The second yoga sutra says, “Citta vrtti nirodha.” This is commonly interpreted as meaning that yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind.

“Citta” means mind, but “mind” may not be what you think. Check out this paragraph from T.K.V. Desikachar:

“There is a reason Patanjali chose the word “citta.” There are two Sanskrit words for the mind. One is “manas” and the other “citta.” Manas is related to the mind’s structure but is very close to the senses. Citta is the same mind, but it is not close to the senses. It is closer to consciousness. If I am very agitated or disturbed, citta becomes manas. When I am a little more attentive, manas becomes citta. So the quality of the mind shifts.”

So Desikachar is proposing a continuum of mind: where one end is the mind as driven by the senses, and the other end is the mind immersed in or aligned with consciousness. And we can shift the quality of our minds:

“The mind is a fluid thing in yoga. When it is very close to consciousness, consciousness is the master. When it is not, the senses are the masters. It is not possible to stay in a state of yoga when there is an inner state of agitation.

Effort must be put in so that manas becomes citta. In other words, we must shift the mind from a state dominated by the senses to a state where it is closer to consciousness.”

If you’ve been practicing a while, you have had the experience of being “inside” yourself while practicing, and the experience of being “outside” yourself. When your body, breath, and mind are seamlessly aligned, when your focus and drishti are on point, practice feels deep and internalized.

When your mind is busy with thoughts and you’re grinding through poses, not so much.

It’s worth examining these different experiences of practice. Am I inside myself? Is everything just flowing? Am I outside myself? Am I reactive, being pulled by emotions and circumstances?

The internal practice is available to us at all times.

Let me say that again: deep, focused, internal practice is available to us at all times.

How do you get there? Practice. (Surprise!)

We have a practice that is physical, but it also requires that we practice our attention. Are you cultivating manas or citta? Are you spending time outside practice cultivating a state dominated by the senses, or are you cultivating a state closer to consciousness?

I remember talking with a friend back when discussion boards on the Internet were relatively new. She was reading an argument online and she jumped in and got involved. Her comment to me, afterwards, was that the anger she felt during the argument was kind of strong and weirdly appealing. She could see where it could be addictive.

That’s some world class self-awareness. She felt the shift from citta to manas.

Can we observe our shifts from manas (mind driven by senses) to citta (closer to consciousness) and back again? Yes. And once we understand how it works, can we choose to place our minds where we want them to be? Yes. How? With lots of practice.