Have you ever been to the beach and taken the opportunity to ’empty out’? That’s what I call it – an exercise in Being, walking along without buying into all the comments that your mind creates, with none of the labelling you do of various phenomena you encounter.

It’s not as easy as it would seem to quiet our senses and mind.

At Mitchells Island Beach yesterday, the first internal conversation my mind came up with was, ‘Gee, I forgot it’s school holidays. Look at how many people are here. It’ll be great when our beach is unoccupied again.’

Next, I responded to the gusty southwesterly blowing by thinking, ‘Oh, blast, I forgot my jacket. I’m going to pay for being in this wind. If I get sick it’ll be my own fault!’

Later, I heard the surf rolling over and under the river stones on the beach and thought, ‘Oh, I love that sound! I wonder if I could do an audio recording of it with my iPhone?’

You probably get the picture. Not really peaceful, even when the commenting is positive. Oh, and how about all the labelling? ‘That’s a sea eagle, no maybe it’s an osprey….’ or ‘I wonder if this if this is high tide yet?’ No, it can’t be, it’s not supposed to be till 3:30 p.’….

In yoga, we have the practice of pratyahara to help train us not to react to every sense impression that comes across our radar. Instead of having the senses move outward and grab onto every object and situation, it’s possible to let these things come gently into our field of awareness and be softly receptive to them. By describing, interpreting, and wanting to collect experiences, we lose our ability to be freshly and innocently in the moment.

I recommend B.K.S. Iyengar’s description of pratyahara to you, if you need a little more encouragement to do this practice in your yoga off-the-mat times. He says in his remarkable book, Light on Life:

The yogic purpose of pratyahara is to make the mind shut up so we can concentrate. As long as the senses pester us for their gratification, we will never get a moment to ourself, or in the sense of our quest, Ourself.

Ironically, the prize is that by taming the senses and mind we end up enhancing their intrinsic qualities. Try it yourself the next time you take a walk in the bush or on a beach 🙂

Tatah praam vasyata indriyanam

From this comes the most complete cooperation of the senses.*

*Patanjali’s Meditation Yoga, translation and commentary by Vyn Bailey.