Does yoga mean stopping your mind?

Updated: Jul 20, 2019

Types of mind as in Yogasutras

Yogaha chittavritti nirodhaha || 1 ||


yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ ॥2॥

You must be out of your mind! If you have understood Yoga to be stopping of the mind or having no thoughts, you have been misguided.

In my own journey as a seeker I have come across so many who have been driven to madness and destruction because they subscribed to this kind of thinking. For a while, I too had explored this possibility. I am glad I made a quick U-turn. I am equally glad I explored the pathway.

Patanjali in his own words, in the later sutras, tells us about the ways of thinking - right and wrong. So there actually is wrong thinking too. To stop or kill your mind and have no thoughts is wrong thinking. Your mind is the most beautiful instrument which has been designed to think. And it is designed to keep changing. Thoughts come. Thoughts go. You just have to train your mind or learn which one to pick and which to leave. Even the most saintly person has to deal with this. Nobody is an exception.

Chitta has no English word actually. English commentators fall short by translating this word generally as mind-stuff, mind-space, The same goes with the word Nirodhaha. Any translation of this word into English gives us a feeling of supression or repression of emotions & thought. However, Nirodhaha is far from that.

Now tell me: If the second sutra tells us what exactly Yoga is, and it contains 2 words which just cannot be translated into English, what justice can these commentaries in English really do? This is the reason why living with a teacher while you are being exposed to this study becomes so important. You understand that these are not mere words. Each has a process hidden in it. Nothing is simply black or white. There is always something in between which you mustn't miss. Yet, let us try.

The 5 types or states of mind according to Vyasa

Vyasa in his commentary on this sutra mentions 5 types of minds - Kshipta, Mudha, Vikshipta, Ekagra & Nirodhaha. Let us now move from Vyasa to our own mind. Let us try to make this knowledge our own - experiential.

Each of us goes through these states each day. However, the span Ekagra & Nirodhaha is short and fleeting. The idea of Yoga is to lengthen it. The norm seems to be Kshipta, Mudha and Vikshipta. Let us now understand these states.

  1. Kshipta: When the mind is highly distracted or scattered. Thoughts buzzing through at a fiery pace with the mind jumping around like a rabbit from one idea to another. A significant indication in this sort of mind is anxiety, worry & dollops of negativity and self-pity.

  2. Mudha: A somewhat dull state of mind, lethargic and slow moving. Not really depressed but disinterested and quite numb to the external surroundings.

  3. Vikshipta: Distracted mind alright, but occasionally focused and concentrated. The distractions are frequent. The distractions are not negative or filled with anxiety & worry. Distractions are because the mind is moving from one field or sphere of thinking to another. Basically fleeting from topic to topic. In the corporate world it becomes a boon because it could lead to multi-tasking.

  4. Ekagra: A continuous flow of thought in the same direction. The internal and external disturbances do not disturb the flow of thought towards the goal in mind. There is an ability to keep the mind steady in the same direction and flow.

  5. Niruddha: A complete absorption with the goal. The mind now only entertains thoughts centered and in direction with the single object, still external to you. This could happen even when you are engrossed in a task or activity. We all can experience this state. It is only a question of awareness and being aware.

Now, in the light of what we have studied or read, let us look at the yogasutra of Patanjali again to understand what is Yoga.

Chitta is what undergoes all the changes exhibiting the above types of mind. What really does it is the Vritti or thought modification which is the building block of the mind. What we call as mind is nothing but a collection of thoughts and the Chitta is the substance they are made up of. Yoga is, therefore, any effort put forth by you to keep away from the first 3 types and to try to move towards 4 & 5 - the Ekagra & Nirodha state of mind. The thought currents, modifications of thought(Vrittis) are deeply linked to these 5 states so understanding nature of Vritti too becomes important. We will be seeing this in following sutras.

There is no question of stopping the thoughts or the mind. You move the mind away from certain types of thoughts.

How do you do that? With the mind itself, of course.

You shape your mind with your mind.

What is the benefit of all this? What is your ROI(Return on Investment)?

Let's see, in the following sutra...


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