Yoga And The Vrittis

Water dropI see each Yoga sutra as this condensation of multiple layers of wisdom strung together in a few Sanskrit words.  The first two sutras of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are incredibly potent.  Forgive my effort in blog-form to transliterate Sanskrit/Devanagari into English sounds in the following:

1) Atha Yoga Anushasanam  – Now Yoga Begins/Now the Discipline of Yoga is taught

2) Yogah Citta Vritti Nirodhah – Yoga is the intentional cessation of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff – for the time-being

We translate Vrittis as “fluctuations of the mind-stuff” or “movements of the mind”-  and Patanjali explains – that the Vrittis are:

1) Pramana – right knowledge

2) Viparyaya – wrong knowledge

3) Vikalpa – imagination or utopic thinking

4) Nidra – sleep and dream

5) Smriti – memory

When one defines Yoga as the intentional cessation of the fluctuations of all of the above – then perhaps, many of us who practice Yoga – new to the path – or even practicing for so many years – wonder – hmmm, have I actually achieved any Yoga?  We are rescued a bit by the sweet translator who says that the cessation of the fluctuations happens – “for the time-being.”  Guruji – Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D.’s translation explains Ch. 1, Sutra 2 as:  “Yoga or union is the cessation of  the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel ‘Who am I?”.

I love that in our lineage at Ananda Ashram, the emphasis is on the Sanskrit – chant the Sutras directly.  Meaning and Sound are One.  Translations are necessary but secondary.

When we look at all the current hullabaloo in the news about Yoga, it’s interesting to note that so much of the news are fabulous Vrittis that writers in the media want readers to Hook into.  The photo above shows how beautiful a drop of water looks when plopping into a still body of water.  It’s interesting to note how many of us in the world have bought into our Vrittis (I include myself in this, I’m working on it, working on it, just like many of you) with such grand attachment that we don’t really know Who we are.  “Be still and know I-am.”  Popular, conventional media, television, newspapers, and yes blogs, heavily rely on hooking you and your Vrittis.

What’s it like to put out a body of work that stills the readers’ minds while you read/chant/and work with them?  Versus putting out bodies of work that get you all riled up, all bull in pulpit, all rah rah rah sis boom bah!  It’s why the Sanskrit scriptures to me are so appealing.  I chant the scriptures and they work on me at the same time.  Meaning and Sound are One.

To say that Pramana – right knowledge – and Viparyaya – wrong knowledge are both Vrittis has enormous significance.  This reminds me of Rumi’s sentiment – “Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a Field.  I’ll meet you there.  And as our Souls lie in this grass, even the words ‘each other’ seem strange.”  I probably got this from Coleman Barks.  Forgive me, I have one of those sponge like Vata brains that absorb so much on a sound/word level, but sometimes I don’t remember the exact source.  Coleman Barks is a safe bet for English translations of Rumi’s words.

Feel this, how many times do we get Hooked into a cycle or Drama with our ideas of Right and Wrong?  I can totally feel it now, with all of these years of practice, when I staunchly want to defend a Right way of doing things or Right way of thinking.  And then I go into meditation and see a much bigger picture of things.  In meditation, you see that everything balances out.  It’s not to say that there aren’t sutras inYoga – that talk about actions that bring on more goodness in your being.  But at the same time, the Sutras are not saying, yo! if you don’t follow the Yamas (non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, abiding in God/chastity, non-attachment) and Niyamas (cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, surrender to God) – then you will burn in Hellfire and brimstone.

The Sutras simply say, hey, you have these 5 Vrittis – and you can endlessly hold on to them and be stuck going up and down and up and down with them, or you can look at them all from the Bigger perspective of Consciousness = Citta.  Chitta:  that Consciousness in you that does not need the Mind.

The Sutras also give you definitions of what happens when you see the Vrittis for what they are.

So we get to the 3rd Vritti – Imagination or Utopic Thinking.

I have a grand imagination.  I love to make the most mundane thing in my head interesting by imagining stuff all over it.  But I am able to see much of my imagination as Imagination – through years of meditation practice.  When I was younger (okay, well maybe even so much as just last year) – it was much more difficult for me to discern between my imagination and the Real.  Whew.  What is Real?  Now that’s a big subject.  Another blog post.  But on the very fundamental level – we need imagination – it’s a fantastic gift – but if it is not put in its proper place – then all sorts of disorders can happen.  This is where the meditation practices of Yoga can be so powerful.   I have done Open-Eye meditation where I see images and occurrences that happen in Dream-time, play out in my mind.  Yet I know that I am sitting in meditation in a room filled with other people meditating.  How is it that I can both be simultaneously dreaming, with my eyes open and sitting in a meditation room?  This is glorious stuff.

The 4th Vritti is Nidra – Sleep and Dream.  The state of dreamless, deep sleep – now this is not Nidra.  This is when the brainwaves are at their most Nirodahaed.  I like to translate Nirodaha as “smoothing out” – kinda like what a massage therapist does to a knot of muscles and nerves.   How often are we really awake?  When Buddha was asked whether he was a man or a god – he explained that he was: “Neither.  I am Awake.”  It doesn’t mean that we don’t sleep.  I love my sleep.  But it does mean that we are conscious even when we are sleeping.  I literally switch my dreams around when I’m sleeping if I don’t like em now.

I’m still working on not being attached to dreams period and ellipses…

The 5th Vritti is Smriti – Memory.  We all know that our memories are relative only to the individual.  For instance, a group of ten of us could all have witnessed something happen 5 years ago, but each of the ten individuals – though describing the scene in general, in the same way – will have a different perspective.  So we say that Memory is a Vritti.  It’s a fluctuation.  Its ability to keep you from the Present Moment, from Now is powerful.  Yoga is the ability not to be a slave to your memories.  Yoga helps you forgive your past, present and your future.

And all of the above are in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  You can use these Sutras to help inform your Hatha Yoga practice.  Yes you can.  This is what Zoe and I are teaching in the Yoga Illumined Teacher Training, and then some.

Much love!

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