Today is the first day of August and it is on or around this day that the festival of Lammas is celebrated. We are now half way between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. The days have been shortening since the end of June and an ‘exhalation’ into the darker half the year is now fully underway.
Lammas is a time to feel gladness for all we have sowed and reaped, and to begin to prepare for ‘Winter’ in all her forms. As the seasons turn from lighter to darker we can also practice turning our attention from the outside to within.
Up on Wooler Common is an old sheep enclosure which has been turned into a most beautiful and peaceful garden. Passing through the gate you feel yourself shifting from an open place to a closed and protected space. Held within the round walls of the garden there is a feeling of safety, security and shelter. Awareness of the beautiful plants and flowers inside is immediately heightened.
I have chosen this gate to represent the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, as a very similar experience can be found within us when we are able to enter the safe, sheltered and secluded space of our own inner being. In this state, we become less interested in or distracted by sensory input from outside and have a heightened experience of sensation on the inside.
You may recognise this experience from times you have felt relaxed but alert – able to hear and feel sensation but also slightly disinterested. Recently I taught a class on Zoom while staying at my Grandparents house. I prepared the space to be conducive for yoga and ensured that I would not be disturbed – but I forgot about the telephone! During the guided relaxation at the end of class my Grandparents telephone began to ring out very loudly. It gave me quite a start but as I looked at those who were practising with me I saw that mostly they were completely undisturbed. It was not that they didn’t hear the loud noise of the telephone, just that it didn’t interest them at that moment.
Another time I was teaching a group of pregnant women and I wanted them to be reassured that they could stay relaxed and peaceful whatever unavoidable noises or distractions might arise during their labour. I asked them to get settled in a comfortable posture and to focus on breathing out through their softly parted lips. After a few minutes of this I began to create a lot of disturbance – opening and closing windows, throwing things and walking with heavy footsteps. Nobody moved!
We laughed about it afterwards. They all agreed they had heard the disturbance but knowing they were in a place of safety found themselves somehow disinterested and able to stay quiet and still. Of course had I shouted out “Fire!” or had there been a genuine emergency the story would have been different.
In my experience pratyahara arises from a place of deeply felt ease and relaxation. It is an important gateway to the practice of meditation, which I will be writing about in a few weeks when we reach the Autumn Equinox.
Being in the Cycles
This post is part of our journey through the eight festivals of the Celtic calendar – Being in the Cycles – during which we are encountering each of the eight limbs of yoga like a series of gates to pass through on our path.
Each season there is an online yoga class and a labyrinth walk, which all are welcome to join.