Yogah cittavrttti nirodhah
“Yoga is the cessation of the movements in the consciousness.”
Yoga Sutra 1.2 translated by B.K.S. Iyengar
People often say to me, “I can’t meditate or do yoga because I can’t turn my brain off.” Which is true. You can’t turn your brain off. The nature of the brain is circuitry; neurons and synapses firing pulses through all that ineffable grey matter. The brain is an organ of mind and mind is always thinking, always moving. With respect to B.K.S. Iyengar, his translation of the second sutra troubles me.
Perhaps this is because I was first exposed to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali from the non-dualist, Tantric perspective. In my training I was taught that cit or citta is supreme consciousness whose nature is spanda – a pulse, a movement, a flow. Nirodhah can be taken to mean direction rather than control or stoppage. So the translation I savor is:
Yoga is the practice of uniting and directing the body, mind, and heart with the flow of consciousness.
This feels like a more honest, attainable goal. It’s also the truth of my experience. Even in the deepest states of meditation, or the quiet moments of laser like focus, there is movement. My blood is pumping. Electrons are whizzing about in my cells. Consciousness is flowing. Mind is thinking. Life is a particle and a wave.
Much of the time my head, like yours, is like a city full of noise and frenetic busyness. What I’m after with yoga, meditation, prayer, laughter, community, is the slowing down of all that busyness. I’m seeking a long weekend out in the country among the slow and steady trees.
I think a tree is the embodiment of what I want my yoga to be: solid; clear in purpose and direction; full of scars and beauty; and always reaching up and out and into divinity.
When my brain starts to feel like a pinball machine, I approach this tree-like-place through various techniques of redirection: focusing on a task at hand; looking into the eyes of the person I’m talking to; drinking hot water; reading books; and oh yes – asana, meditation, and prayer.
My favorite meditation technique is listening to noise. Rather than trying not to hear the rush of cars on the street outside my window, or the jackhammers busting up the floor below the yoga room at the Y during renovations last fall, or the cell phone that rings during savasana, I listen. I sit in my seat and soften my ears. I relax the canals and cartilage and unclench my eardrums so I can hear the world around me. I seek the most distant, faint sound. I welcome the proximity of my cat’s wheezing.
It doesn’t take long for my body to unclench. Somehow, in the act of listening to noise, my thoughts become a whisper rather than a shout. They slow down to two or three at a time rather than a dozen. I can feel and see the breath in my body. My crazy, out of proportion innerverse becomes right sized.
The funny thing about silence is that it is so communicative. When Cole was an infant I was shocked at how much conversation passed between us before he could say a word. Volumes were written in his twinkling eyes and powder soft cooing.
The funny thing about silence is that it is an embrace rather than an absence. When I surgically remove the extraneous noise of music, tv, voices, I am left with the uncontrollable hum of the world. When I listen for what I can’t control its volume fades and I am held by the quiet song of love and the truest words of the Heart.
Next time you are stuck in the frenzy of thought, assaulted by over stimulation, feeling disconnected or frustrated in meditation, pause and practice the yoga of listening. Listen to the noise. Let it move you into silence. And feel the harmonic embrace of conscious life pulsing with movement.