Yogas citta vritti nirodhah
Yogas citta vritti nirodhah is the second, oft quoted, sutra of Patanjali. It is usually translated something like,”Yoga is the stilling of the cessations of the mind”. It is a profound statement because this short aphorism renders invalid all negativity about our flexibility, strength or shape of the body. “I can’t do Yoga because I am not flexible” no longer applies to anyone if you understand that the definition of Yoga as presented in the sutras is about releasing us from the tension of relentless thoughts.
It was a revelation for me when the meaning of this first sunk in. It isn’t about being able to do a handstand in the middle room, or putting your foot behind your head, or even about slipping into size 4 Lululemon’s, it’s simply turning down the noise in our heads. You notice I didn’t say “turning off the noise”. Turning our mind to a completely blank slate for a significant period of time is a pretty daunting undertaking, but finding a few minutes to pause the non-productive dialogue reel that chatters incessantly is attainable through the practice.
The practice may include physical asana, breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, or engaging in repetitive action pursuits such as running, knitting or chanting. Some days it may be attempting to put your foot behind your head—if that is what leads you to stillness, but more often than not it is a process of looking inward while employing varied techniques suitable to your physical state and range.
In Yoga trainings this sutra, Yogas citta vritti nirodhah, is often explained with the analogy of looking at your reflection in a pool of water. If the water is churned up, by wind or waves or schools of blue fish, it is impossible to see yourself clearly, but when we quiet the pool and it goes still, it becomes glass-like and we can see our perfect image.
I have often pictured young Yogis and Yoginis learning the meaning of this sutra alongside their Guru in an idyllic setting at a crystal mountain lake when there is no breeze and the light is at just the right angle to allow for optimal reflective quality –making it pretty easy to get that self-reflection is attainable.
I, of course, work in NYC, where winds whip through the canyons of sky scrapers and there is no time for pondering puddles. My mind’s fluctuations feed off the pace of city life making my tidal pool resemble the proverbial Nor’easter. For those of us hurtling through the urban chaos of the twenty-first century it is the churning water of the dark Atlantic that requires taming to find that peaceful place where one can see clearly. I embrace this challenge with my practice.
Come practice with me, virtually, or in person, and we will face together those thirty foot-high seas of modern life to realize this classic definition of Yoga.