Saturday, 29 January 2011

Citta Vrtti Nirodhah

This is one of the first of Patanjali's sutras that any student of yoga is likely to hear.  Breaking it down, we have:
Citta - mind/consciousness
Vrtti - austerity/religious vow - mode of operating
Nirodhah - restriction - stoppage

The most basic translation of this aphorism is that yoga is the stilling of the mind.  Another translation that fits well with traditional ideas is "Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind" from

In many yoga classes, this concept may be brought up when discussing the correct mental attitude to take while practising either yoga or meditation.  Instead of thinking about what to buy for dinner, or who we are going to see later, or any of the myriad things that may run through our minds during the course of the day, the aim is to focus on breathing and just being in the posture and the place you are.

Another writer I really like, Alberto Villoldo, gives his translation as: "Yoga is vigilance, awareness, and stillness of mind."  It seems to me that this is somewhat less draconian.  You don't have to actively still your mind, to master it, but rather to be consistently aware and allow that stillness or peace to come.  For me, this echoes the concept of mindfulness which has become a real trend in most branches of psychotherapy and self-help.  It is also something recommended by many weight loss experts these days, too - eating mindfully, rather than while doing something else.

I decided to draw just one card to answer: what will help me achieve this state?  Taking a card from the Gaian Tarot, the response was the Ace of Fire.

A salamander baby pokes its head out from its egg.  Other eggs around it are still intact, but a flame burns around them, warming and hatching them.

I see this little salamander peering out curiously into the world.  As an Ace, it represents beginnings, seeds.  As a card from the  suit of Fire, it highlights enthusiasm, passion.  So, not taking anything for granted and just being curious, allowing the practice itself to light my fire and inspire me.  Perhaps also a message about not trying to be perfect, not forcing or mastering, but accepting that I am still at the beginning of this path.

Do you struggle to calm your mind?  Try drawing a card to see what would help you find that inner calm today, and let us know what you get :-)

Images: the Hermit from the Tarot of Dreams by Ciro Marchetti, and Ace of Fire from the Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert.

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