Just thinking about unrolling my yoga mat starts the Pavlov's dog sensing process for me and my body. I can hear the stickiness of my mat unfolding and the pop it makes when it lands in the ground; the feeling of my bare feet on the slightly grooved hardwood floor; the familiar smell of the worn-in rubber against my skin. I can almost feel my brain shut down and my mental focus draw inward.
As we delve into the deeper levels of a Yoga practice-- beyond the poses and breath-- we arrive to the practice of sensory observation, pratyahata. “Pratyahara” means “gaining mastery over external influences," or, understanding & mastering the five senses.
Humans operate just like Pavlov's dogs in our ability to be both physically and mentally overcome by our senses-- by fascination, desire, or even obsession-- without consciously knowing it. The smell of danger, the taste of success, difficult to swallow-- each of these common sayings remind us of the power of our senses.
If you're like me, and I think most people are, you are committed to finding a flow and ease in your life. Conflict and struggle may be things you naturally avoid while you look to build relationships that are positive and mutually beneficially with the world around you. While that may be the overall goal, it can sometimes be harder to achieve than we would like. Being the vastly dynamic humans that we are, we are each uniquely coded up with our own experiences, memories, and ideas.
Even if two people are strongly committed to peace at their core, interactions don't always unfold that way. I believe this is a result of many underlying influences of our senses. Have you ever been in a room with someone you are ready to release a conflict with and before you even speak to each other your whole body starts to rush with energy?
Whether it's their stress you can smell or the outline of their posture you can see, it's likely that your body is actually sensually remembering a situation of stress and is reacting to a memory being triggered. Take deep breaths and remember that this moment can be different than the past. Then ask yourself, "why am I feeling this way?" The questioning is what makes us different than the furry, sense-forward companions we love. Questioning is a tool we have that can clear a lot of unwanted experiences both before and after they happen.
While dogs aren't known to ponder life's path to Samadhi, or ultimate bliss, that is also one of the many reasons that we love them so much, too. Their pure experience and engagement with the world instead of analyzing is beyond refreshing. So while inquiry and reflection are a big part of the process of yoga, at the end of the day we are just trying to become more present-- to release old patterns that are holding us back from being fully here, right now, ready to experience this moment as it is. So I'll keep savoring the sensory process of unrolling my mat for now, dancing in the evolution of the path toward enlightenment, however long it takes.
Words by Alexandria Jayne Pulfer | Photo by Henry O Head
Alexandria is a spirit-full mama, wife and yoga teacher of teachers living in the Fayetteville Ozarks. She and her husband run multiple small businesses and strive for a simple life focused on good food and community. Committed to a balance of presense, work and play in all that she does, the path of yoga has been an invaluable part of creating her life. Learn more about her and her work on www.yogadezainstitute.com and her personal blog, www.elevenmoon.com.