Mastering the Mind with Yoga

Acharya Shunya

Patanjali, the great sage who composed the famous Yoga Sutras in 2nd century BCE, defined the greatest art and science of self-realization Yoga as the esoteric method through which mind’s modifications are consciously subdued, stilled or restrained and thereby, the true Self, pure unmodified consciousness is accessed.

Can the mind truly be subdued? Who will restrain the mind? Is it even possible? Sage Patanjali says, yes; and shows the way. The rest of the Yoga Sutras expound the manner in which this goal is achieved, and what happens as a result.

The ethereal search and the sage truth

Perfection lives inside us. Mind seeks it externally. Contentment is our true nature. The mind searches it, in everything it encounters. Peace is our very essence, so the mind hankers after peace, writes treaties, wages wars, negotiates; bargains and haggles, buys and sells, and when still elusive, mocks or eulogizes it. Bliss of the true immortal Self remains hidden inside us, and, the mind undeterred and drunk in ignorance of the soul, plunges outwards in a bold journey through the material universe. Turning every stone and pebble upside down, peeping into every hole and alleyway of life’s road, checking and analyzing each idea and concept to exhaustion, experiencing intimately every relationship and its psychic configurations in the vain hope of finding the bliss it faintly remembers it deserves…and yet, the mind remains, eternally a seeker, never a finder.

The sage truth: Mind can never lead to the true Self. The mind is an antithesis of the Self, it is the smokescreen; and if lost in that, that which is hidden, will always remain behind the veil. So understand the nature of the mind, counsels the sage, and through dedicated discipline (anushasanam), become its master.

Quiet it willfully, advises sage Patanjali, through a dedicated practice of neutrally and dispassionately observing the mind and its myriad modifications, and, in due course, encounter with inner eyes, that, which becomes revealed in the emptiness…the true Self. A mind that has been conquered, reveals its true master – the Self. Where ends the realm of the mind, there begins the reality of the soul.

Shadow self, real self

The science of yoga claims that we humans are bound by and deeply identified with a false self or ego-based personality which is entirely the production of our mind. The mind, unaware that it is the instrument of the soul (only), grossly identified with the outer world, creates a sense of “worldbound-self” that is caught up in the duality of pain and pleasure, thus resulting in anguish and impermanence.

When through the restraint of the mind, the mental fluctuations are observed by the higher Self, then, the contents of the mind (vrittis) lay revealed like the flitting clouds of the sky. All this while, one thought the clouds are the reality, when in fact, the pure sky, the vast empty space that allows the clouds to do what they do, is the underlying truth. Clouds break up the sky into million bits and pieces, while the fact that the sky behind the clouds is one infinite stretch of indestructible, non-divisible space is the truth.

The true Self, called Purusha in the language of the Yoga Sutras, is pure consciousness. It is like the sky, vast, eternal, unchanging, and it allows the false self to be, or change and modify – much like the sky accommodates the clouds that either become too turbulent and thunder all over or stack up in static mode; either fragment in a million dewy pieces or glued together build up in a rigid mass darkening and obstructing the sky.

The sage truth: Mind can never lead to the true Self. The mind is an antithesis of the Self, it is the smokescreen; and if lost in that, that which is hidden, will always remain behind the veil.

The Yoga of illusion with truth

To merge our everyday “mind-based-self” made up of thoughts, ideas and concepts, with our true Self, Purusha – the inner reality beyond time and space, self existing, luminous and intelligent, light and free, the principle of pure objectless awareness, the calm witness – is the goal of yoga.

Thus, in the second Sutra, sage Patanjali teaches the scientific method by which we can establish our being in this highest and true plane of pure consciousness. The method by which this will be achieved is by willfully restraining (nirodha) the vrittis (modifications) of the chitta (instruments of consciousness including mind, intellect and ego) as per a rational step-by-step method, as laid out in the later sutras.


