classical calm

calm your fluctuations with patanjali's ancient wisdom

Perhaps one of the most widely known definitions of yoga is found in the 1,800-year-old Yoga-Sutra by the sage Patanjali. It reads "yoga is the restriction of the fluctuation of consciousness" (yogash-citti-vrtti-nirodhah). If you haven't studied classical yoga, as the system Patanjali outlines in this manual is usually called, you might wonder what he is talking about. In plain English he is saying that yoga is really nothing more than a method for calming your mind. Why you want to do this and how you accomplish it is what the Yoga-Sutra is basically all about.

Unlike today's more celebrated practice of Hatha Yoga, which is a resolutely body-based approach to self-knowledge and self-realization, classical yoga focuses on citta (pronounced chit-ta), which variously denotes "attending, observing, thinking, imagining, reflecting, intelligence, reason," and is probably best rendered as "consciousness." I suppose each of us has an intuition about the nature of consciousness – after all, were all conscious beings – but no doubt we would have a difficult time, if pressed, to say what consciousness is exactly. For Patanjali, citta is the result of a confluence, or as he says "correlation", between two eternal – and eternally separate – principles, the person (purusha) and nature (prakrti). The person is our authentic self, the immaterial, omniscient, never-changing, joyful witness, or "seer" of the play of the material, insentient, forever- changing nature, or the "seen." Nature includes not only the physical world around us, but also the "contents" of our own consciousness, all the thoughts, emotions, memories and whatnot that define what we think of as our personality. Nature has a twofold purpose: to provide us with experience and lead us, ultimately, to emancipation.

Richard Rosen has been studying yoga since 1980, and teaching in California since 1987. He is on the board of directors of the California Yoga Teachers Association and the Yoga Research and Education Center. Currently a contributing editor at Yoga Journal, Richard’s work has also appeared in Yoga International and Contact Quarterly magazines, and in the anthology The Whole Mind.

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