Citta means consciousness/mind. Vritti literally means whirl or can be translated as thought waves. Nirodha means restriction or control. In Patanjali’s eightfold path the second sutra in Chapter 1 is Yogaḥ cittavṛtti-nirodhaḥ. which can be translated as:
Yoga is the control of the thought waves of the mind.Prabhavananda & Isherwood (1969)¹
This is the essence of yoga philosophy though I would argue with the idea of control. Perhaps an ‘increased awareness’ would be a better way to describe what we need to do to approach life with serenity.
It is normal for our minds to be busy and distracted with a multitude of thoughts streaming through our consciousness. This is our profane everyday consciousness and it can get very wearisome. Swept along by our monkey mind flitting here and there we move through our days in a whirl not always being as efficient as we would like to be. Anyone who has done any ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing will know how busy and indeed creative the mind is. But it often isn’t very focussed.
All the practices of yoga aim for one goal: that of calming the mind so that we can view the world with more clarity and focus. Yoga is about developing the inner witness who can perceive the reality of the ego’s constant flitting from one thought to the other.
The eightfold path (ashtanga) of Patanjali gives us a toolbox to allow us to approach the ‘still point’ of deep calm and surrender that lies within each of us. By practising yoga we begin to see through the layers of our own conditioning and begin to unravel the suffering we may have been through. The techniques of yoga aid us in moving forward with more clarity and focus in our lives and ultimately gaining a sense of peace. All is well.
Yoga Philosophy is complex. However if the yoga practitioner can simply understand the idea of concentration on a single point then s/he is well on the way to benefitting from his/her practice. This may mean simply bringing awareness to the sensations within the whole body as s/he moves into, holds and moves out of a posture. Being able to switch to witness mode at any moment is the fruit of yoga practice.
1 Prabhavananda, Swami and Christopher Isherwood. (1969) How to Know God, The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. New York: New American Library (translation and commentary). pp.159-161
This A-Z series of blogs focuses on unpacking the Sanskrit terms used in yoga.