In Sutra 1.2, Patanjali, the sage who compiled the Yoga Sutra, writes that we need to diminish the chatter, or vrttis, of the mind in order to witness our true self. Anyone who has tried to meditate knows this is much easier said than done. Even after 40 years of practice, my monkey mind can quickly take over as I sit in Padmasana (Lotus Pose). A cloud of thoughts rolls in like a storm or a swarm of mosquitoes. These thoughts about how to be a “good yogi,” how to perfect my posture, how to be even more aware—masquerade as important notions, but they are really just nuisances.
What I like about Sutra 1.2 is that it reminds us we are actually closer to self-realization, and finding harmony, than we think we are. There is a part of us that, while our mind struggles to focus on the breath and settle our vrttis, is already sitting quietly and watching all of these sensations, thoughts, and feelings. If we are asking “Who is the meditator?”, “Who is watching?”, “Who am I?”, and “What is the field of awareness in which all of these mosquitoes breed?” we are on the right track. Just the acts of observing and asking help to arrest the fluctuations of the mind, or consciousness, and we start to see that awareness itself is our true nature and that the temporary buzz of thoughts, feelings, and sensations is not real or significant.
But if distractions—from discomfort in your hips to thoughts about what happened an hour ago—are too loud, then it’s easy for your true self to be eclipsed by vrttis. So, it’s important to use all the yogic tools we have access to (asana, mantra, pranayama, and more), in addition to meditation, to alleviate discomfort and move us closer to a sense of steadiness, ease, and freedom where we can shine the light of awareness on the fluctuations of the mind.