Our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are our connection to the world around us. Our attention tends to flow outwardly into that world: we see something we perceive as beautiful, for example, and our attention is drawn to it. Pratyahara asks us to reverse the flow of awareness and introvert our attention. In sanskrit, pratyahara literally means 'to draw toward the opposite' - in this case, to withdraw our senses and turn them inward - like a tortoise drawing its head and limbs into its shell.
Fixation on the sensory world can lead us to equate happiness with pleasurable experience and unhappiness with unpleasurable experience, and we can end up unconsciously devoting a lot of time and energy to:
1) the pursuit of pleasurable sensory experience 2) the avoidance of unpleasant sensory experience and 3) labelling and judging our experiences (good/bad, pleasurable/uncomfortable) in an endless stream of mental chatter.
The ceaseless pursuit of pleasurable experiences and avoidance of unpleasurable ones can take up a lot of thought and energy. And no sooner have you had your pleasurable experience then it is gone and you are left hungry for the next one. You can end up trapped in a cycle of unconscious pleasure-seeking; plotting your path to your next pleasurable moment instead of enjoying the moment you are in.
Recall that yoga is a path that leads to the stilling of the busy-ness of our minds.
If you want to still your mind, Classical yoga suggests that you narrow the scope of your attention waaaaaaay down - to just the sense of your own body quietly seated in asana. By learning to direct the flow of awareness inwardly, your mind can become quiet enough for you to concentrate and meditate (the next two limbs of practice).
Here are some ways you might play with pratyahara on and off the mat:
Intention/Centering Thought: "I am enough." Know that there is nothing external you can add to yourself that will make you more complete. So, you can stop looking outside of yourself.
Breath/Meditation: Heart Rhythm Meditation (swipe for video)
On the Mat: As you practice, emphasize the way your practice feels rather than the way it looks. Let go of achieving the perfect form.
Off the Mat: Throughout the day, try to practice objectivity about your experiences rather than judging and labelling them. Maybe it's raining ... can you just note that it's raining without piling a bunch of opinions and judgments on top of that or wishing it were some other way?