Lesson 17 - Controlling Sense Organs

In the last session you learnt about Pranayama. Pranayama servers two main purposes. Firstly it purifies all the nadis and secondly it helps you to calm the mind. In that sense Pranayama is gross means of influencing the mind. The next step is Pratyahara. Pratyahara refers to restraining the sense organs from taking their respective experiences.

We experience this world with the help of five sense organs namely eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. These sense organs are bound to experience external world when they come in contact with it. We have very little control on them. For example when you eat chocolate you are bound to feel its taste. You can not prevent your tongue from experiencing it. The same thing is true for eyes also. When you see any object your eyes are bound to convey its impressions to the brain. Even if you close your eyes they keep on generating "internal" images and keep conveying them to the brain. Thus we are slaves of these sense organs.

Even if we know that we are slaves of the five sense organs we work hard to fulfil their desires. There were days when man had food in very basic forms e.g. vegetables, meat, grains etc. Today we have never ending list of delicious recipes pleasing our tongue. We use scent because our nose feels good. One scent is not enough we need dozens of them. The same thing can be said about colors and clothing texture. The point is - people nourish their sense organs. They work hard only to feed these five masters. When these five masters are pleased they feel happy. If any one of them is unsatisfied they feel great sorrow.

Pratyahara teaches you to overcome bondage of the five sense organs. It asks you to restrain the sense organs from taking their respective experiences. You will be surprised if I tell you that all of us have experienced Pratyahara at some point in our lives. Let me give some examples. Assume that you are reading an interesting story of Sherlock Homes. You are so engrossed in the story that you forget that somebody is knocking the door. Only after the visitor knocks 3-4 times you come "out" of the story. When you are absorbed in the story it is as if your ears forget their job. This is Pratyahara though at a very gross level. Let me give you another example so that you can sink in the concept. Suppose that you are watching an interesting movie on TV. Your eyes and ears are totally stuck to the screen. Your mother calls you from kitchen but you simply don't hear her voice. Some time later your friend comes to you see you. You don't notice him unless he pats on your back. This is Pratyahara too.

In the above examples your sense organs refused to do their job because you were absorbed in some other interesting activity. You were feeding some sense organs (eyes) and for that much time other sense organs (ears) were a sort of dead! The Pratyahara resulted in the above examples was accidental. You never decided deliberately that your ears will stop experiencing other sounds. Yoga teaches you to consciously practice such withdrawal of senses.

How to achieve the stage of Pratyahara consciously? There are several practices. I am going to give three of them here.


In earlier lessons related to Shatkarma you were introduced with Trataka. Trataka is a very good technique to induce Pratyahara. As your practice develops you will find that for the period of practice you tend to get absorbed in the act. You see only the flame of the candle and nothing else. You are unaffected by external sound. Even if a mosquito bites you when you are sitting for Trataka you will not notice it!

Ajapa Japa

The second practice for Pratyahara is Ajapa Japa. Ajapa Japa refers to focusing your awareness on breathing. It is also called as Soham Japa. It is called Ajapa because breathing is something that we do automatically. We never need to consciously inhale and exhale the air. The technique to perform Ajapa Japa is as follows:

  • Sit in any meditative posture with spinal column and head straight
  • Close your eyes
  • Affirm your mind not to allow random thoughts trouble you
  • Gently move your attention to your breathing
  • As you inhale feel the imaginary sound Sooooo...
  • As you exhale feel the imaginary sound Haammmmm...
  • Feel the current of air brushing your nasal walls
  • Try to feel its fragrance (if any)
  • Let your breathing be rhythmic
  • As you inhale your abdominal wall will be pushed forward and as you exhale it is pushed slightly inwards
You will not believe me but after some practice this technique gives tremendous joy and calmness. It is as if your sense organs have taken a halt. During initial stages you can use rosary (japa mala) to count your breath. Once your practice is matured this is unnecessary. Ajapa Japa is a complete practice in itself. That is why in Tantric texts it has been given a great importance. Here I have explained its part relevant only to Pratyahara.

Shambhavi Mudra

Shambhavi Mudra is actually an advanced practice. Here I am giving its basic version. People suffering from any eye diseases should consult doctor or experienced Yoga teacher before practicing Shambhavi Mudra. The technique to perform this mudra is as follows:

  • Sit in any meditative position with spinal column and head straight
  • For few minutes practice Ajapa Japa
  • Slowly open your eyes
  • Turn your eyes slightly upwards as if you are looking at the eye brow center. DO NOT PUT ANY STRAIN ON YOUR EYES.
  • Keeping the eyes open in this fashion move your focus on breathing as in Ajapa Japa
  • Maintain this position as much as comfortable
In the above practice you may replace Ajapa Japa with Mantra Chanting (say Om). Do not worry if you cannot fix your gaze at eye brow center. It is important to keep the eyes open and focus your attention on Ajapa Japa or Mantra Japa. If you find it difficult to turn the eyes upwards you can maintain them in half closed position.

Once your sense organs are under control you will find that your spiritual progress is hastened. You can then perform higher sadhanas easily. Often people directly jump to higher practices and then complain that they didn't got any benefit. It is important not to hurry. Each of us is different in terms of body and Karmic constitution. There can't be any rigid timeline for individual spiritual progress. Keep practicing sincerely and one day success will come.

May the peace be with you.

The vision of Yoga is one of the purest pathways to peace.  It is also one of the best things you can do for your health.  Mindful of our surroundings, we can improve our clarity through a simple practice such as buying eye glasses.  Even if you don't need designer glasses, you can buy regular glasses online at our site.  Hey, even Gandhi wore glasses.

Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant and trainer by profession specializing in Microsoft web development technologies. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he is also a yoga mentor, meditation teacher, and spiritual guide to his students. He is a prolific author and writes regularly about software development and yoga on his websites. He is programming, meditating, writing, and teaching for over 27 years. To read more about him go here. More details about his Kriya and Meditation online course are available here.

Posted On : 06 April 2007

Tags : Yoga Patanjali Raja Yoga Ashtanga Yoga Meditation Courses