Digging Deeper into the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Melissa Perehudoff

October 1, 2018

I’ve returned from my fourth trip to Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India where I studied and practiced Iyengar yoga for one month.  Attending RIMYI is a true pilgrimage filled with many wonders, challenges and insights.  Digging deeper into my physical yoga practice helped to unearth some greater understanding of yoga philosophy.  These are my humble attempts to personalize my limited understandings on the subject of the vrttis.

Yoga is defined as citta vrtti nirodhaha or the cessation of movements in the consciousness [1]. BKS Iyengar states that a quiet and pure consciousness is divine and at one with the soul [2]. Investigating further into the yoga sutras we discover that there are five types of fluctuations or vrttis that can cause our consciousness to be unstable. The five vrttis are correct knowledge, false knowledge, imagination, sleep and memory [3]. The vrttis are classified into five groups for simplicity and ease of understanding. All five can affect you at one time in varying degrees [4]. They can be painful (klista) or non-painful (aklista). The painful vrttis can cause our downfall and non-painful or pure vrttis result in upliftment [5].

Correct knowledge or pramana is the first fluctuation.  In Geeta Iyengar’s classes she demands that we awaken the intelligence in each cell of our body.  Learning to broaden the buttock as we raise the back leg in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) creates evenness in the hips and makes the two sides of the body parallel.  This aklista form of pramana creates evenness in the exterior body and balanced energy in the interior body.  The klista example of pramana could be my hyperextending elbows.  My mirror, teachers and sometimes students have reported that my elbows are not straight.  I experience physical pain when I do not do the correct actions in my upper and lower arms to straighten this joint in poses such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) or Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Arm Balance).

False knowledge or viparyaya is the second fluctuation of consciousness.  Before this fourth trip to RIMYI I had convinced myself that Kurmasana (Tortoise pose) was not easily accessible for my body because of my short legs and long torso.  After 2 weeks into my practice in Pune, I could stay in the pose longer and with more ease because of a daily practice that included groin opening poses such as Upavista Konasana (Seated angle pose), Malasana (Garland pose) and Marichyasana I (Pose of a Sage).  In fact, it is painful to see that I convinced myself of an assumption based on false knowledge. Hence the saying, “Don’t believe everything you think”.

Imagination or vikalpa is the third modulation of consciousness. I have to confess that sometimes during practice time in the main hall at RIMYI, I took a moment to observe the adept practitioners.  It’s quite something to be doing a quiet restorative practice next to someone who is doing a jumping practice or someone practicing Padmasana (Lotus pose) in Sirsasana (Headstand). I imagine these yogis to be single focused in their pursuit of yogic awareness and mastery in this lifetime. Then when I speak to them while putting on my shoes outside the Institute or while buying bananas from the street vendor I discover they are mothers, fathers, teachers or business people who have an ordinary life and a passion for yoga, just like me.

Sleep or nidra is the fourth modulation and is the non-deliberate absence of thought waves and knowledge [6]. The state of mind when one is at rest in deep sleep is what we are working to achieve through our yoga practice when we are awake.  That is silence in the oscillations of the mind and consciousness which can be experienced as a klista state of void or loneliness or an aklista state of solitude or freedom.  Of course, disturbed sleep when the mind is busy or the senses cannot withdraw is klista vrtti. If we desire sleep that brings freshness and brightness to our day, our preparations before going to bed and surrendering to sleep can be one more opportunity to practice restraining the fluctuations of the mind.

Memory or smrtih is the fifth classification of the vrttis. As Geeta Iyengar said, if our memory is incorrect in can be painful.  For example, remembering incorrectly that big toes turn out in Salabhasana (Locust pose) could pinch the lower back. Correct memory that the big toes gravitate towards each other in Salabhasana can help learning in more difficult back bend poses such as Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow) when it helps to turn the big toes slightly in to broaden the lower back. As we discover a new awareness in a pose through practice, memory of the experience must alter and helps us to develop discrimination.

A steady, dedicated, attentive practice can free the mind from fluctuations. An experience of clear consciousness in daily life can lead to another and this aklista memory can inspire us to continue on this light filled journey.

[1] Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (LOYSP), BKS Iyengar, p46

[2] ibid p12

[3] ibid p52

[4] Transcript of talk by Jawahar Banghera at Iyengar Yoga Center of Victoria, February 2018

[5] Discourses on Yoga, Vol. 1, Prashant Iyengar, p10

[6] LOYSP, BKS Iyengar, p56


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