Yoga Sutra I.2
yogaḥ citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ = yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain focus in that direction without any distractions
Yogaḥ – introduced in Sutra I.1 and it is the subject matter defined for this sutra
Citta – mind
Vr̟tti – activities
Nirodhaḥ – to envelop
In Sutra I.1 Patanjali introduces the subject matter of the entire text which is yoga. In this Sutra, Patanjali goes on to define what the subject matter of yoga is and therefore this Sutra is known as the Lakshana Sutra which means it defines yoga.
So what is yoga? Yoga in essence is our ability to direct the mind in a chosen location for a sustained period of time without distractions. Yoga then is about the mind. We must naturally then ask what is the mind and what are the activities of the mind? Patanjali gets to this in the next few sutras more in-depth but first he establishes the definition of yoga. If we were to use one word to sum up the definition of yoga it would be concentration.
Although we see yoga today as being very physical it is important to understand that the physical aspects of yoga are indeed a big part and necessary for getting to the subtle layer that is the mind. It is very difficult to work on the mind since it is not tangible; we can’t see it, touch it, taste it and so forth. Because the mind is abstract it’s hard to work on it. Thus, yoga has found a way to work on the mind – through the body.
In this direct definition it becomes clear that yoga can look like many things; running, swimming, riding a horse, cooking, cleaning and so on. As long as we are focusing the mind exclusively on something without being distracted our mind is enveloped and all the activities (which we will get to in a few sutras) are focused, we are doing yoga.
If we think about, thousands of years ago when yoga was established the folks then were in great physical shape since they literally had to walk miles just to get water, work hard to get food and in general lived a very active life. Being in shape was not an issue like it is today due to overall lifestyle. Suffering was continual and it was noticed that this suffering was rooted in the mind. To get to the mind they used the body as a preliminary step and what a genius step to reach the more subtle layers of who we are. There must have been this recognition that the body and mind are inextricably linked and that by working on the body there would be a ripple effect on the mind.
So now that we have the definition of yoga, what’s next? Experiment for yourself how difficult it is to keep the mind focused solely on one thing. Pick anything like a tree swaying, the moon, a mountain, the ocean, a sound, a positive word, and see how long you can envelop the mind with this object. Notice how quickly the mind starts to think about something else, how quickly we start to label and judge things, how quickly we waver and become distracted. Try it out for just 1 minute and see what happens. To know what the definition of yoga is we must know what it is not…
Why do this? Well, it seems that we endure mental suffering daily to some degree and if we take a closer look it becomes evident that a lot of the pain we experience in our lives is due to the thoughts that we have about ourselves, others, and the world around us. What if there was a way to better understand the nature of the mind and thereby assist in the reduction of mental suffering?
Could be worth finding out especially when we look around and see how much suffering goes on for ourselves, our loved ones and the world around us. If we can positively change ourselves we can positively change the world, the ripple effect here of the body-mind as we are a piece of the Whole, a body part of the Mind. Too often do we blame everyone and everything else for our suffering and too often does this take us right back to deep suffering.
Perhaps some self-experimentation can lead us out of the daily turmoil and create a pathway to becoming better human beings overall. Only one way to find out – embarking on the quest that is the excavation of Self…
Have some fun experimenting with it and next to come is breaking down this thing we call “MIND”.
Photo By: anurag agnihotri