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The State of your Mind

We have all experienced different states of the mind at different times, but would you be able to articulate what these different states of mind feel like and look like to your inner and outside world? And would you be able to observe the fluctuations of your mind between these different states?

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Through the practice of yoga, changes to the mind happen in consequence to the practice, and how comfortable we are within the studio surroundings and narration of the yoga session. The longer we practice yoga the easier the settling becomes, and if we choose to go a little deeper into why this actually happens, it brings us into the study of yoga philosophy, and the different spiritual scriptures that have been written about yoga over time.

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One of these ancient yoga scriptures is called The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali and is a collection of 196 Indian sutras or concise statements on the theory and practice of yoga. Written in the ancient language of Sanskrit around 400 CE, Patañjali synthesised and organised knowledge about yoga from older traditions over four chapters within the manuscript.

The Yoga Sūtras has been translated by many different sages and teachers over time, and I have quoted the most revered commentator Vyasa’s translation of the second sutra of the first chapter to explain the different states of the mind a bit more.

Sutra 1.2, the definition of yoga is given as:

 

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः॥२॥
yogashchittavRuttinirodhaH

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“yoga is the ability to control the fluctuations of the mind”

In order to calm the fluctuations of the mind, it is important that we develop a deeper understanding of the mind and how it functions first and then understand that The Fluctuations of The Mind are a reflection of the stability or instability of what is.

What is, is known as, The Three Gunas: the common nature of all creation. We will go deeper into the The Three Gunas later in this article, but first, what are the different sates of the mind and how do they represent themselves? Patanjali broke them down into five different states.

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1. Kshipta – Agitated and Scattered

This is known as the lowest state of mind, where we are highly agitated and unable to think, listen, or keep quiet.

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2. Mudha – Dull and Lethargic

In this state, no information seems to reach our brain. The mind is dull and listless. We can be holding the keys still wondering where the keys are.

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3. Vikshipta – Partially Focused

Here the mind receives information but seems unable to process it. The mind oscillates in confusion, with an inner chatter like “I want to do everything, but I can’t do everything. Should I do this or that?”

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4. Ekagra – One-Pointed Focus

In this state, the mind is relaxed but not sleepy and ready to focus and pay attention, which is a prerequisite to meditation. A good yoga class can bring the mind into this state of relaxed attention.

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5. Niruddha – Fully Arrested

Here the mind is not distracted by random thoughts but is fully absorbed in the object of focus. This can occur when we are in meditation or when we are fully engaged in something.

The above classification of the states of the mind not only help us to analyse where we are in our own mental state, at any given time, but help us to potentially develop a greater connection of self awareness through a place of human compassion.

So where do these states come from? Going back, all matter in the universe is said to arise from the fundamental substrate called Prakriti and from this ethereal Prakriti there are three qualities or energies that emerge, and these are The Three Primary Gunas.  These Gunas or qualities of energy create the essential aspects of all nature – energy, matter, and consciousness, and are divided into 3 different types:

Tamas – Darkness and Chaos
Rajas – Activity and Passion
Sattva – Beingness and Harmony

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All three gunas are always present in all of us and surrounding us at all times, but their levels are in varying relative amounts. As humans we cannot separate or remove a guna in oneself, but we can consciously alter the levels of each guna in our bodies and minds, through our interaction with external objects, our lifestyle practices, choices and thoughts.

Qualities of the Three Gunas

Tamas is a state of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materiality. Tamas manifests from ignorance and deludes us from our spiritual truths. Other tamasic qualities are laziness, disgust, attachment, depression, helplessness, doubt, guilt, shame, boredom, addiction, hurt, sadness, apathy, confusion, grief, dependency and ignorance.

Rajas is a state of energy, action, change, and movement. The nature of rajas is of attraction, longing and attachment and rajas strongly bind us to the fruits of our work. Other rajasic qualities are anger, euphoria, anxiety, fear, irritation, worry, restlessness, stress, courage, rumination, determination and chaos.

Sattva is a state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence. Sattva is the guna that increases through yoga which in turn reduces rajas and tamas making liberation possible. Other sattvic qualities are delight, happiness, peace, wellness, freedom, love, compassion, equanimity, empathy, friendliness, focus, self-control, satisfaction, trust, fulfillment, calmness, bliss, cheerfulness, gratitude, fearlessness and selflessness.

What can we do to alter The Guna Levels within us?

 

We can Reduce Tamas

Avoid tamasic foods, oversleeping, overeating, inactivity, passivity and fearful situations. Tamasic foods include heavy meats and foods that are spoiled, chemically treated, processed or refined.

We can Reduce Rajas

Avoid rajasic foods, over-exercising, overwork, loud music, excessive thinking and consuming excessive material goods. Rajasic foods include fried foods, spicy foods, and stimulants such as coffee and black tea.

We can Increase Sattva

With yoga, yoga, yoga! Sattva is increased every-time you practice and alters the levels of rajas and tamas depending on the practice. A good teacher can balance the Gunas through  a slower practice, an energising practise or whatever is required. Eating sattvic foods and enjoying activities and environments that produce joy and positive thoughts. Sattvic foods include whole grains and legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables that grow above the ground, and enjoyable things maybe inspirational reading, writing, music or times with loved ones.