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Sages sought to understand the mind by identifying its varied states and activities, notes T.K.V. Desikachar, who cites these five categories described by the sage Vyasa in his commentary on Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra. We’ve all probably experienced each of these states at different times, and we tend to fluctuate among them. What enables us to spend more of our lives in the more desirable states of mind is the entire practice of yoga, including asana, Pranayama, meditation, and ethical conduct.
In this lowest state of mind, a person is highly agitated and unable to think, listen, or keep quiet. “It’s like a monkey jumping up and down,” Desikachar says. “Toss it a diamond, and it doesn’t know what it is.”
In this state, no information seems to reach the brain. The mind is dull and listless. A person might be holding her key yet still ask, “Where is the key?”
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?”
In this state, the mind is relaxed but not sleepy. The person is 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.
Here the mind is not distracted by random thoughts but is fully absorbed in the object of focus. This can occur in meditation or when a person is fully engaged in something.