Sutra 1.2 Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah
For yoga practitioners, the Yoga Sutras are a very famous wisdom text, compiled at least 1,700 years ago by a scholar-sage named Patanjali. Part of our yoga teacher training program here at the studio is to study the Yoga Sutras and their history, so we talk about how the authorship and identity of Patanjali and the text are actually a matter of academic debate and mystery. However, there’s no need to get our thoughts swirling on that topic at this moment.
Instead, let’s dive into the text itself and look at one of the best-known passages in the Yoga Sutras, sutra 1.2: “Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah.” My favorite translation of this is “Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind.” This positions yoga as not only a practice of soothing our frazzled bodies and minds, but also as a state of unity when the body-mind is still and settled. (One meaning of the word “yoga” is “union.”)
For me, the image of a snow globe comes to mind. (I’m not sure if it’s just me, or if I’ve heard this analogy somewhere before, but please bear with me on this.)
Most of the time, we are like a snow globe that’s been vigorously shaken – our glitter is swirling everywhere! The thoughts are all stirred up, whether from excitement and enthusiasm, or from agitation and worry.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this busy mind. In fact, our intellect is extremely important. But, this heightened state of flux takes a lot of energy, and it does tend to cloud the picture a bit. It’s hard to see through a blizzard.
It is possible to rest the mind, but this process may be a little less familiar. Even when we want to relax, we often try to get there by “doing” relaxation. So, how do you get the glitter to stop swirling? You gently put your snow globe down on the table and wait. The stillness allows all the particles to settle to the bottom. If you get impatient and forget that settling down takes a little while, you might pick the snow globe up and move it to another table, thinking “it’ll work better over here.” And, sometimes we pick it up and shake it just for the entertainment of seeing those snowflakes fly. But, in the end, you create more disturbance, and it takes longer for the glitter to collect at the bottom.
You can actually feel a very similar process in your body, as the body is responsive to the goings-on of your fluctuating mind. Have you ever noticed that reactive energy rises upward in the body? If you get stimulated by an annoyance, a threat, a negative thought, or something you crave, you can feel the sensations of arousal in the body, lifting the energy. You might feel your heart racing, your temperature rising, or your eyes widening, as your thoughts speed up to deal with what’s happening.
Likewise, when we’re calm, or in the process of calming, we can feel our energy is more grounded. This is a poetic way of saying that our awareness is more able to sense what connects us to our foundation – feet on the ground, body touching Earth. We’re not preparing for lift-off at the moment. We’ve actually landed here in the present moment. We can feel a sense of ease in the breath, as well. You might feel your diaphragm letting go, able to move downward as you breathe in. When your belly isn’t hardened with protective tension, this full breath happens naturally.
You can almost feel those metaphorical glitter particles settling downwards in the body, and the water above becoming clearer. You can enjoy the coolness and beauty of a sparkling layer of snow on the ground. This is what it’s like to calm the fluctuations of the mind.
The practice of yoga and meditation is meant to attune us to these various states of body-mind, so that we can recognize when we’re swirling and when we’re settled. Gradually, we learn to create less unnecessary drama, so we enjoy more stability and clarity. We also have more choice in how we respond to the unavoidable triggers that create glitter tornadoes for us during the day. Even in challenging moments, we can have the capacity to stay true to our deeper intentions rather than acting out of habit, stress, or confusion.
Thank you for engaging in this practice of calm and clarity – I truly believe it helps make the world more habitable for us all! Let me know how it goes.