“When prana moves, citta moves. When prana is without movement, citta is without movement. By this steadiness of prana, the yogi attains steadiness and should thus restrain the vayu (air).”
—Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.2
By now, you’re all familiar with this quote. I’ve read it several times over the past few months in relationship to our study of prana. This month, I would like to turn our attention to the other sanskrit word in the quote—citta. We first encountered the word citta in Module 1 in our study of the 1st four sutras. Yoga Sutra 1.2, which offers us the definition of yoga says: “Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.” In sanskrit the words are “yogaś citta-vrtti-nirodhah.” This month we explore each of these words in more depth:
Yoga: You’re familiar with this word!
Citta: The mind (more on the mind in a minute…)
Vrtti: The fluctuations of the mind (you all know those thoughts constantly rolling around your head space right? In sanskrit they’re called vrttis). We explore the vrttis in depth in the teaching below on Sutras 1.5-12.
Nirodhah: Restraint, control, cessation. A state of mind void of fluctuations. Nirodhah is one of five states of mind (restless, stupefied, distracted, one-pointed, and arrested). We explore these in the teaching on Sutras 1.5-12 below as well.
The mind is a complicated entity. If you do an internet search for “What is the mind?” you’ll find yourself down a fascinating rabbit hole. In Samkhya philosophy—the ancient philosophical system underneath yoga and ayurveda—the mind is understood as 4 fold:
Citta is the greater mental field housing all mental functioning. It’s the main substance of the mind; the substratum of everything. Citta is the deeper layer of conditioned consciousness that holds our long-term patterns (our samskaras). The citta holds all our memories from birth. This is the level we need to work at in order to remove deep-seated hurts.
Manas is the thinking and organizing aspect of citta. It constitutes the manomaya kosha. Manas is constantly gathering sensory data (and is, in fact, considered the 6th sense…the mind is everywhere). It’s the outer layer of consciousness through which we’re involved with the events of the moment. It’s the outer mind, the field of the senses.
Buddhi is the intelligent, discriminatory aspect of the citta. It is the wisdom mind, the power of perception. It is through the buddhi that we develop our core perceptions of self and world. Buddhi is responsible for such functioning as judgment, discrimination, knowledge, and will.
Ahamkara is the “I-maker.” It allows us to identify an impression as belonging to ourselves. It’s the “I thoughts” underlying all thoughts and the “I sensations” underlying all impressions. It’s the egoic self that is constantly changing—shrinking and expanding.
Who’s driving the cart? Your ego (ahamkara), habits/ruts (citta), senses (manas), or wisdom (buddhi)?
We are a body, full of memory and past impressions. Every moment is filled with multiple sensory experiences. Without awareness and intention, our forward motion in life can be driven and dictated by our habits and sensory desires. The practice of yoga is the practice of refining our attention so that our actions and direction in life are driven and dictated by our wisdom and discrimination. Of course, we always have to be on the lookout for our ego, spinning tales about who we are (separate) and what we need (selfish desires). The practice of yoga is the practice of remembering our True Self (purusha, atman, soul).
This month we explore the movements of the mind and the impact our sensory experiences have on the mind. Before we dive in, let’s pause to review the 8-limb path. We have covered the first 4 limbs in depth:
Yamas – Abstentions (our relationship to others and society)
Niyamas – Observances (our relationship to Self and self-care)
Asana – Posture (the practices that lead to a still body)
Pranayama – Breath Control (the practices that lead to a still breath)
The first four limbs are active practices, things we can (and should!) do everyday. The practice of the first 4 limbs sets the stage for the last 4 limbs to arise. Through our practices of right relationship and the stilling of our body and breath, the mind is able to begin quieting down. The last 3 limbs are different levels of focus within the mind. They are dharana (the mental state of concentration), dhyana (the mental state of meditation), and samadhi (the mental state of absorption). In between a quiet body/breath and a quiet mind, we must deal with the senses. The 5th limb of practice is Pratyahara or sense withdrawal.
Your mind is unable to perceive the world without sensory data. The senses, without the accompaniment of the mind, cannot sense. The functioning of the mind and senses are inseparable.
In regards to pratyahara, Pandit Rajmani writes:
“Except when we are sleeping, the sense organs and their corresponding centers in the brain are constantly at work, relentlessly consuming sensory experiences. With each experience our desires grow, so we repeat those experiences. Repetition strengthens the memories of those experiences; those memories, in turn, create deep grooves in our mind called samskaras. The physical correlates of the samskaras are stored in our [brain] in the form of memories; memories manifest as habits, which inspire the mind to employ the sense organs to experience the world once again. This process fuels our craving for sensory experiences and causes the mind to be overly dependent on the senses. Lacking vigilance and self-mastery, the mind chases desires and cravings, and the senses make this possible.”
This month take time to notice what you “feed” your senses. What do your ears hear all day? What do your eyes see? What does your skin feel? What does your nose smell? What does your mouth taste? What sensory experiences do you find yourself craving throughout the day? How often is your mental focus pulled in another direction because of a sensory experience (a sound, sight, smell, etc)?
As we become established in our practice of asana and pranayama, we are able to withdraw our senses from their habitually external behavior and begin directing them inward. Remember sutras 2.52 & 53, which tell us that once we’re able to control our breath “the light of the intellect is unveiled and the mind is prepared for steadiness.” Sutras 2.54 & 55 follow this with: “The senses retire from their objects by following the natural inward movement of the mind. From this comes supreme mastery of the senses.”
Have this first page ready before listening to the live teaching this month. It’s a little handout with “fill in the blank” spaces that we fill out together during the teaching. This page replaces the glossary this month. The three sanskrit words I really hope you’ll contemplate this month are Klishta, Aklishta, and Vrtti. So listen for those in all your study!
Your daily noticing journal this month has some juicy questions. I hope you’ll spend time with them. You’ll notice that the questions are connected to the teachings from module 3. Remember, you always have access to the whole course, so feel free to go back and review module 3 in relation to this month’s study. There’s a lot of overlap!
The practices this month are all about quieting down the thoughts, which are deeply connected to the activity of the senses. This page gives you some ideas of how to give your senses a break.
This is the art page for the Manomaya Kosha with teachings from the Taittiriya Upanishad.
This is the main art page of the month. Hang it somewhere you’ll see often so it can serve as a daily reminder to help you build awareness of your thinking patterns.
The Heart of Yoga by TKV Desikachar chapters 12 & 13
This month we have two practices. For this first one, I invite you to find a really cozy reclined posture. Use some props and make yourself comfortable. I’ll lead you through a guided meditation, then I’ll ask you to come up to a seated posture and I’ll offer some reflection questions (so have paper and a pen ready!), the practice ends with a discussion that I invite you to listen in on.
TEACHINGS: The Manomaya Kosha
TEACHINGS: The fluctuations of the mind (1.5-12)
Make sure you have the first page of the packet printed before pressing play on this teaching! At the end of this teaching I explain the reason for our mantra practice, so be sure to listen to that before beginning the 2nd practice below.
Ready to chant? Please approach this practice with a sense of playfulness! Just FYI, there’s some set-up teaching and the practice officially begins at the 4 minute mark.