Pratyahara, the fifth limb on the tree of yoga, is defined as “withdrawal of the senses.” This is where we are concentrating well enough that we no longer respond reflexively to outside stimuli – sights, sounds, smells, and so on.
There are various stages of pratyahara, but to be honest, that’s a territory of yoga practice that’s beyond my personal experience.
My own understanding of pratyahara so far, is pretty simple, something I think many of my students can relate to. I become so absorbed in my practice that the only things I’m aware of are my body and my breath. The rest fades far into the background.
Yoga can entrance us. It’s a little bit like when you’re driving on the highway and suddenly you realize that you have traveled x number of miles without even noticing. “How did I get here?” Yoga can have the same effect on us. We reach the end of class and realize and wonder, “It’s time to rest already?”
Pratyahara is actually one of three limbs on the yoga tree that describe the process of meditating. We have “withdrawal of the senses” as well as “concentration” or Dharana, and actual “meditation” or Dhyana. All three work together.
So when you’re so absorbed in your yoga practice that you don’t really notice time going by, then your practice has become a sort of meditation. And if you’re meditating and practicing yoga at the same time, you’ll find that the benefits are considerably greater.