Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah

– Yoga is the modification, the training of the mind –

Around 2000 years ago, Patanjali wrote in his Yoga Sutras “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions (translated by TKV Desikachar).

Why would we want to achieve that? 

Well, did your mind ever tell you that it would be ok to do something but, in your heart, you knew it wasn’t? Did your mind ever tell you that you weren’t good enough? Or that you need to achieve something to be worthy?

Wouldn’t you like to learn tools to learn how to create a more peaceful state of mind, to be able to free yourself from the tyranny of your mind and the mental prisons that it creates?

We’ve around 70,000 thoughts a day and most of them are negative. Who counted them? I’ve no idea but what I do know is that our thoughts are not only influencing our actions but they’re also changing the structures of our body and rewiring our brain.

Our brain is constantly growing, so we need to be careful what to feed it. Negative thoughts will create more negative thoughts. Positive thoughts will create more positive thoughts.

I’m taking an example what my teacher likes to share: I’m sure we all have this one friend who just can’t take any compliments. You say to them: “Oh, you look beautiful today!”, and their response would be something like: “Oh but my nose is way too big”. They’ve created so many negative thoughts around their external appearance already that this compliment has nowhere to go in their brain.

We all have negative thoughts but we should become more aware of them, become the observer and when they come up, think about where this would lead you, what effects it will have on the physical structure of your body and your brain and then choose not to go there, choose not to continue that thought.

“Watch your thoughts, they become words

Watch your words, they become actions

Watch your actions, they become your habits

Watch your habits, they become character

Watch your character, it becomes your destiny”

– Lao Tzu –

But where do these negative thoughts and beliefs come from? In Yoga we call them Samskaras, habitual patterns of thoughts, that were created in the past, they’re sometimes deep routed in our subconscious mind that was created in the age when we were 0-7 years old. 

Most of the time, we’re acting out of these habitual patterns, we’re like on auto-pilot, cruising through life on a motor highway and it’s not until we stop for a moment to reflect on a situation that we actually realize what we’ve been doing all this time, all those years even. It makes us realize that we’ve not been seeing clearly.

The origin of our suffering are the Kleshas, the impurities of our mind which cause us to think, speak or act in a certain way:

The root of the Kleshas is called Avidya, that means ignorance or false understanding of things. 

The first branch is Asmita, what we often call the ego. It directs us into thoughts like “I know that I am right”, “I have to be better than others”. When we think about it though, no one is always right. What is right or true at this time, at this moment, in this situation, might not be true another time, in another moment, in another situation.

The second branch is Raga, having a desire or attachment to people or things. We want someone or something we can’t have. What we have is not good enough, so we want more. This is Raga. There’s nothing wrong in having a desire but if we start to suffer because of it, then we should let it go. We should not get attached to our desires. I like this example of friendships and relationships:

“We come together in friendships and relationships for a reason and if that reason is over, then it’s ok to let your friends or intimate partner go” – Peter Clifford.

Dvesa is the third branch and means hatred. We reject things in a very strong way because we had a difficult experience once and are now afraid of experiencing it again, so we reject the people and situations that remind us of this experience.

Finally, the fourth branch is Abhinivesa, the fear. We’ve doubts, we’re uncertain about ourselves, about our lives when things get a bit more difficult. We’re afraid that other people might think in a negative way about us. All these feelings are an expression of Abhinivesa.

All these Kleshas, single or together, cloud or perception of things. The goal of Yoga is to realize that we’ve not been seeing clearly and to reduce this film, this cloud that is covering our perception in order to act more consciously.

Now, how do we move out of these negative habitual thoughts? Once you’ve realized that you are responsible for your own suffering, your Dukha, you can free yourself from it step by step. 

As already mentioned above, yes, we start with observing our Samskaras and choose not to follow that thought anymore, but we also go deeper and meditate on why we’re acting the way we act to find out where the origin of this pattern is. Asking ourselves when the first time was when we felt that way. With that, we create more awareness within ourselves, we start to understand where this specific pattern of behavior is coming from. As soon as we’ve reached that state, we can start to release it, to let go of it. Further, we can also replace a pattern by planting new mental seeds and affirmations, called Sankalpas. And like the seeds from a plant, these mental seeds also need watering, we need to take care of them and help them grow, to slowly rewire our brain in a more positive way, to create new neural pathways and make our brain grow in the direction we would like it to grow.

Author: Caroline Altmann