The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient text about the practice and philosophy of yoga written in Sanskrit. It has 4 books or chapters and 196 total verses that is grouped by topics and subtopics. Different translations could be debated for each sutra to encompass different meanings or interpretations. As a collection, they present a way of living for the mind, body, and spirit. Individually, they can be used to theme a yoga class or contemplate throughout your day. Recently, the second sutra (book 1, verse 2) has felt influential for me, so I wanted to explore it a little deeper.
Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah.
Most translations say this means yoga is clearing the mind. But what does that mean? Does that mean you’re not thinking? If you’re not thinking…. aren’t you…. dead? Woah, that went dark fast! Obviously that’s not what it meant. Let’s look at it another way.
“If you control your mind, you have controlled everything. Then there is nothing in the world to bind you.”-Sri Swami Satchidananda
Ok, great. Control the mind. This reminds me of the circle of influence a friend had in her cubicle. An image with three circles, a small circle inside a medium circle inside a large circle. The outermost is a circle of concern or that which you are affected by but have no control or influence. Like a car accident on the interstate a mile or so from your exit. You can’t change the fact that it happened, you can’t avoid it, but it affects your drive because of the slow down in traffic. The center is your center of influence, so things that could happen due to your influence. Traffic could run a little more smoothly past the accident by implementing zipper merging. You have an influence in the smooth, alternating weaving of cars into one lane, but since you’re only one vehicle, you can’t ensure it happens with every driver. The innermost is the circle of control or what you have direct power over. That includes your words, actions, and thoughts. All of which is processed in the mind.
So control the mind? How would you do that? Not one, but two, cars just cut you off. That’s what you have two middle fingers for, right? Let’s re-balance the injustice of the world! But is that yoga? No. That would be letting the mind control you. The mind created the injustice. Sure, the cars merged in front of you, but it’s your mind interpreting it as they cut you off and it’s not fair. Nothing has changed. You’re still in traffic, and maybe the two cars added an extra 30 seconds to your commute. You get to decide if you let anger fester and boil or just let it go and move on.
Make the decision.
Sometimes things happen and the emotional reaction is strong. One recent example, I accidentally bumped a car as I was trying to parallel park on a hill. (Don’t worry, I left my information!) I was SO MAD at myself. How could I be so stupid? I tried to decide that there’s nothing I can do about it now and stop being mad. But I couldn’t just decide it away. So I took an inventory of myself. Where physically do I feel my anger? Emotions like anger are energies building that need to be released. I felt a lot of energy building up in my shoulders and neck. So, I practiced yoga poses where I stretched out my shoulders and worked out the tension in my neck like Thread the Needle and some arm circles. Once I was able to physically release that energy, I was then able to control my reaction. I decided not to be angry about it anymore. I controlled everything I could control. Even as I deal with any repairs, I have made and am continuing to make the decision that I am no longer shaped by anger towards myself for the incident. It is not a one-and-done decision. It’s a continual process.
Decide. Choose. Establish. Resolve. Your mind is in your circle of control. Decide that it is in your control. Choose how you want to interpret events and your view on the world. Establish thoughts that generate emotions you want to cultivate. Resolve to continually practice.