Yoga in the City - awareness of the moment

By Cassandra Welch - Cassandra is a senior yoga teacher and yoga therapist from Yoga Vidya Gurukul (, she is teaching and practicing yoga for the last 6 years.

Yoga in the City - awareness of the moment

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There is no noise in the world. There is no peace in the Himalayas. Both are within you. - Paramahamsa Satyananda.

Stillness? Here? In amongst the drama, in the middle of the city? Maybe somewhere in the mountains with the birds tweeting in your ears but I?m lucky if I find Any stillness in my day!? Lorraine laughed good-naturedly and shrugged her shoulder as if to say ? C?est la vie.?

I was talking to a group of ladies who had been diagnosed with cancer. Some had already completed their chemotherapy and were in recovery, others were still in the midst of it all - the drugs and radiation. They all came from a variety of backgrounds and I had offered to chat to them a little bit about yoga. I had asked them if they gave themselves some quiet time during the day to just be still. Lorraine?s response reflected most of the group.

Busy, busy women with a busy, busy life... who has the time to sit and be still?

I had thought this myself until a Swami had introduced me to the concept of Pratyahara.

Pratyahara is the fifth stage of the eight fold path as described by Patanjali. It is translated to mean ?withdrawal of the senses.? Withdrawing the senses - our connection with the external world and beginning to give our full attention to our internal world. How do you do that? It sounds quite simple, but in practice it?s like asking a hungry child to Not eat the delicious sweets sitting directly in front of them. Not an easy task! There are several stages of Pratyahara. The first stage of Pratyahara is developing awareness of the outer world; before we can withdraw our senses we have to be aware of them.

I encouraged the ladies to practice this process - to begin to become aware of all the sensory information that surrounded them. We sat quietly and I asked the ladies to clear their mind and try to let go of any thoughts. We then listened to the birds, felt the air against our skin, felt the texture of the clothes and the tightness of the fabric against our body, felt the weight of our body on the chair, opened our eyes and softly looked around the room and focused on the external world.

Developing awareness of the world around us starts to bring a little stillness into our lives. So often while we are completing a task our mind is running a million miles an hour and we?re thinking about what we have to do next. We miss the moment. Having outer awareness allows us to live in the moment. It forces us to! How can we truly listen to the birds singing without being present in that moment? If we?re thinking about what we need to do next week we won?t hear them.

The noise and chaos in the city, cars hooting, people walking by, flashing lights and all sorts of smells. Experience it. Its incredible how much sensory experience there is - and how little we notice because our minds our so busy thinking about nothing in particular. If we can teach our minds to experience the outer world we will begin to develop stillness because our mind won?t be running madly into the future or swimming in the past - it will be holding on to what is happening in this moment.

The ladies completed the exercise and several of them commented that they hadn?t noticed the pictures on the walls and one lady said she couldn?t remember the last time she listened to the birds.

Once the mind is focused externally it is much easier to ask our busy mind to focus internally. The Swami compared the mind to a little, energetic puppy - once you take it for a walk outside and it gets a chance to smell everything, look around, listen to the neighbors dog - it?s a lot easier when the puppy comes home to ask them to sit quietly.

Pratyahara is a very beneficial practice and a crucial step in reaching a meditative state. And the best thing about Pratyahara is that we can practice the first stage, developing awareness of what we are experiencing around us - everywhere and at anytime.

As Swami Niranjan says ?Meditation is the process of knowing the mind, which can happen anywhere at anytime.?

The ladies I chatted with were very excited about the practice and when I spoke to Lorraine recently she said that it had given a wonderful new dimension to her life.

Reference -

Swami Niranjanananda, Pratyahara, Yoga Magazine, September 1996, Sivananda Math

Cassandra Welch (Yoga teacher & Therapist)

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