Master meditation to master the mind

  • Meditation is the classic method by which the mind modifications (vrittis) are restrained by silently observing them.
  • In due course, that which is observed is recognized as the“experience,” a mere mental modification, a product of thought waves, separate from the one that experiences, that is the true Self.
  • Through the practice of meditation, a separation takes  place between that which is being watched (the mental modifications) and the watcher.
  • Dedicate daily 10 to 30 minutes for meditation. Fix a time, preferably early in the morning or before bedtime or at any time when it is possible to sit still with closed eyes.
  • Since yoga is a discipline (anushasanam), it is recommended that we fix the time to meditate.
  • Also, fix the spot in which to meditate.
  • The seat to meditate on is called an asana in Sanskrit, and • it can range from a comfortable chair to a yoga mat. If our asana is located in a neat and pleasant smelling place with fresh air, that is even more ideal.
  • Sitting on the asana (if possible in Padmasana or • Sukhasana), daily strengthens your inner resolve (sankalp shakti), lights your inner fire (tapas), and charges your will power (ichcha shakti) to achieve spiritual progress, no matter what obstacles come in the way.
  • First, still the physical body by relaxing and releasing all body parts consciously and yet, ensuring that the spine is straight (but not rigidly so).
  • Gently pull your mental focus inwards and quietly start watching the contents of your mind where the thoughts are moving like waves.
  • When you first begin watching the mind, you will notice a sudden increase in the activity of the mind waves (vrittis).
  • Indeed the vrittis will explode the very moment you begin watching them, as if in resistance to being watched (rather than being believed and acted upon).
  • Continue watching dispassionately without withdrawing, reacting, attaching or engaging with any single vritti or thought form.
  • Try to experience your separation from that which is being watched. You are the truth in the experience that is the mind.
  • As your awareness of yourself, the watcher, the silent observer, the neutral witness deepens, the vrittis will gradually decrease on their own and there will be gaps between them.
  • Avoid trying to indulge the vritti such as, “I am doing well in meditation,” as you would get entangled in them, rather than standing apart and simply watching the vrittis.
  • Remember, meditation does not mean forceful suppression of your thought forms or vrittis. Nor is it falling into a blank stupor-like state.

Meditation is the classic method by which the mind modifications (vrittis) are restrained by silently observing them.

  • More and more, as you become aware of your true Self that is the constant awareness behind the changing mental modifications and fluctuations, the more you will come closer to your spiritual reality.
  • You will arrive at a point in consciousness when the vrittis will automatically stop arising and in the empty or pure mind state, you will encounter the bliss and light of your true Self; the glorious Purusha.
  • You will enter a plane of consciousness that is filled with light, freedom, soul power, and illumined by the true Self that is beyond the mind.
  • The more the seed of the Self grows to become the entirety of your experience, the more you will know intimately the truth of the famous sutra.

tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam

In this Sutra, Patanjali explains what happens when we manage to accomplish the purport of second sutra that is restraining the mental modifications, and thereby achieving yoga with our true Self. When yoga occurs, the seer stands in his own nature.

Sage Patanjali declares, at the time of yoga, it (the soul- Purusha) abides in the form of a spectator (without a spectacle) – hence, we abide in our own true nature (Svarupe Vasthanam); that is, the mind, witnesses it’s own true Self and exists by itself and as itself, in total freedom, liberated aloneness and spiritual perfection.

Now the mind becomes truly purified, like a pure crystal reflecting honestly all that is presented to it. In spite of our mind, what is radiated across is the soul. No longer do the mental impurities, conditionings, distorted memories and layers of mental vrittis choke and conceal the true Self. In fact, the purified mind is a vessel and a tool of the true Self. The mind becomes a super mind, receiving spontaneously from the Self the highest knowledge, and the light of the Self shines constantly through the purified mind. It is as if the mind is illumined from within by a unique spiritual luster.

What the seeker sought, the seeker found. Ah, the search is over at last! The ultimate reality is found, the true master is identified, which is, none other, but, one’s own essential nature.

Master3_PratichiPratichi Mathur is an Ayurveda pioneer, master healer, mystic teacher, and published author. Pratichi hails from a lineage of Vedanta sages in India. A life-long healer, she began her apprenticeship at the age of nine. She is the Founder and Spiritual Director of Vedika Global Foundation in Berkeley, California; Director of the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine; and leads Ayurvedic workshops and retreats throughout the United States and India. Pratichi Mathur is known for her unique way of expressing Ayurveda in conjunction with Advaita Vedanta and Yoga. Pratichi’s teachings revolve around the theme of Self and reclaiming health by reclaiming connection with our inner Self.

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