When I was little I collected every shiny little gemstone I could get my hands on. I LOVED those big bins of polished rocks at old-timey stores; I loved the treasure hunt of sifting through all the precious polished “gems” (probably just rocks put through a tumbler and not that precious at all) and finding the perfect one to add to my collection. I still secretly scavenge a beach pebble or river rock to bring back home with me when I travel.
Our thoughts, our emotions, our vrtti-s are exactly like these polished rocks.
In English, we loosely translate “vrtti-s” as “thoughts”; this is somewhat accurate. A better English translation is “turnings or cyclings.” All our thoughts and all our emotions are little gems of energy cycling through our field of awareness. In Yoga, the aware mind isn’t just the physical brain. Our awareness is both heart and mind—the citta. Everything we see, hear, feel and experience throughout the day is absorbed in our minds and is turned, over and over again, like rocks in a tumbler.
So, when the Yoga Sutra’s define for us in chapter 1 vs. 2 the primary aim of yoga as:
“Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah”
What it means is NOT that we should completely cease, stop and abolish the turnings and thoughts of the mind, but that we should use the techniques of yoga to polish the vrtti-s until they gleam and point us toward the True Light of Inner Awareness.
Vrtti-s aren’t necessarily a bad thing; we need to be thinking and feeling and perceiving to enjoy living this life as a human. But vrtti-s, when left unchecked, can cycle out of control. If the rock tumbler is left on high all night long, it’s going to start smoking and burn an engine belt. If the vrtti-s are left to their own devices, they can easily spin out of control.
I’m sure you can remember a time when your thoughts were spinning pinballs and your emotions were all over the place and smoke was coming out your ears and your mind was completely trapped in a cycle of unhelpful thoughts. I’m usually an incredible sleeper (thanks to a few hours of yoga classes and Russell Clive walking each day) but every once in a while, my brain just WON’T shut off when I lay down at night.
I have so many ideas! And so many worries! And so many things to do! And probably I won’t get them done! And even if I do, they will probably fail! And I’m not really sure I’m qualified to do all these things anyway! And probably I should just give up and instead sit on the couch all day.
It’s at these times when the vrtti-s are less than helpful, when the constant turning of the mind does not enhance my ability to be happy, healthy, and whole.
We use the techniques of yoga—the breath, the concentration, the meditation, the poses—to help us refine and polish our thoughts and emotions (vrtti-s) so that they do not distort our perception of the world, but instead enhance our perception of the world as being a place of unity, trust and abundance.
The techniques teach us to take in all the things that we see, hear, think and feel throughout the day and polish them up so that our mind is not preoccupied with raw, ragged and rough misconceptions about the world, but instead our mind sees what is true: that there is enough, that we ARE enough, that the inner light of awareness inside our heart is connected with that same light in others. That the Universe wants us to be in yoga, in union, with it at all times. That is a pretty little gem of wisdom worth collecting.
What is your favorite yoga technique for ‘polishing the vrtti-s’? What helps you enhance your perception of the world as a place of unity and abundance?
I’d love to hear from you! (Also don’t forget to check out my page key yoga learnings for a brush up on terms like citta and purusha.)