What is Yoga really all about? How can we realize the Self? what is the source of our suffering? and how can we transcend that suffering?
These fundamental questions are answered succinctly in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, however the Sutras themselves are intrinsically cryptic and notoriously hard to follow. For those of us who have tried and often struggled to make sense of them, this post is my attempt to bring to life the key concepts of Yoga so we can actually put them to good use. After all what use is dry philosophy unless it can transform us!
Buckle your seat belts as we take a journey into the deeper meaning of Yoga.
The author of the Yoga sutras and great sage Patanjali defines Yoga in three deceptively simple words.
Yogas – Chitta Vritti Nirodha
For those of us who have been through yoga teacher training or attended a Sutras workshop please don’t roll your eyes or leave just yet. There is much more to this meaning of Yoga than meets the eye, many books out there are scholarly translations which appear (to me) to over intellectualize the experiential consequence of this Sutra (or thread). So here goes. (see footnote)
Let’s try to understand vrittis: Vrittis are whirlpools of consequential energy that have settled within our subtle body in the area of the spine where chakras reside. Each vritti is comprised of centripical force arising from our inner reactions to outer circumstances. In effect creating a vortex of energy within us. As an individual the ego defines our reality in selfish terms, for example, why did this happen to me? how could they have treated me this way? I don’t like this etc. Although the myriad reactions and responses we have day to day may seem normal and natural according to Yoga they take us away from our natural state of being and our ability to know of realize the Self.
For every personal bias (desire/attachment) and every reaction that takes place mentally a holding pattern comes into play, it’s more than just a thought, that thought pulls energy and creates a little eddies and it lingers in our subtle spine.
We all know that during our life time we have loads of reactions taking place, many desires and attachments. Unfortunately it seems that vrittis are not just held from this lifetime but there are vrittis from previous life times, we bring them with us when the soul descends into the body.
Vrittis do relate to karmas otherwise known as the cause and effect principle. Karma is a natural law and driving force of our material (dualistic) Universe. Karma is the law in motion that brings balance into effect individually and collectively. Every cause produces energy a potential and circles back to fulfill what we put in motion either physically, mentally or emotionally. If you can grasp the circular nature of energy spiraling each vritti we cause pulls effect into itself.
Take a moment of reflection, remember the last time your mind connected to an unpleasant memory and made you go “into” the memory, at that point feelings arise and if an emotional responses comes you feel a restriction in your heart. Before you know it this memory image “sucks you in” then somehow you forget the present reality and are consumed by this memory. When you are sucked in who may forget where you are, you may even create a false ending to the incident. Has that ever happened to you??
I am pretty certain to happens to all of us and if so you were pulled into a Vritti, a vortex of energy that will draw karmic consequence. According to Yoga this experience is more than just psychological its energetic. The vortex (vritti) is real and is the chief source of our suffering. Now image thousands of vrittis trapped inside, they pull the life force from us and blind us from the truth. These distortion of our consciousness prevents us from knowing the Self!
The mind according to Yoga has different components using the above example we can gain a better understanding of the mind. Recall the example of the mind activating an old memory, initially the remembrance would have neutral, we perceive the memory like an image appearing on a TV screen. This sensory part of the mind is called manas in sanskrit, essentially we view data without invoking a reaction.
Next part of the mind recalls the circumstance and analyses it, this happens quickly but if we stay calm it is possible to analyze the event and stay calm (for now!). This deeper part of the mind is called buddhi (discerning intelligence).
Then the mind relates the prior experience to the ego (individuality) and at this point trouble brews as we begin to react inwardly, you might say at this point the vritti begin to whirl! However our mental reactions are still relatively tame at this point. The ego is defined as ahamkara. Our sense I-ness attracts and pulls every attachment and desire to itself, it’s a simple law of attraction. If there are hundreds of little vrittis well our ego’s are one big Vritti! Imagine a hurricane pulling all events into itself, gaining strength and becoming an inner storm. This is what happening to us in varying degrees.
Trouble comes when feelings are invoked, when the old memory surfaces and feelings are “whipped up” an emotional response comes and it comes fast. If you are sensitive or in hindsight you will feel this in your heart area, like a constriction. When the emotions kick in you are fully sucked into the memory and are replaying often with fictional reenactments or conclusions. At this point we are in delusion. The feeling part of the mind, the deepest strongest part is called Chitta.
When pure the chitta drives our deepest longings, where we feel love, devotion and heartfeltness. Pure feelings drive thoughts, words and actions, it’s a place of wonder and intuitive knowing and our greatest opportunity to know ourselves. Yet the chitta (heart center) is typically our biggest obstacle as we go through reaction after reaction.
To recap we have many vrittis which are karmic responses to causes we have created past, present and anticipated. The vrittis that become emotional “Heart-felt” responses are clinging to our individual consciousness, the deep feeling part of the mind called chitta.
The sage Patanjali defines Yoga brilliantly and simply as a stoppage or neutralization of all vrittis, every single one! Then Yoga occurs, the yoking or reuniting of pure consciousness or Self. It’s imperative to emphasize that Nirodha is absolute, not just putting the brakes on or forcing thoughts and feelings out, the vrittis are annihilated.
If you are feeling overwhelmed right now, no wonder. The magnitude of vrittis either dormant or active within our being transcending all our lifetimes is a hard to handle and quite frankly a tad depressing. Now suppose I am trying to transform myself and work on reactions, judgements and attachments it’s no easy feat, I might be able to neutralize a few patterns however by the time that’s done, I will probably create a few more.
Don’t lose hope because there is pathway to finding the Self, there is a systematic method by which to overcome all of these mental and emotional patterns. And Yes, it’s called Yoga the art and science of realizing the true Self, the Sutras lay out a step by step logical approach to calming the inner storm and bringing complete calmness. I am less referring to Hatha yoga (the physical branch) but to the four principal paths of Yoga called Bhakti (devotion) Jnana (wisdom) Karma (action) and Raja (meditation).
Patanjali follows the famous Sutra with a simple and concrete statement.
Then the Yogi abides tranquilly in the Self
When Yoga is attained we reunite with the Self literally and the storm of our consciousness is no more. It is akin to the sun (soul) shining after the storm has passed and we can see the light once again. We know who we are and we abide free in ourselves.
There is a beautiful sanskrit term Jivanmukta which translates to One who is freed while living, when the chitta is free, the heart is pure and calm, we can experience this World freely without bondage to any more reactions/karmas and only then realize our vast limitless potential
If this feels so remote, I say don’t despair dear ones according to the great ones it’s our destiny to realize the Self. Our very Universe has been created as a vehicle to bring us back to this pure natural state. It is said eons past and mankind wandered in ignorance the first step to realizing the goal is to know the goal and the means of doing so. Awareness of the goal is a mammoth step forward towards finding the Self.
I bow to each of you knowing that each of you are expressions of something great, something Divine.
Note – For those that studied Yoga Sutras the common translations for vrittis are waves. It was Paramhansa Yogananda that stated that definition fell short of their beheld state. They are whirlpools, turning and blocking the flow of life force in the sushumna. In asana paravritti is a twist this gives a clue as to the correct definition.