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Mind and Yoga in Ancient Indian philosophies

“Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.”


‘Patanjali Yoga sutras’ are from the Classical Yoga period and comprise of 195 Sanskrit aphorisms on the theory and practice of Yoga. Patanjali yoga sutras are divided into four chapters or padas. The first chapter deals with the theory of yoga and is put together for the students who have already achieved a certain level of stability of mind.

It starts with Atha Yoganusasanam, which means, now I am going to give you an understanding of what is yoga and how it needs to be practised & mastered.

Yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah, is the second verse and literally means, Yoga is restraint or suppression (nirodhah) of the fluctuations of consciousness or mind (chitta vritti).

When human civilisations prospered in pre-historic times, like Vedic times, the intelligent beings started expanding their knowledge in science and spirituality. The quest for the meaning of life led to the development of various philosophies, Yoga being one of them.

Iyengar guruji has beautifully explained the subtle differences in different philosophies of the Indian subcontinent. Guruji was one of the pioneers who introduced the west to Ashtanga Yoga. He is the founder and developer of Iyengar Yoga, which is based on science and a deep knowledge of the human body. He has authored many books and received the Padmashri, Padmabhushan and Padma Vibhushan awards from the Indian government. He was voted as one of the hundred most influential people of the world. In his book Light on Yoga, he points out that:

  1. Sankha believes that all creation takes place by a combination of twenty-five essential elements, called tattvas but it doesn’t recognise the creator, i.e Ishvara.

  2. Yoga is an aasthik shashtra and thus recognises the creator.

  3. Nyaya is based on logic, reasoning and analogy. So it infers the existence of Ishvara or the creator.

  4. Vaisheshik stresses on the concepts of space, time, matter and cause. It is supplementary to Nyaya and thus believes in the creator or Ishvara.

  5. Purva Mimamsa is based on the Vedas, and accepts the existence of deity but stresses on karma and rituals.

  6. Uttar Mimansa is also based on the Vedas and accepts God but insists on Jnana i.e. spiritual knowledge.

Sankhya is more theoretical while Yoga is practical. They go together, as knowledge and actions are interdependent in producing results.

The exploration of yoga as a concept starts from its etymological derivation.

In Sanskrit, all words are derived from roots, verb forms and primary derivatives which have specific meanings. Thus the meanings of all words follow a derivative system.

Yuj yujyate anena iti yogah

This verse the etymology of the word Yoga which is derived from ‘Yuj’. The word ‘yuj’ means union. Thus, yoga is the union of individual consciousness (Jivatma) with the universal consciousness (Paramatma or Brahman).

The aim of yoga is to live in peace and harmony with nature, fellow living beings (jivatmas) and self.

When all the eight parts of Yoga (yama, niyama, asana, pranayam, pratyahar, dharana, dhyan and samadhi) combine, the yogi unites with the creator and attains moksha, the ultimate freedom of the soul.

Chitta or consciousness is made of of manas (mind), buddhi (intellect) and ahamkara (ego). Chitta is insatiable and unstable, constantly fueled by its desires. Calming it results in enlightenment. Thus, Yoga is chitta vritti nirodhah… i.e. suppressing the fluctuations of consciousness and mind.

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