Yoga as Nirodha

Lately I’ve been noticing a change in attitude toward my yoga. Somewhere over the years it moved away from being just a physical exercise and more toward a spiritual practice.

In high school and through my 20s I used yoga mainly as a way to switch gears, usually at the end of a work or school day as I prepared for an evening of different activity. I definitely noticed physical benefits like deeper breathing, longer muscles, and a sense of release of tension and fatigue. That was enough to keep me going.

The mental and spiritual benefits of yoga came sort of as an accident, or as a by-product of simply doing it. I found I could concentrate better and had more energy after doing my yoga. I felt at peace, at one with the world. Whatever worries or stresses I had arrived with seemed at least quieter after a practice.

Somewhere along the line I began to use yoga off the mat. I applied yogic breathing to situations where I needed to be patient, to work through physical pain, and to manage anxiety during stress. I found myself doing asana at the laundrymat, in the bathroom at work, and whenever I could get a spare moment. The feeling of at-one-ness began to seep out into my daily life and expanded my sense of inclusiveness.

But it wasn’t until I started studying Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras that I began to put words to concepts that I had experienced empirically in my practice.

Early in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras he provides a basic definition of yoga:

1.2 yogascittavrttinirodhah

yoga citta vrtti nirodah

Yoga is the process of calming down the mind.

Breaking this down, ‘yoga’ can be seen as ‘union’; ‘citta’ is the field of consciousness, the mental plane; ‘vrrti’ are the fluctuations in the field of consciousness, the monkey mind and incessant chatter we all have to contend with. ‘Nirodha’ is the calming and stilling of the chatter. Therefore yoga leads to the stilling of the mental fluctuations and a calm mind.

Yoga is both a means and an end. It is the practice of learning to stay focused amidst all of life’s sensory input and mental distractions, whether on or off the mat, and the state of calm attention that arises from the practice. In the resulting quiet we experience the presence of our inner light of awareness.

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