Information overload and Pratyahara

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by information overload. We are on our phones constantly getting news updates, social media posts and messages. We watch the news, listen to the news on the radio. 

We absorb and digest all this information. All these sensory inputs.

People are studying the effect on social media on our psyche, our emotions and mental health. It’s not just the ‘fake news’, real news and opinions. It is also the tendency to compare with how we perceive other people’s lives and businesses.

The descend into comparison culture

I know I do. I’m self-employed, I teach yoga, teacher trainings, I am an ayurvedic practitioner with lots of interests. Women’s and pelvic floor wellness practitioner. An aromatherapist. And I see what other people are offering and think… I could do that, I already did that – why am I not promoting it more? I should do something different/similar/better/easier/higher level/lower level… It’s very easy to get sucked into the comparing and over-stimulation of ideas.

Obviously, it’s great for inspiration. For ideas, encouragement and collaborations.

But it can also take away from one’s own Truth, own Path, own ideas and inspirations. We are overstimulated. Information overload.

So what do we do?

I have been contemplating the 5th limb of yoga: Pratyahara, sometimes translated as sense withdrawal.

The 8 limbs of yoga come from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs refer to: yama (observances), niyama (disciplines), asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (control of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).

In a way, Pratyahara is the centre. It’s in between the outer external aspect of yoga such as the asana (yoga poses), breathing, and the way of conducting oneself in life. The following three limbs are associated with meditation – the inner awareness.

We often think of Pratyahara as the beginning of meditation. Drawing the awareness inside. Not being disturbed by the external environment. Like a tortoise drawing into his/her shell.

But it is more than that.

Encouraging the senses to draw inward is pratyahara. Glimpsing the inner light, the senses contentedly dwell within.

Nischala Joy Devi

Our body, mind, emotions and energy are all connected. 

Pratyahara is about going inside to listen or sense our inner Truth, our true cravings or needs. It’s about finding what we need. Not what the media says we need. Or what the media says we should fear, or worry about. Or what people on social media do or do not do. Nor what we should or should not eat. Or the exercise that’s best for all bodies or the diet that definitely works. It’s not about the external messages but reconnecting with our Self and our knowing.

Right now we have information overload on the pandemic, how we should, or should not, behave, what may or may not work, what may or may not happen. We have information from the government (several different opinions and unclear messages that we have to digest and make our own opinion about), other people’s, friends, and family’s thoughts and opinions. Contradictory and sometimes fearful.

Obviously, it’s not just about the pandemic and the effect it has on family life, schools, work and social interactions. It’s about everything from politics to best diets, tips for sleep and tips for exercise, how to support our children or elderly, how to be a success, be happy, be content…

Our senses are on high alert. Perhaps we start to go into the black hole of Google and Facebook to learn more. And most often it doesn’t offer concrete answers – just more fear or confusion.

Instead of taking our senses outwards, we need to draw inwards. Switch of the internet, the news and social media. Just for a moment. Enough time to check-in. Check-in with our Self.

Think of it like food. 

Our senses are like food for our mind. What are you feeding your mind? 

Are you force-feeding your mind with constant information, with the news, with Facebook updates? With fearful self-talk? 

Taming the Monkey Mind

Have you heard the expression of the Monkey Mind? The mind jumps from one thought to the next to the next. Always moving. 

Disciplining the mind is not easy. It requires continuous practice. 

And that is the practice of Pratyahara. 

Through pratyahara we can journey from the outer fixation to inward revelation.

Sharon Gannon and David Life 

To get there is a journey. The journey of the previous limbs of yoga. 

The yamas:

  • Ahimsa: non-violence or non-harming
  • Satya: truthfulness or honesty in words and actions.
  • Asteya: non-stealing of other’s property or time. 
  • Brahmacharya: chastity, preserving one’s energy
  • Aparigraha: non-attachement 

The niyamas:

  • Saucha: cleanliness
  • Santosha:contentment
  • Tapas: discipline, austerity, consistency
  • Svadhyaya: the study of the Self and spiritual teachings
  • Isvara Pranidhana: surrender to a higher being, or contemplation of a higher power

Asana practise

I love Nischala Joy Devi’s translation of “the natural comfort and joy of our being is expressed when the body becomes steady (asana)”. Through a healthy body, our mind and emotions can settle to focus on our spiritual development.

Pranayama

Breathe awareness is in a way the path between the inner and outer environment. And focusing on the breath is a way to Pratyahara. Bringing the Monkey mind to a one-pointed awareness as we let the breath settle. And settling the breath calms the mind.

Yoga poses and inner poise

So yoga isn’t about fancy yoga poses. The yoga we think of as poses and physical practises is a step towards inner contentment. To tame the Monkey mind. To draw our senses inwards so we can connect with our inner Being, our Self, our Truth, true Knowledge and our Divine nature.

And perhaps this is a perfect time, a challenging, but perfect time to practise this discipline. Withdraw our senses from anything that doesn’t nourish or nurture our mind. Give our mind time to rest, digest and settle. So we may find a little bit of peace and contentment.