Pratyahara, detachment from the senses, is the necessary condition for the inner work of Yoga. I reflect often on the fifth limb of Yoga and even try to cultivate it whenever possible. However, I feel this limb takes a beating in the West. Through advertising, music, and technological gadgetry, Western culture is fixated on maxing out our senses instead of withdrawing from them. This is even true for Yoga classes of modern times.
I am in no position to comment on other practices as I am still quite a novice of my own. That being said, there is a mass fixation on the “playlist” for yoga teachers in modern yoga classes. It is even taught in some teacher trainings how to compose a mix of songs to motivate students. I have never read in the Sutras that in order for one to teach, one needs to be a DJ.
I have to admit that in the beginning, music is fun with Asana. I have had many home sessions listening to John Coltrane and found myself more deeply absorbed in certain parts of A Love Supreme than I would have if I were casually listening to it in my car. And that’s exactly the problem with music and Asana: you are doing music, not Yoga.
Pratyahara is detachment from the senses (the repeating of the phrase here is deliberate). This is what separates Yoga from Crossfit. This is what makes Yoga the internal practice that used to attract people. Now people are attracted to the practice because of the physical benefits. In fact so many people are attracted to Yoga because of the physical benefits, it’s hard to convince them that there are other parts. Even Pranayama (without Asana) would be barely tolerable at the corner Lululemon free Sunday class. A teacher who taught that would have students walking out in droves and wouldn’t be invited back to teach the next week to make room for the Power Turbo X2000-Yoga Workfit™ guy.
The world is changing rapidly. We are bombarded with horrendous images on our TV and computer screens from events around the world. We are bombarded with stimuli on our cell phones. In traffic, we are bombarded with stimuli from our car stereo and from billboards. At the traffic light people text. While driving people still text. Then we get to Yoga class. Playlist.
When I was in teacher training, the trainees all had an interesting discussion at lunch about what we say to our students while they are in Savasana. Some of the teachers said they talked about the breath. Some talked about linking the practice to the mind. All are acceptable. I got laughed out of the discussion when I said I don’t say a word. I make the adjustments that need to be made, and then shut my trap for ten minutes. As unpopular as it may seem, I am allowing my students ten minutes to at least get a glimpse of Pratyahara.
Yoga is subversive to Western culture. It is not about feeding the consciousness more noise. It is about learning to be deeply with oneself for extended periods of time until the practitioner connects with the true self. I wrote about a study that shows people would rather receive an electric shock than to be alone for 15 minutes with no cellphone or magazines. By blasting people with music in Yoga class, we are just reinforcing this low grade ADHD that permeates our culture.
Music has it’s place, don’t get me wrong. It is quite sacred for me. I collect vinyl records and spent a good mint on a new Benz cartridge. I often spend hours in the record store flipping through LPs like I did when I was a kid. Now I just keep music sacred and separate from my other sacred activity: Yoga.