Modern psychology speaks of three states of mind, the conscious, subconscious arid unconscious. Yoga speaks of four mental states, jagriti, swapna and nidra which correspond roughly to the conscious, subconscious and unconscious, and turiya or the super-conscious. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the yoga practices have been defined in eight different stages: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. Yama and niyama deal with the external interaction and behaviour of a person and try to change the attitudes of an individual so one is able to experience the freedom of one's inner nature. Asana and pranayama try to harmonise the energies of the body, so that the sensory inputs are channelled and do not create unconscious tensions.
Then with pratyahara, the fifth stage of Raja Yoga, in the practices we begin to observe the different levels of the mind. The common meaning of pratyahara is withdrawing the senses, but it also means feeding the inner senses. In pratyahara one must be able to with draw the senses, just as a turtle is able to withdraw its limbs into its shell. If we look carefully at this description of the turtle, we can see how many limbs are outside the shell - two arms, two legs and one tail which represent the five senses, and one head which represents the mind. It is the withdrawal of these six senses which is the state of pratyahara. However, before we actually begin to withdraw them we need to first become aware of what is outside. Therefore, initially we have to become aware of what exists, and then go through a process of learning how to withdraw these energies which are normally manifesting outside.
The psychological aspect of yoga begins with pratyahara. The nature of the mind is to be continuously active. Normally, when we try to enter into meditation, our first effort is to subdue or suppress the mental activity, and, therefore, initially we have to struggle.
There is a story which illustrates this point. Once upon a time a king received a gift of beautiful wild horses. Nobody in the kingdom knew how to tame them, so the king announced that he was searching for someone to train his horses, and whoever was successful would receive a big reward. Many people came, and each one tried to saddle and bridle the horses, to ride them from the very first moment. The horses were not trained to accept commands and of course they would not allow anyone to ride on their backs. After a lot of struggle the people usually ended up with broken arms and legs, while the horses remained upright.
One day a person came to the king and said, "Let me try." By this time the king was quite desperate so he said, "If you can do it, I'll give you half my kingdom." So the man said, "I will train the horses in my own environment without any interference from anyone. I wish to take them away for one year, after which time I will return them to you. The king accepted the condition and the man took the horses away.
After one year the entire nation was waiting in anticipation, and right at the appointed hour the six beautiful horses appeared in one line with the trainer riding on the foremost one. Those people who had absolutely no idea of how to train and tame wild horses were very happy to see this result. The king asked the trainer, "How did you do it?" The trainer explained that he had observed the horses, and when they ran he would run behind them. When the horses stopped for a drink he would make his coffee, and when they grazed he would have his bread, butter and jam. In this way, slowly, slowly, he made friends with them, until one day he touched them. Initially, the horses shied away but eventually they became used to his touch. Then one day he was able to saddle the horses and although they did not like it at first, they became used to it. He was able to do this because he had become the friend of the horses.
This is the exact process that yoga applies to the mind. Normally, we do not make the mind our friend, rather, we try to suppress and subdue the mental activities. If we try to meditate now we will sit down very quietly and firmly and will try to stop all the mental activities. We will be disturbed if the mental activities do not stop, and will not try to follow the mental activity. In pratyahara we try to make friends with the mind by observing its normal functions and activities, by observing how far the mind can extend itself and how it reacts to different situations and circumstances. In this way, slowly, slowly, we gain a deeper understanding of the mind. After an understanding is gained, then we can direct the energies of the mind towards a definite goal and aim.
The mind is like a bulb. When it is switched on, the light spreads everywhere, and the energy or the power of the mind is dissipated. The purpose of concentration is to focus the energy of the mind. If we focus the Light coming from a bulb, from one point, then it takes the form of a laser beam, which in its concentrated form has the capacity to do almost anything. It can cut through steel and can also burn a very sensitive part of the body without damaging any other part, as in operations. I have seen laser operations being conducted on the human eye and it is incredible to think how that simple point of light, which can remove blockages from different blood vessels and nerves, can also cut a steel sheet in half.
The mind eventually becomes like this after we have gone through a process of dharana, or focusing of the mental energies. However, in order to come to this stage we have to begin with the basics and make friends with the mind. In pratyahara, when we have seen the interaction of the mind with the outer world, how the senses influence and affect the different mental states, how the thoughts interact, and how the desires influence our performance, then we gradually begin to concentrate the mind.