I have been studying Patanjali yoga sutra for long, since than my understanding of Pratyahara has been confusing. Learning, watching and talking with different yogis or fellow travellers on path. I had got a question arising about the difference between Pratyahara and suppression.
I have been explained to suppress the desires or to avoid looking at them by many traditional or new yogies. I have seen some spiritual seekers trying to avoid those feelings or desires by doing some mantra or Pranayama or giving hard time to the body, which probably is good for them…but that does not solve the issue for me. That felt like avoiding a corner of my being and hiding it deeper into darkness. I felt doing it that way had created another monster in me, a Subtle ego, which made me feel “I am better than others, I am not driven by desires”. That was completely wrong, Those hidden desires came out as judgement towards others. Instead of feeling at home I lost ground. I realized Patanjali can not mean that by Pratyahara. So instead of doing something to avoid feelings and those desires, I started sitting down and allowed myself consciously to feel that desire in its total, not hiding it but watching it, feeling it in my body, in my mind, in my energetic field. Owning it, not reacting or identifying or judging it. That was like magic. Allowing desire to be in light of my awareness, it lost power over me. I felt feelings, desires and senses were happy I acknowledged them. It did not haunt me Anymore. I felt accepting myself in all senses without self judgement, that created peace inside myself, and made me compassionate to others and to myself instead of being arrogant and judgemental.
So for me Pratyahara is not avoiding or suppressing, but allowing desires and feelings with total awareness. Not dumping on others but owning it and dissolve it into vastness of our being.
Pratyahara for me means turning upon myself.