There are many views on the concept of “detachment”. Some people believe that learning
detachment is useless because life should be lived to its fullest. Others believe that practicing
the art of detachment is dangerous because if nothing affects us we cannot rid the world of its
many injustices. Others believe that detachment is a source of strength and inner peace.
Pratyahara, the yogic word for detachment, has often been badly misunderstood. Yes, we
should live life vividly and enjoy it. Yes, we should speak out against injustice and take
action. But there is also strength in learning how to practice proper detachment which can
help us all to live better lives.
Imagine you are looking at a painting about life. Imagine that you are standing so close to
the painting that your nose is practically touching the painting. All you can see are a couple
of colors and shapes. You are too close to be able to look at the whole picture, to even know
what the painting is about. You are too attached to what is happening right there in front of
your nose and are incapable to see further. Now say you decide that you want to back up
from all the vivid colors and non- understandable shapes and so you distance yourself to about
a kilometer away. You look at the painting again but you are so far away that you can only
see a fleck of something. Once again you cannot know what the painting is about. And this
is where appropriate detachment comes in. You need to find the appropriate distance, not too
close and not too far, to be able to truly appreciate what the painting is.
This same idea is valid for our lives. We need to cultivate the appropriate detachment to be
able to see what our life is about. We can’t be too involved or too distant. By finding just the
right distance, we can see what piece of the puzzle is missing and where to place it. This way
we can live life vividly but without being blind to the problems of it. This way we can rely on
our inner strength to change what needs changing.
Pratyahara is an important step of Raja Yoga. In our English yoga classes in Berlin, we learn
detachment through observing our bodies and respecting the limits our bodies set. We also
learn this through the practice of Tratak, or candle gazing. But mostly we learn it through
the practice of Yoga Nidra. Exercises such as counting your breaths backwards without
interfering with its rhythm are perfect ways to learn detachment.