Yogas chitta vritti nirodha – Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.
Yoga – Union, balance, harmonious state of mind, bridging the different aspects of life, connecting the individual consciousness with the supreme consciousness, the union of the two – the seeker & God, the lover & the beloved, Shiva & Shakti, ida & pingala, the sun & the moon, active & passive
Chitta – Mind, the repository of thoughts & feelings, the inner instrument for thinking, feeling, perception, and cognition, the instrument that consciousness uses to explore its own manifestation, the leader of the senses, the seat of the spirit
Vritti – Thoughts, modifications, that which rotates like a wheel, movement
Ni – completely, in every respect, from every direction
Rodha – Confining, restraining, disciplining, not allow to roam aimlessly
The western way of thinking and yoga, can we combine these two? Yes! But it is absolutely necessary that we read and practice yoga through the path that the sacred texts (Shastras) are giving to us. A teacher that has influenced a lot my practice the last year, Gregor Maehle insists on one of his books about the significance of the sacred texts, especially from the side of the teachers but also for the practitioners. We have the duty to teach and be taught (because we are responsible also for that choice) by studying the sacred texts. One of the most important reasons is ego, I didn’t said all this for you to listen to me, and place me on a throne, and feed my ego. You and I wouldn’t be here today if we weren’t walking the path on the backs of those holy giants, that they probably were much better yogis than us.
So, Patanjali already on the second phrase from the Yoga Sutras is giving us clearly the definition of yoga, there is no room for misunderstanding, he is absolutely clear, Yoga is the ability to control your mind, so everything else is techniques (asana, kriyas, mudras, pranayama, meditation, chanting, etc.) that will help you establish that state.
In our era yoga is targeted on the physical part (asana) and for sure this is an important and significant part, you can’t go further without asana. Also, a lot of people come to yoga to relax and to deal with stress, this is also accepted, all these the beautiful body, mental health, etc. are side effects that they will come, but they are not the final goal. The side effects are coming through the practice so there are no distractions and so on, the path will open to liberation (Samadhi). The body becomes a perfect vehicle that doesn’t distract us with diseases, pains or discomfort and so the goal is to stop the identification with the body because if our body asks for attention we can’t go further. Now imagine our body to ask for more attention by wanting to be more beautiful, sexier, more spoiled…
“Animals in nature are healthy, you can reach the end of your life as a healthy animal”, says Gregor, but somewhere, in the end, you will need something more than that. By following the yogic techniques (asana, pranayama, meditation) as they are given in the sacred texts you can gain something infinite, that not even death can take away from you.
“This that is not cut by blades, pierced by thorns, burned by fire or drowned by waves can be experienced.” Bhagavad Ghita 11.23
From the five layers (Pancha Koshas), often presented as an onion that you peel off to reach the center, that’s where the Supreme Self is hiding, the first three of these are the ones we work with because there are blockades that need to be healed:
Annamaya kosha: Body, targeted with asana
Pranamaya kosha : Vital force (prana), breath, targeted with breathing techniques (pranayama)
Μanomaya kosha: Mind, targeted with meditation
Having said that we realize that if we don’t practice all the techniques it is not possible to be healed, something is missing… If we only practice asana we heal the body, if we want to heal the mind we need to practice meditation, and to link these two we need breath meaning pranayama. And we have to enter this procedure successively, this is the reason why we start with asana. When our body reaches a certain level we move to the next stage and later at the next. But don’t get stuck, get advice from a teacher that can guide you to start basic practices in all the parts, only then you will feel the real healing, the real Yoga!
Now for the mind. Our mind is a tool, imagine that it works like a computer. So you buy your new laptop and there is nothing inside, it is totally empty, as time goes by you start to store many things in it and eventually it has a character. The same way your mind works, when you are born it’s clean, empty, as you grow up it stores images, feelings, behaviors and works with the data that you have given it.
Our goal is to realize and understand the way our personal processor works, which data brings on the surface and under what circumstances. I like to call them behavior patterns. By understanding them you can quiet them, you can take control of your mind, imagine if your laptop could control you? A really nice quote from Osho says “The mind is a dangerous master or a beautiful servant, the choice is yours.”
Usually, we are not conscious of what really happens in our minds. Try this simple exercise: Sit comfortably on the floor with your eyes closed and observe your thoughts. You will realize that they jump from one to the other without any order, in yoga this is called monkey mind, exactly like monkeys jump from the one tree to the other, so our mind jumps from thought to thought.
So, Yoga is to stop these fluctuations(vrittis) of the mind, to enter a state of silence, to create a relationship of peace with ourselves and other beings. Who wouldn’t want that? The techniques are in front of you, you can do it, everyone can, it’s your right, but also your choice!
In modern yoga there are dangers that can make you forget what you want from the system, what is your goal, keep questioning yourself if what you are taught is leading you to the right path, challenge teachers and gurus if you feel that something is going wrong. Have you experienced moments of peace from your practice? Have you felt what Patanjali is saying that yoga is? The answer lays inside you.