Inside Yoga 18

Category : General advice, Philosophy 3rd March 2011

(First posted 23/2/2009)

“The mind is the vital link between the body and the consciousness,”  says BKS Iyengar.

In my classes, I often refer to the mind, in connection with the breathing and the physical body.  But what is the mind?

The mind is the collection of our thoughts on one hand,  and on the other,  it is where our awareness lies – the awareness of the self and the awareness of the world around us.

In a yoga class we are asked to stop thinking, to stop the procession of thoughts – which pop into our heads frequently – as early as possible, and to return to the awareness of the breath and the body.  We also seek to reduce the distractions – sounds, smells and sights – that take us away from our awareness of our body and breathing. These thoughts and distractions prevent us from turning within.

“We are seldom aware of  our minds because we are always using them to deal with the external world and its demands,” explains Dr David Frawley, an authority on ayurveda.  “It’s mainly in the outer, sensory part of the mind that we live, unless we learn to look within.”

“Our ordinary awareness remains immersed in the sea of impressions that constantly streams in through the senses. Most of what we call the mind is this surface part of consciousness through which we handle impressions.

“This outer mind is called manas in Sanskrit, which means ‘instrument of thinking’. Manas is the most complex aspect of consciousness, consisting of the senses, emotions, and outer thinking capacity. Such diversity is necessary  for dealing with the manifold influences of the external world,” says Dr Frawley.

Manas is also called the  “sense mind” or as simply “mind” itself, as opposed to  “intelligence” (buddhi) and inner mind or consciousness (chitta).

In yogic terminology, consciousness (chitta) encompasses the sense-mind (manas), intelligence (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara).

Buddhi is defined as intellect, reason, discrimination, and judgement.

Ahamkara is defined as the ego (self), literally the “I maker”, that part of our being which is active and self-conscious.

“When the restlessness of the mind, intellect and self is stilled through the practice of yoga, the yogi by the grace of the spirit within himself finds fulfilment,” states the Bhagavad Gita.

The method of achieving this goal is the eight limbs of yoga, including  meditation, pranayama and yoga asana. When meditating  we seek to quiet the chatter of the mind, and focus our attention within.

Another analogy describes our awareness and mind as being covered in many veils, which obscure everything. Deep within us there is clarity, wisdom, stillness, peace and contentment. By practising yoga we learn how to strip aware these veils to reveal our true nature.

There might be moments when we are aware of an inner wisdom deep within that understands what is happening. For example, we are doing something or saying something that we think is correct or the truth. But deep inside, there is an observer watching what is happening, who knows our actions to be wrong. This inner wisdom can be described as consciousness (chitta) – the “witness”.

The practice of yoga leads us to use our mental faculties in a positive way, thereby bringing the mind to a discriminative and attentive state.

As Iyengar puts it: “Awareness, together with discrimination  and memory, target bad habits, which are essentially repetitive  actions based upon  mistaken perception. These are then replaced by good habits.   The seasoned, mature mind gradually transcends its frontiers to reach beyond mundane observation and experience, making the journey from confusion to clarity, one of the greatest benefits of yoga.”

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