Yoga is the Stilling of the Fluctuations of the Mind

Detail of Buddha statue with Karana mudra hand position

Yoga is the Stilling of the Fluctuations of the Mind

In the Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali, it was written: “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha”. This roughly translates to “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”. These fluctuations may be viewed from the perspective of a rippling pool of water. The ripples on the surface are the fluctuating thoughts and emotions of our conscious and subconscious mind. Patanjali refers to these fluctuations as Vritti.

There are 5 Vrittis in the Yoga Sutras (Source: Yogapedia):

1. Pramana (right knowledge) – A state in which the mind reflects reality
2. Viparyaya (misconception) – A state when the mind makes a wrong judgement, which, in time, is replaced by right knowledge
3. Vikalpa (imagination or feeling) – Refers to understanding the real situation, though words do not directly relate to the situation
4. Nidra (deep sleep) – The state of mind that exists when one sleeps
5. Smriti (memory) – That which is stored in the mind

Our life experiences create subtle, impressions in the mind, Patanjali describes these as Samskara. Our thoughts, intentions and actions form these impressions, which contribute to the formation of behavioural patterns. These patterns are said to be the root of our impulses, character traits and innate dispositions.

As we go through life, our minds can become cluttered with these mental fluctuations and impressions. These things may arise as a result of traumatic or challenging life experiences. As a result, they may cause suffering. which leads to distortion in our perception. Patanjali refers to 5 types of mental suffering as the Kleshas.

The five kleshas consist of:

Avidya (delusion or ignorance)

Avidya is the basis of each of the other kleshas. It is the nature of our perception which may not conform to reality, which represents false understanding. Avidya is the first of the kleshas as it is the root that affects each of the others. It is characterised by the way in which we view an object as we perceive it and not necessarily as it is. Something that we perceive to be true turns out to be untrue. Or something that we perceive to be untrue is true. This false understanding or ignorance keeps our minds in a state of distorted reality. It is associated with neurotic thoughts such as anger, jealousy and envy.

Asmita (the ego)

Asmita is the attachment to ego and the ego’s sense of reality. We mistake the physical, emotional and mental aspects of the mind-body for the true Self. This is the state of identifying ourselves with something that is not us, our thoughts and our emotions. It is to mistake the mind for consciousness or to mistake the ego for the self. Rather than using the ego as an instrument to facilitate how we perceive the world. Ego is the specific aspect of ignorance that identifies nonself, specifically intelligence, with the true self.

Raga (craving)

Raga is the desire for material objects, relationships, status, power or other unevolved desires. Problems such as addiction may result when we crave these experiences in the pursuit of pleasure. Craving is the result of an attachment to the pleasant experience and the means by which they are created. If we continually pursue these activities mindlessly, this is craving. This cycle leads to unhealthy attachment which creates an illusion that we need those things in order to be fulfilled. When this craving cannot be fulfilled, we become disturbed. The absence of this object creates a state of misery. This in turn leads to suffering.

Dvesha (repulsion)

Dvesha is the opposite of Raga and is an aversion to unpleasant things, people and experiences. If these things are unavoidable we suffer. This is the opposite state of craving. Negative life experiences create a strong dislike for the associated experiences or objects. As a result of this dislike, we create aversions to try to avoid them. When we are exposed to these aversions, this creates suffering. Similarly, if we give energy in the form of hatred to a person or object, this creates an unhealthy environment of anger within ourselves. This misguided action is harmful to us and to others.

Abhinivesha (anxiety or fear)

Abhinivesha manifests in the fear of loss of security or what we presently have or a fear of what may happen in the future. It also refers to the fear of death or that we may no longer exist. We all experience fear during our lifetime. This is expressed in various ways. Fear of adventure, of a lack of security, losing what we have presently or that something may happen to us in the future all manifest in different ways. Fundamentally it relates to a fear of death, the mistaken identity with our bodies and our fear of parting with them. This is also characterised by a fear of letting go of things in our lives that make us miserable. Clinging on to those things for a fear of the unknown, or the death of the ego.

The Kleshas cloud our reality and affect how we act, which in turn affects the quality of our life. In relation to the rippling pool of water, the water underneath becomes muddied. If the pool of water stills, the mud settles to the bottom and we can see clearly through the water. The same is true for the mind. The Kleshas cloud the mind and represent the muddy water. When we allow the mind to settle, we can think and see more clearly.

Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga provides a pathway to that inner stillness. Regular Yoga practice can liberate us from our own suffering. Through observance, movement, breathing and meditation, we bring awareness to our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. As a result, we may become more discerning with those that serve us and those that sabotage us. This discernment requires recognition that something within us needs to change. Coupled with consistent practice and discipline to cultivate the awareness to precipitate positive change.

David Balfe is a qualified Yoga teacher with Yogacampus and founder of Dragn Yoga and Well Being.

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