The Indriyas – the Sense Organs
By its nature, the mind is in permanent motion and is affected in every moment by images, sounds and other messages, which it perceives through the senses. According to yoga, the indriyas, or sense organs are 11 in number — comprised of 5 jnanendriyas, 5 karmendriyas, and manas (mind).
Jnanendriya comes from the roots jnana (wisdom), and Indra who was the God of the ‘sensory’ heaven in Hinduism. These are the 5 lower sense organs — those which allows one to perceive the world around them. They are:
(1.) Shotra — ears
(2.) Chakshu — eyes
(3.) Grahna — nose
(4.) Jivha — tongue
(5.) Tvak — skin
Literally translated, karmendriya means ‘organ of action’ – that which facilitates our sensory contact with the outer world — or that which enables us to interact with the material objects of the world. These 5 organs of action are:
(1.) Pada (feet) — for locomotion
(2.) Pani (hands) — for dexterity
(3.) Payu (rectum) — for excretion
(4.) Upastha (genitals) — for reproduction
(5.) Vak (mouth) — for speech.
The Practice of Pratyahara
Control of the sense organs can, to a certain extent, be achieved relatively easily with a certain degree of effort and attention.
(1.) Sight can easily be restrained by closing the eyes.
(2.) The sense of smell can be tapered by slow and controlled breathing, whereby the air/odour does not reach the upper nasal passages which contain the olfactory sensors.
(3.) Taste can be inhibited by cleaning the mouth and keeping it closed while breathing.
(4.) The tactile sense of touch can be muted by settling oneself into a comfortable and steady position.
(5.) Even the faculty of hearing can be greatly mitigated by preparing a quiet place, free as much as possible from external sounds.
Controlling the karmendriyas
(1.) Employment of hasta mudras helps to bring conscious control over the hands.
(2.) Asanas which lock up the legs, such as padma asana, or certain other sitting positions restrain the urge to move the feet (to wander).
(3.) The practice of mauna, or silence restrains the speech.
(4.) Ongoing cultivation of a healthy, restrained diet, and avoidance of alcohol, smoking, junk food and other indulgences can ease the cravings of the karmendriyas from mouth to anus.
(5.) To a certain extent, the control of the sexual urge can be also be attained by removing oneself from sexual stimulating external factors. For instance, retreating into nature, practicing within a spiritual centre or community, or creating a special place/room within your abode that is reserved only for spiritual practice and thus becomes infused with pure energies.
· Pratyahara relies solely on the development of the ‘Higher Mind’, to which the control of the sense organs must ultimately be elevated.
· Pratyahara is the 5th stage of sage Patanjali’s 8-limbed Ashtanga Yoga, which could be described as “withdrawing the senses away from the external surroundings and distractions.”
· The first 4 stages of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama, have been systematically designed to condition the body, the emotions and the mind for ‘yoga’, or the more subtle, inner practices of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (mystic absorption), the 6th, 7th and 8th limbs of yoga.