The purpose of yoga is to yoke the mind. Why? Because the mind is full of stories, many of which have nothing to do with truth! Patanjali describes those stories — what we often call monkey mind — as the five modifications of the mind. Monkey mind is always playing tricks on us.
In Sanskrit, the goal of yoga is defined as “chitta vritti nirodha.” Loosely translated, it means yoga is the practice that stills the mind, clears the cobwebs, and opens the door to union with God.
Put another way, the goal of yoga is gain control over the mind’s nonsense. That way, we control our minds instead of allowing our minds to control us.
Before we can control the mind, we need to understand how it works. Early in the Yoga Sutras, we learn that the mind works in five specific ways, which Patanjali refers to as modifications. These modifications blur our knowledge of who we truly are.
And once we understand the modifications, that is once we get to know monkey mind, we need to get still. This is yoga.
Characteristics of Monkey Mind
Not all the “modifications” will seem like problems at first glance. But look closely and you’ll see how even the seemingly positive powers of the mind can lead us away from truth.
The five modifications of the mind are:
1. Right Knowledge
Who wouldn’t want right knowledge, right? We spend a good part of our lives struggling to discern right from wrong. And sometimes we get so lost in the struggle that we lose the ability to see the bigger picture. When we focus too much on finding answers, we can easily be led in the wrong direction. This is especially true when we rely on language to learn, because words have many limitations.
Most of us know things aren’t always what they appear to be. Patanjali warns us that our minds are not always able to distinguish truth from untruth. How often do you misinterpret something someone says or fill in the blanks of an experience without having all the facts?
3. Verbal Delusion
Words again. In general, monkey mind depends on words and our ability to define and understand them. It’s worth noting that Westerners are often scolded for attempting to understand the Yoga Sutras using English words. But the sutras were originally written in Sanskrit, and Sanskrit scholars tell us there is no way to directly translate much of Sanskrit into English. That’s just one example of how we can delude ourselves with words.
Patanjali also lists sleep as one of the five modifications of the mind. I don’t know about you, but I find sleep refreshing and restorative. So why is it an example of the mind playing tricks?
Well, if you’ve ever woken up in a panic from a nightmare or been puzzled over the meaning of a dream, you have a clue. Dreams are the mind working even when we sleep. This has some benefits, especially if you’re having trouble breaking through a psychological block, but dreams are still the mind chattering away.
Of course, it’s not sleep itself, but memories of dreams that characterize monkey mind. Memories in general, especially when we misremember, can also be obstacles.
Even accurate memories can trigger unwanted emotions. Remember when your boss yelled at you? Did it make you angry? Did that anger fester and cause you to lash out at your family?
Befriending the Monkey
Remember, monkey mind is just trying to help us get through life. Once we understand how it works, we can begin to use the tools of yoga to quiet the unnecessary chatter and let go of thoughts and memories that hinder us.
The more we practice, the more able we’ll be to stay focused, grounded, and at peace in the present moment.
Has your monkey mind gotten quieter since you began practicing yoga?
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I’m Maria, devoted yogini and author of Yoga Circles. I’m a writer, editor, and content marketing creator. I help small businesses, wellness brands, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and communicate effectively in writing. Visit my website (link below) to learn how I can help you connect with more readers, clients, and students!