As we welcome the season of spring, many of us celebrate the awakening of the earth from the long restful sleep of winter. When we practice Yoga we invite an awakening in ourselves – perhaps many of us begin yoga with the intention of a clearer recognition or realization of the potential in our physical bodies, or perhaps our thoughts and emotions, but the yogic texts tell us that through Yoga we awaken to our true nature.
Yoga Sutras 1.2 – 1.3: “Yogas Chitta Vrtti Nirodah. Tada drastuhu svarupe avastanam. Translation – Complete mastery over the modifications of the mind is called yoga. Then the seer becomes established in its true nature.” (Translation of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from Yoga International.)
The practice of Yoga allows us to see the world as it is by training our bodies and minds to stay in the present moment – the only moment where the world exists. The past and future can only be perceived in our imagination. As we practice being in the present moment, we begin to fine-tune our perception of the present moment.
The term Chitta means the mind stuff – the conscious and subconscious – including memories, experiences, conditioned thoughts, habits, instincts, concentration, and inquiry. Essentially the lens through which we perceive ourselves and the world around us.
Vritti literally means whirlpool, and in yogic terms refers to the fluctuations of the mind or the thought waves.
In India, there is a lovely metaphor that is commonly used to illustrate the terms chitta, vritti, and Self: The metaphor is of a lake where the bottom is our true nature or self, the lake is the chitta, and state of the water at the surface is the vrittis. If the top of the lake is covered by ripples or the water is muddy one will not be able to see the bottom of the lake. However, if the water is still and clear, we can easily see the bottom.
So does this mean that we want the lake, or our mind, always to be calm, quiet, and still? No, not necessarily. Noticing and observing the fluctuations can give us valuable insights into ourselves and allow us to shift how we perceive what is. During asana (Yoga posture) and meditation practice, we develop the ability to choose where we place our attention and learn to bring this skill off of the mat and into our lives to find greater ease as we awaken to our own true nature.
“By changing your mind you change everything. If only we could understand this point, we would see that there is nothing wrong outside; it is all in the mind. By correcting our vision we correct things outside. If we can cure our jaundiced eye, nothing will look yellow. But without correcting the jaundice, however much we scrub the outside things, we are not going to make them white or blue or green; they will always be yellow. That’s why yoga is based on self-reformation, self-control, and self-adjustment.”~ Swami Satchidananda
By Katey Hawes, owner and founder of Posabilities, Inc., a physical therapist, registered yoga teacher, and yoga therapist.