Definition: Composed of two Sanskrit words, ‘prati’ and ‘ahara’. ‘Ahara’ means food, or anything we take into ourselves from the outside, and ‘prati’ is a preposition meaning against or away. ‘Pratyahara’ means literally control of ‘ahara’, or gaining mastery over external influences.
The five horses symbolize the five senses – touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound. The subtle nuance and intelligence available to our senses are mostly overlooked as we move through the world on auto-pilot. If our five senses run amok, we are pulled in too many directions and scatter our energy. Instead, a yoga practitioner learns to direct one’s attention consciously and turn this energy inwards to meditate.
“When we can do pratyahara we shall really possess character; then alone we shall have taken a long step towards freedom; before that we are mere machines.”
— Swami Vivekananda
2.54 sva vishaya asamprayoge chittasya svarupe anukarah iva indriyanam pratyaharah
When the senses and their actions cease to be engaged with external objects, and turn inwards towards the mind-field (citta) from which they arose, this is called pratyahara. — Patanjali
Like a turtle withdrawing its limbs into its shell, pratyahara is the withdrawing of our senses from their involvement with the outer world. The ability to reclaim and control the wandering attention of the senses is an indispensable part of yogic training. Since a tremendous amount of physical and mental energy goes into the outflow and processing of our senses, the yogi recognizes the value of this energy and intentionally draws it back into themself.
In practice, you might imagine pratyahara as the inhalation of attention; consciousness is withdrawn from involvement with your surroundings as you develop the stance of a detached observer. This turning inwards precedes the attainment of deeper meditative states and helps you respond to things and situations from a non-habitual place.
Receiving this card might be a message to turn off your phone, disconnect from the world, and close your eyes for a while. It might be a message to fast from food or substances that keep you in a cycle of addictive behavior. Draw your energy up against your skin and feel what it’s like to not be extended in a thousand directions. You have a tremendous capacity once you stop leaking your energy and remain unswayed by the distractions of your senses.