One generally begins practicing yoga to strengthen and please the body. Then, they often make their way to finding that they like the quieting that it brings the mind. Some do yoga especially for the meditative aspects it brings. Up until my time with Iyengar yoga, my attention was brought to the quiet of my mind only once or twice in yoga classes, when an instructor would say “leave behind your day” or “bring your attention now to your mat – not to what you will do later, what you will have for dinner or what you did earlier today.” I was grounded a bit more when they said things like this, but in many cases I would find my mind wandering multiple times throughout the class and I would need to bring myself back into the present moment.
yogah cittavrtti nirodhah – Yoga is calming the fluctuations of the mind – the second sutra in the first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Well what does this mean and what could chanting this do for our yoga practice?
Since practicing the Iyengar method, I have found a brand new quiet in my brain. I have encountered in my practice a peace that comes not because the teacher has to remind me, but because I am focusing so deeply on what my body is doing presently that I do not have the space to wander to what I will do later, what I will have for dinner or what I did earlier today. I am too concerned as to whether my lower ribs are really lifting as high as they have the capacity to, too concerned as to whether my legs are working and lifting as best as they can in my headstand.
1.2 – chanting and finding independence of the mindfield
Another piece of my practice that I have found to advance the quiet in my mind is the incorporation of chanting – particularly chanting the Sutras of Patanjali. The vibration, as well as the inability to concentrate on anything besides what it is that I am chanting, helps me to calm these fluctuations of consciousness, or citta vrtti nirodhah as Patanjali lays out for us in Sutra I.II, that inhibit us from being present. In studying the Sutras last weekend in John Hayden’s workshop, I found that I am on the path to discovering the ‘aloneness’ that comes from practicing yoga. The quieting takes a while to come but through the asanas, we begin to discover an independence of our minds. Yoga is cittavrtti nirodhah, our purpose, our draw to this practice is the taming of the fluctuations of the mind. It is a constant path of self-study that allows us to understand where our body is right now. What I believe in today, what I believe in right now is that I can in fact lift my lower ribs higher and maybe tomorrow I will work to bring them a centimeter higher. But right now I am burning away the afflictions, the restraints that limit my mind in thinking I cannot – making space for more quiet and more concentration. Then it is resolved and I am here, independent of my mind’s afflictions.
Try chanting Sutra I.II, yogah cittavrtti nirodhah, see where it takes you in your day-to-day practice. Maybe it will ground you, maybe it will bring you more quiet and closer to this independence that we are seeking through our practice.