Yogas chitta vritti nirodha is Patanjali’s definition of yoga. It means that yoga is the removing of the fluctuations of the mind. Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state of total and utter tranquility – so that one experiences life as it is – as Reality. One experiences life through the clearest of lenses – lenses not colored by thoughts of good or bad, or mine or yours. When the fluctuations of the mind are totally removed, we are at one with everything and all that is. We experience oneness, or union with all. We have no separation from our inner divinity and the Divine. This is yoga. (Discover How to Quiet the Commentary of Your Mind.)
The literal translation of yogas chitta vritti nirodha is as follows:
- Yoga = to yoke, to join, to unite
- Chitta = consciousness
- Vritti = fluctuations
- Nirodhah = quieting of
It’s quite impossible to remove the fluctuations of the mind because the mind is always thinking – that’s what it does. However, what the author of the Yoga Sutras (Patanjali) is teaching us here has to do with a method of quieting the mind, which is a system of practices that leads us to mental peace.
These fluctuations that Patanjali refers to have to do with desires, aversions, attachments, ignorance and the ego's sense of “I” and “me” and “mine." This phrase, “yogas chitta vritti nirodha,” is stated in Yoga Sutra 1.2. The heart of what Patanjali is addressing here is our consciousness as human beings.
Cultivating a Witnessing Presence
By identifying with the fluctuations of the mind, life can feel like a roller coaster ride of madness. When we identify so deeply with our mind states, we can end up acting out these thoughts through our behaviors. When we do yoga, and practice meditation, we become the witness to these fluctuations, rather than identify ourselves with them. By cultivating this witnessing presence, we’re less likely to believe our thoughts and more likely to see them as what they are: ever-changing, fleeting and transient in nature. In other words, they’re not really true. (Learn how in Vritti: Calming the Waves of Your Mind.)
This is the beauty of yoga because it’s so enlightening! Most people will never even be exposed to these universal truths. Most people will never gain the awareness to experience life from a state of presence, because most people stay stuck in their minds – experiencing life though these fluctuations. So life goes, up and down, and up and down, like a crazy roller coaster, and it all becomes very confusing.
Cultivating this witnessing presence is what we do in meditation. The more we do it, the more we become like the wise sages and seers of the ancient yoga tradition. Consider for a moment the word, seer. That’s what it does. It sees things clearly. A seer sees things for what they are. This is what we’re becoming when we stop identifying with the transient fluctuations of the human mind.
As we work to practice this art of quieting the mind, we need to remember a couple of things. The first one is known as abhyasa. This translates to dedication of prolonged practice over a long period of time – a lifetime really. This is the work of discipline and commitment. It takes time, perseverance and patience. The dedicated practice of both yoga asana and regular meditation will cultivate tranquility and stability. (Read more in Patience Really is a Virtue.)
The second thing to remember is vairagya. Essentially, this means non-attachment. We want to remain non-attached even to the practices and methods set forth by Patanjali to calm the body and mind. We want to cultivate non-attachment to the entire goal of Self-realization, or enlightenment. This healthy detachment is a key aspect to cultivate when it comes to the big picture. (Learn more in The Wisdom of Non-Attachment.)
Putting it All to Practice
So, when we instill abhyasa and vairagya in our practice, we are well on our way to going far on our journey through yoga. The dedicated practice leads us in a constant direction while healthy non-attachment alleviates a lot of the pain and suffering that will inevitably come our way when working towards Self-realization. It also helps to purchase a copy of the Yoga Sutras so that we can put Sutra 1.2 into context with all the others.
Keep a journal with you as you read the Sutras to take notes and jot down your insights because there will be many. You are developing the intelligence of your higher Self, and you’ll want to write it all down! And, as always, have total compassion for yourself as you do this. It’s all about self-love!