28 Mar 5 Minute Philosophy Break – Thoughts on the Vrttis
The process of wisdom and spiritual growth is nonlinear. The path is winding and we often take 2 steps forward and one step back. Sometimes it feels like we fall back to the beginning and have to start over. This can feel frustrating, but it helps to know how the mind works!
In yoga, the movements of our mind – our thoughts, perceptions, imagination, memories…are called vṛttis. B.K.S. Iyengar describes the vṛttis as “…thoughts that flash and flicker from the seat of consciousness like sparks from a fire, scattering in various sizes, and spreading out unpredictably in different directions, with or without reason.” I think this is an excellent description of what goes on in my mind!
And the vṛttis have a rotational quality. Like a big ferris wheel in our mind, patterns of thought seem to keep reappearing in slightly different ways because they’re based on underlying stories and beliefs. We think we’ve dealt with something only to find the same old pattern resurface.
But here’s the key, our yoga practice doesn’t eliminate the movements of our mind, it helps us experience who we are beyond the mind! As Iyengar said, the vṛttis happen with or without reason. So when you think some crazy thought, you’re usually not even doing anything to make that happen. The machinery of your mind is simply sifting and analyzing experiences, making meaning based on your stories and beliefs, and offering up suggestions that it thinks are rational. Suggestions! That’s what the mind offers us. We don’t have to believe them, we don’t have to follow them, we don’t have to react to them. And most importantly we can offer suggestions back! Because we are not our minds 😍
For most of us however, our thoughts feel more like objective reality – more like compulsion than suggestion. And this is why our yoga practice is SO important! Developing a felt experience of who you are beyond your mind, and cultivating that relationship IS yoga. This definition of yoga is found at the very beginning of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, in sutra 1.2
1.2 YOGAŚ ĆITTA VṚTTI NIRODHAḤ
Yoga or union is the cessation of the movements of the thinking mind for the time being in order to feel “Who am I?”
– translation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati
When you experience yourself separate from your mind, the compelling, addictive quality of thoughts diminish, and your sense of connection to intuitive truth and harmony with the natural world increase. What follows is an inner stillness, peace and clarity of Self.
A wonderful practice to begin to experience yourself beyond your mind is to simply watch your mind. This can be done while sitting in meditation, or whenever you catch your mind drifting into thought, especially if the thought feels compulsive or emotionally reactive. Take a moment, close your eyes, relax the muscles of your face and shoulders, and take a few deep breaths. Then, just witness the thought as if you were watching a movie that you didn’t create – someone else’s movie. Don’t try and change it, don’t react to it, don’t follow it down the rabbit hole, just watch it with an air of curiosity and separation. Try this for a few minutes, coming back to your breath again and again to remain grounded in the present moment. Over time, the simple act of watching our thoughts in this way can help us experience the deeper truth of who we are. We have a body and mind, but we are SO much more than this ❤️✨🙏