Pratyāhāra: The Fifth and Often Forgotten Limb of Yoga

When my flight got cancelled in mid-March and I had the choice of scrambling and waiting on hold with my airline to book another ticket back home, I chose to stay. I chose to quarantine on the Big Island. Every two weeks, I kept pushing my date of return.

This time gave me the opportunity to simple be. I asked myself a lot of questions and most times I was in my head about things that could not be solved or had answers to. I think I am not alone in that.

The following questions were ones I kept asking:

What felt right now? 

What was the “right” thing to do today?

Should I be close to my family and friends?

Am I being selfish for staying?

Nothing made sense the first few days and weeks of the quarantine, and still, to this day, there is so much uncertainty. But, learning to remain with the uncertainty has revealed such great treasures. Remaining, and not doing, has been a big gift during the past three months. Looking back, I want to say that I made the right call. Continuing my practice and life away from the disruptions of a big city was ideal. Being in nature, fully engulfed, has been dreamy. I have no regrets, even though I felt many nights the deep sorrow of solitude and isolation. The deep loneliness that plagues our human existence intensified for me with the loud jungle sounds at night. Yet, I chose to remain. There were days that I almost bought my ticket and returned. But, those unpleasant feelings would have likely followed me to Los Angeles. Remnants of them likely will travel along with me next week. Who knows?

Some days, I danced. I danced alone, wildly in my living room and the lanai. Movement and stillness are good medicine. One without the other feels imbalanced for me.  My practice shifted, like my sense of self did, during this time.

Unmoving, I hoped, the answers would surface. Moving, I hoped, I would not be in my head attaching myself to situations that would likely not manifest. Not sure if any answer has really revealed itself. I like to think of them as being slowly uncovered. Perhaps, some of the answers will never come to fruition for me to sit with.  Who ever really knows if the path we take is the right one anyway, am I right? I But, somehow quieting into the uncertainty and fear revealed a few things for me. Ones that I am not fully ready to share.

I love this quote by Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.


I am not one to believe too much into signs, but turtles were everywhere here. The farmhouse that I am staying has a statuette of a tortoise. Two in fact. I went on a hike and I was the only one on this walk, and I came across this honu – a Hawaiian green turtle. There were so many signs telling me to observe these creatures more closely.

honu – native Hawaiian sea turtle

Even though what seem to be very stationary animals, the sea turtles migrate such great distances in the ocean. However, when they are on land, their stillness represent so much wisdom. During the first three weeks of the shelter in place order, I took a three week virtual Iyengar retreat with Marla Apt. Our first week’s theme was Pratyāhāra. It roughly translates to moving away from what nourishes you. Commonly, it is defined as “withdrawal of the senses.” Only in retreat and during intensive training sessions, I have been able to tap into and play around with this limb of yoga. We spent the whole week preparing for kurmasana, tortoise pose. Even then, being able to access this pose, I continue to question whether or not full withdrawal is possible. I have been practicing this posture repeatedly, weekly, to see what surfaces. For me, there is this quietude and relaxation and calmness. There is also agitation, fear of being within a compact space. This posture resembles so much of what we have been asked to do. To remain within the confines of our physical spaces, and of our body and mind. Practicing the asana and Pratyāhāra has been revelatory beyond what my words can describe here, and I am happy to share the practice with you.  Come observe for yourself what the fifth limb of yoga is about. It will be interactive and accessible for all level practitioners.

PRATYAHARA KURMASANA instagram story 3

The beauty of yoga practice is that it is just that, a continuous practice of inquiry. In taking action and doing it, things become clearer. Although, I do not have many answers, including the ones I need for myself, I am happy to guide a discussion around Sutra 2.54 and play around asana and pranayama that help us tap into that space of quietude and inner landscape discovery.

sutra study story- armen

PRATYAHARA & KURMASANA instagram feed 1

I hope you can join these two sessions. We will begin with a sutra study on June 1st and asana practice on June 3rd. There will be a strong emphasis on forward folds and all levels modifications will be give so it is accessible for all.

Register for both workshops through One Down Dog.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s