I remember becoming obsessed with the concept of pratyahara, or “withdrawal or the senses,” in my first readings of the Yoga Sutras in my early twenties. Unsure of myself and of my way in the world, I wandered the streets of New York City looking for something, anything, to fill me up. Sometimes it was a new vintage coat, a new music release at Virgin Records, a new flirtation, or some yummy new dessert. Lacking discipline, I wanted to literally taste everything, and yet I still felt empty.
Seeking discipline and yearning for true fullness (could there possibly be such a thing?) I began to understand my energy expenditure differently. I practiced “withdrawing my senses” through cutting the cord of my rampant participation in consumer culture in order to get real with what was happening within. I stopped watching TV, got real with myself regarding food intake, and stopped spending my money on CDs and clothes.
“Through [yoga] practice, prana begins to awaken…”
Then came the hard work of facing my deeper suffering. For beneath my habits of consumption I noted a different kind of energy expenditure: obsessive thinking that gave way to persistent self-devaluation. I thought I was lacking, and so I experienced myself as needing to be “full” from something else.
That is no longer the case. I did the deep dive, and from practicing yoga for many years, I have had the experience of having more energy available to me on a daily basis than I ever experienced in my “youth.”
As Ayurvedic guru David Frawley writes, “Through [yoga] practice, prana begins to awaken…” This prana is life energy, and it “has an intelligence within it that can teach us and guide us,” he says. If we respect this intelligence, we will be led along a path where we intuitively invest our energy in activities that benefit us. But we must take care not to use this precious life force in ways that would deplete us, David warns. It’s easily done.
Last week, I was inspired when a patient in the psychiatric unit where I work as a drama therapist described their depression as akin to feeling like “an empty pot where there used to be gold coins.” The patient discovered through our drama therapy work that they had “spent” their energy giving to others in their role as helper, lover, and sibling. They felt depleted.
So together we created a theatrical enactment where we looked at where the “gold coins” had been spent. We placed them back into the parts of the patient’s life that felt unfulfilled and empty, and we visualized how these parts of their life would grow if given nurture, guidance, and care. For a moment, the patient was able to experience new possibilities for self-care, and became aware of a deeper agency available in terms of how they used their energy.
Whether you are feeling physically, emotionally, or spiritually depleted, or simply want to glean insight into how you are investing and using your energy, you may benefit from the exercise we did together. This can be done alone or with another person as a witness or helper.
Redistributing the Wealth
1. Take about 30 quarters, checker pieces, or anything else that reminds you of gleaming gold money.
2. Begin by asking yourself this question: What parts of my life have I been investing with the most energy? Get as specific as possible. Name each one out loud.
3. Once you have named the different aspects of your life that feel relevant, designate a place in the room to represent each aspect. For example, one corner of the room might represent “family” and another corner might represent “job.” Place the number of coins that you feel you spend in each of the different aspects of your life in the physical areas you mapped out. Remember, you only have 30 pieces of gold, so be honest about your investments!
4. Investigate each investment in detail. Go to the part of the room that represents each aspect, and begin to speak out loud about that particular investment. For example, if “job” is one of the investments, speak about the role you play at work, your specific job duties, and how it is that you are using your energy within the work environment. Become aware of any feelings and emotions that arise as you speak. If, for example, you give a lot of energy to your boss, notice the emotional response you have when you speak about him or her.
5. Once you’ve investigated each aspect of your life, take a moment to look at the distribution of gold coins around the room. Use the next several moments to redistribute the coins in any way you choose. You may place them in different areas you have created, or you could create an entirely new place somewhere else in the room. If you want to withdraw coins from one area, but don’t know where you want to put them, hold onto them for now.
6. Take a few moments to speak about how you envision reinvesting the coins. Make your statements as specific and as bold as possible. If you are confused, speak boldly about your confusion. By doing this, you are already using your powers of vision, words, and action to create a shift in your life.
7. Take as much time in this “re-visioning” process as you need. Once you feel your work is complete, clear the space of the coins. Take several moments to journal, rest, meditate, or simply to close your eyes and breathe.
Photo by Stephen McVeigh
Joy Radish is a yoga teacher, educator, vocalist, and theatre artist. She has performed in venues that range from Joe’s Pub, to Bam Café, to NPR and has taught yoga in prisons, hospitals, and yoga studios. Joy currently works in a Brooklyn hospital facilitating creative arts therapy groups on an inpatient psychiatric unit. You can connect with her by visiting her website www.RadishYoga.com.