Yoga is the stilling of the revolutions of the mind. This is what Patanjali describes as yoga in his book the Yoga Sutras. citta = mind; vrtti = fluctuation; nirodhah = restraint, control. The Yoga Sutras are composed of 4 books with short sutras or threads that explain yoga according to Patanjali. It is over 1,000 years old and is where the yoga we have come to know in the West originated. Although most of us generally come to yoga because of lower back pain or because we watched a beautiful video on social media, with time, the practice reveals that our mental health can also benefit as much as physical health.
The truth is that society these days demands a lot from us and the boom of technology keeps us distracted from present moment awareness and creates an abundance of stressful, angry, and sometimes (temporarily) happy thoughts. How many times a day do you grab your phone to check social media? I know I am guilty of it myself! It helps to numb us from dealing with our sometimes uncomfortable emotions. Because we’ve become a culture that applauds hustlers and multi-taskers with the longest to-do lists, we struggle to rest and restore. We feel guilty when we take a break or when we don’t answer that email from home. Our minds are cluttered with excessive marketing and ‘to-do’ lists for work, family, and friends. It becomes a challenge to sit still and concentrate.
We end up wanting to nirodhah the vrttis or stop the fluctuations because so much of our suffering comes from our excessive thinking and ruminating on something a coworker said or trying to think our way through an argument with a loved one.
Yoga asana or postures come to our rescue by putting our bodies in somewhat stressful situations and our yoga teachers guide us to calmness in the midst of the challenge with the asana. The more we challenge ourselves and find peace in the challenge, the more we can begin to practice this off of our mat as well. We stop avoiding uncomfortable conversations and we notice ourselves becoming less reactive and more resilient.
The asana practice also allows us to find presence within our body instead of living our entire lives in our head. We forget to listen to what our body is trying to tell us. It is only when we experience severe pain in our body that we begin to treat it.
The less distracted we are by the vrtti’s (fluctuations) of our citta (mind), the more we can be a witness to the beauty of the every day little moments. These little moments where we can observe how wonderful it feels to have the breeze brushing against our skin, or can notice how comforting that warm cup of coffee is.
The tendency of the mind is to always be distracted as it is affected by our sense organs and perceptions and although yoga is citta vrtti nirodhah, completely clearing the mind is not something that most yogis will be able to accomplish in this lifetime. That being said, the more we observe the patterns of our thoughts, the more we can observe our attachment to our thoughts and how we identify with them. How when we say ‘I am sad,’ we embody it and feel we are that. The more we become an observer of our thoughts, whether it be through meditation practice or asana practice, the more we can begin to release the clutches of these thoughts and minimize our identification with them.
I still enjoy my yoga asana practice for it’s physical support as well, but the workings of the mind have always been intriguing to me and if you are equally curious, you might find interest in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras where he explains other steps and practices that help us nirodhah the vrttis!