Pratyahara or the withdrawal of the senses is the fifth element among the Eight stages of Patanjali`s Ashtanga Yoga. It is a bridge between the bahiranga (external) aspects of yoga namely yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and the antaranga (internal) yoga namely dharana, dhyana, samadhi. At the stage of pratyahara the consciousness of the individual is internalized in order that the sensations from the senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell don’t reach their respective centres in the brain.
Pratyahara leads to the control of action or ‘Karma pratyahara’ which entails not just control of motor organs to work, but also surrender of every action to the divine and performing it as an act of service. This leads to the final form of pratyahara -the withdrawal of mind or ‘Mano pratyahara’ which is practiced by consciously withdrawing attention from anything that is unwholesome and distracting for the mind caused by the senses and directing it inwards.
There are many kinds of tools for pratyahara: trataka i.e. the practice of intense gazing at one point or object, mantra, japa, etc. They are all meant for purifying the sense awareness and making it turn inward. Sometimes one is able to hold pratyahara for some time, and then he finds afterwards that it does not work even if he sincerely follows the sadhana, so the practice of pratyahara becomes very difficult. If one can master the technique of pratyahara, then concentration becomes very easy. It is impossible to go on to dharana and dhyana unless the field of pratyahara is crossed.
Dr.Mahesh Chandra Panda