LifeHakx - Navigating Whirlpools
By Mark Pearson
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, was written approximately 2000 years ago, and represents the first organised written compendium of yogic philosophy.
In this work, Patanjali succinctly, and on the very first page, determines the fundamental purpose of yoga. A purpose that extends even further, than the deepest of twenty-first century lycra clad backbends. He says,
“Yoga is controlling the activities of mind. When mind is controlled, Self stays in its native condition”.
Very little is known of Patanjali the man; aside from his being an Indian philosopher, who lived somewhere between 100 BCE and 200 AD.
In the first chapter of the sutras he identifies the mind as being replete with disturbances. In yoga they are called “vrittis”. In English, the Sanskrit word “vritti” translates as “whirlpool”. Essentially, therefore, yoga can be defined as a mind-map for traversing dangerous waters.
It is one of the oldest systems of self-help on record, and as a work of insight into the human psyche, as relevant today as it ever was. Relevant for all time perhaps; or at least until the age of AI. So how is one to manoeuvre through these mind-infested waters?
Patanjali states that mind is controlled when it is withdrawn from movement. The body is the vehicle for mind; therefore seated meditation is a key aspect of Patanjali’s yogic practice. Still the body; still the mind.
In ancient yoga, the postures, (that in popular imagination have come to represent almost the entirety of the practice), were a minor aspect of the whole. In the time of Patanjali, they were little more than a warm up for the greater purpose of seated meditation. If the body were stretched and flexible it meant one might be able to sit still for longer, without physical discomfort, and so have a greater chance of controlling those uncomfortable activities of the mind.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are organised over four chapters, and are essentially a manual for mindfulness. I had to chuckle a few years back, as Mindfulness swept the bookshelves and the airwaves, as though it was some major new discovery.
If Patanjali had only had better publicists, he might have reached the heights of Eckhart Tolle. Instead people either look blankly upon hearing his name, or they mispronounce it. Is it Pat-an-ja-li or is it Pat-anjali? Just call him Pat; he won’t mind. He can traverse his vrittis with his eyes closed. Sometimes while standing on his head.
So what in practical terms can one do to elicit a more yogic state of mind? Downward dog? Lotus posture? Warrior pose? These are good but a little tricky to undertake, while sat on the train or at your work desk. Simply become aware of your breath. Become aware of your breathing patterns. Notice the speed and depth of your breathing. Ideal breath goes down into the belly. The unforced rise and fall of the belly indicates a full deep breath. Eyes closed, become aware of the air entering into the nostrils; notice its journey down into the lungs. Awareness of breath is the key meditation one might take up on the yoga path. As we breathe, so we are. Shallow breathing, rapid and erratic, puts you in a shaken mind state. Deep breathing, slow, steady and smooth, flattens the ripples in the lake of mind, and brings calm. And who doesn’t need a little bit of calm these days?