaves, plants take in nourishment, feel the breeze, and sense the seasonal changes of the light. And their response to this change is to shed their sensory organs—they simply detach from stimuli. As they do this, they become still; they drop into to their roots and their deeper connection to the world.
This is what I think of when I have glimpses of pratyahara: I am not actively trying to shut down my senses. I can’t stop the vibrations of sound from entering my ears, or stop the feeling of the sun on my skin, but I can practice detaching from those sensations—I can just let them go. As I do this, I feel I am taking a step on the now leaf-covered path of yoga, towards an even deeper connection to the world around me.