Perhaps one of the two most famous aphorisms of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the second one: Yogas chitta vritti nirodha. This stanza is not easy to translate as succinctly as it is written in Sanskrit. Sanskrit contains meanings, overtones, and levels of reality that make the language rich with wisdom and ripe for interpretation. Even reciting the stanza can, to one who is receptive and sensitive, convey ineffable wisdom and heart-opening joy.
The most common translation we use around Ananda is “Yoga is the neutralization of vortices of feeling.” Unfortunately this tells us little, unless we investigate and ponder more deeply. I have spent my life of spiritual introspection pondering the layers of meaning of this one stanza. In this series of articles, however, I will view this rich stanza from the more practical level of the practice of meditation as more commonly experienced.
Put, therefore, more simply, Patanjali is essentially remarking upon what is needed to achieve the state of unitive consciousness that might be termed “Superconsciousness,” oneness, samadhi, or enlightenment. I do not wish to define or distinguish these terms and so, for the more limited purpose of this blog series, let me interpret this stanza loosely and thusly:
The state of “yoga” (an experience of peaceful, meditative awareness) arises as one relaxes the body, calms the feelings, and clears the mind of restless thoughts. On a deeper level and involving more directly our consciousness, we might also say that a state of meditation is achieved when we dissolve the ceaseless ebb and flow of tension, emotions, and thoughts which are result of our psychic reaction to memories or other mental images or thoughts which appear to us during meditation.
Tension in the body is a kind of kinetic e-motion; disturbed feelings arising from anger, fear, anxiety, or desire thwart our efforts to achieve inner peace during meditation; lastly, the flow of random thoughts arising from the subconscious mind during meditation obscure the clarity of our intuitive, inner awareness. Thoughts can have their source (or be affected by) in physical tension (or vica versa) or in our disturbed feelings.
Patanjali is, one might say, simply stating the necessary precondition to higher consciousness: we must dissolve the energy-laden commitments to identifying with our body, to investing in our emotional reactions (likes and dislikes, past, present, or potential), and to the habit of ceaseless thoughts. Later in the sutras he explores specific obstacles to higher consciousness and specific forms of concentration designed to transcend these obstacles.
We, as meditators, can use this stanza to remind ourselves to use the techniques of meditation and apply them to body, feelings, and mind in a scientific and effective way to clear the motions and movements of body, emotions, and thoughts that we might “sit” or commune inwardly with inner peace.
For the body it is good to use yoga postures, or stretching exercises (e.g., Yogananda’s Energization Exercises), to release tension and fatigue. For the nervous system, brain, heart, and lungs, breath control exercises can decarbonizes the bloodstream and oxygenate the brain and all the cells; equalizing inhalation with exhalation can bring the body into stasis or relative stability so as to release the energy drag upon our mind and concentration. For the mind, concentration using mantra, or breath, or devotional aspiration can achieve a laser-like focus in the upper psychic centers (forehead) to cauterize or hold at bay the ceaseless stream of random thoughts.
While this blog series is not intended to teach meditation a simple and illustrative suggestion might begin with tensing the whole body (while seated) as you inhale, and relaxing the whole body as you exhale. Do this several times. Then do three to five rounds of simple, deep, diaphragmatic breathing with equal measures of inhalation, retention of breath, and exhalation. (While holding the breath visualize “holding” the breath in the heart; as you exhale let all nervousness or negativity melt away.) Then sit and observe the flow of breath as if it were gradually clearing your mind of all restless thoughts until the mind was clear and open to the clear blue sky above and in all directions. After this, simply sit in the inner silence, communing with the feeling of peace and serenity.
In addition, we must remind ourselves that the purpose of meditation is to go beyond meditation techniques and practices and enter the state of inner silence, mindfulness, inner peace, or inner communion: just BE! We are so addicted to DOING and PRACTICING that when at last the time comes in our meditation routine to simply BE we sometimes find that we are not ready; we may be unwilling to let go of the ego-controller. But without first intending to achieve inner silence and then having at least a taste of it in each meditation, we will not experience the promise implied by the second stanza of the Yoga Sutras. “Yoga-peace comes from calming and dissolving the ego-active tendencies of the body, heart and mind.”