Take a moment to pause. Close your eyes (wait not yet). Recall your day thus far. Not so much what you liked or disliked about your day, but instead, simply noting your activities from waking until this moment . . .

Generally, we are busy people. Our sense organs are offered stimuli and our mind distractions from the moment our alarm goes off in the morning to the moment our head hits the pillow at night. Even our “down time”, that bit of day meant for rest and relaxation, is filled with television, internet, newspapers, video games . . . the list could go on. It is not often in our day -in our lives- that we stop, be quiet, and pay attention to our internal experience.

I start most days sitting on my kitchen floor staring (ahem, softly gazing) at the ugly brown tile on the wall. For twenty minutes, I pay attention to the feeling of body, the feeling of breath, and notice what else arises in experience.

Sitting isn’t easy for me. Resistance arises in response to the idea of getting onto that cushion, and I have to drag (and I mean drag) my sleepy butt to the floor. That bit of struggle aside, I recently realized that this time is the only period of my day where I stop, take the time to be quiet, and unhook my attention from all the people, things and situations around me and turn it towards what’s going on INSIDE.

In this time, I am able to notice the patterning of thoughts, sensations in the body, the movement, tightness or expansion of breath. I hear the sounds in my environment with a simplicity that allows storytelling to fall away. I meet resistance with a welcoming attitude, exploring how aversion feels in mind, body and breath.

Of course, this practice of turning inward isn’t a new one. Patanjali included it in his eight limbs of yoga (called pratyahara) thousands of years ago. Nonetheless, in our pop-centric culture jam-packed with sense stimuli to consume, it is helpful to remember what it is we’re doing when we practice yoga. Whether on the cushion or on the sticky mat, we focus on our posture and breath to turn inward, build concentration, and ultimately intimately see things as they are.

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Want to read more? Chip Hartranft explains pratyahara in his translation of The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali (check out pages 42 – 43).