The first group of practices in kriya yoga are known as pratyahara kriyas. In order to understand the pratyahara kriyas, you have to understand what pratyahara is. This term appears in raja yoga, where it is defined as the ability to disconnect from outside and turn inwards. According to this concept, pratyahara does not mean concentration or meditation; it means reversing the flow of awareness. From connecting with the outside world, you begin to connect with your internal experiences. This is the basic concept of pratyahara.
At present, your senses and all the attributes of your mind become active when you are connected to the outside world. As long as the eyes are open, the body and the brain are active and the mind is functioning, you are awake, alert and dynamic. However, when the mind shuts down, when the brain slows down, when the eyes shut themselves and the body becomes inactive, what happens then? You go to sleep. In pratyahara, the concern is not waking or sleeping, but knowing which systems have to shut down.
You have to consciously shut down different systems which divert and distract the awareness from realizing the inner nature. Therefore, pratyahara is known as withdrawal of the senses and the mind from outside to focusing them inside. This withdrawal means knowing when to shut down which department of the body.
Shutting off is the system of pratyahara. You look at yourself and say, “This I need to shut off,” and you pull out the plug. “This I need to close,” and you pull out the plug. “This light I don’t need,” and you turn off the switch. Instead of lighting a thousand lamps in your mind and wasting the electricity of the brain, you use only the five lamps that you need to illumine the place you are in, and shut off the other 995. This results in an immense saving of energy, there is no wastage, and that is pratyahara. When you shut down all of the thousand lights except the five you need to use, then you have 995 less distractions, and the focus of your mind gains in potency 995 times.
During this teaching of the pratyahara kriyas, along with the kriya techniques, instructions and guidelines will also be given on how to maintain the pratyahara state. There are two practices, a yama and a niyama, which enforce the state and the condition of pratyahara. The yama is danti and the niyama is indriya nigraha.
The niyama is indriya nigraha, observing the direction where the senses are flowing to, and then withdrawing them from there. “Oh this flower is very nice, so colourful, so beautiful . . .” and one picks the flower. In indriya nigraha, instead of plucking the flower to take it with you, you recognize that it is a flower, that it is beautiful, and you move on. You attach, and then you withdraw. It doesn’t even remain as a memory, it is cleared. If it remains as a memory, then even in deep meditation it will be triggered, the flower will be there and it will distract you. Therefore, indriya nigraha is not just withdrawing the awareness, but also cleaning and clearing the impression. You recognize the associations of the senses, withdraw them, clear the positive and the negative aspects both, and become neutral. There are ten senses: five jnanendriya and five karmendriya, so indriya nigraha takes place at ten different levels. It is not just one thought, ‘I am controlling myself and here I am.’ No. Indriya nigraha, sensory observation, has to happen independently, individually, with all the senses. One by one you pull in the strings. You have ten fishing rods and all the ten are bitten. You don’t grab the ten sticks together and go; first you take one fishing rod, reel it in, then the next rod, reel it in, then the third and reel it in: one by one, one by one, one by one. That is the concept of indriya nigraha, or sensorial restraint.
The yama is danti, mental restraint. Indriya nigraha is sensorial restraint and danti is mental restraint. Here you have to deal with six conditions of the mind that are detrimental and destructive to being high on life. These are: kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya: passion, anger, greed, infatuation, arrogance and envy. These are the six basic tamasic traits of mind that have to be reined in. For example, when you feel the rise of anger and you are able to nullify the anger with your own peace, then that is danti, mental restraint. In this manner, at the mental level six traits have to be dealt with.
Indriya nigraha and danti constitute pratyahara sadhana. Even in kriya yoga, it is the application of these two that will help you perfect the first aspect of the pratyahara kriyas. Thus, at the first level of the practice of kriya yoga, while you do the practices, you have to also understand the concept of pratyahara and try to deepen its experience in your life.
—Kriya Yoga – Module 1, 4 November 2016, Ganga Darshan, Munger