Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. Those aren’t gibberish words, it’s the Sanskrit answer to the question, ‘What is yoga?’ as written in the Yoga Sutras. Translated to English it roughly means ‘to control the turnings of the mind.’ But to someone who is new to yoga or who can’t get behind the mental aspect of the practice (which is, coincidentally, 90 percent of it), it is gibberish and it can, quite frankly, be a turn-off to stepping onto a mat or into a class.
Because who has time to turn their mind off when there are 2,130,1039 things to think about and only 24 hours in the day? In fact, I’m sure some of you have probably thought, “If I have to spend some of hour of the day devoted to exercise thinking, I’ll just go for a run, thank you very much.”
But I took a class recently where an instructor spoke about this piece of the practice with totally different terminology and it was not only refreshing to hear a more relevant way of explaining ‘Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah’, it might actually convince some of my yoga-skeptic friends to give it a shot.
Think about your average day at work. For many of us (definitely for me, at least) there are numerous times throughout the day that cause stress. A presentation, a fire you have to put out with a client, a financial issue, a missed deadline – whatever it may be, all those little stress triggers throughout the day cause our sympathetic nervous system to act up. This is what signals our body to react in either a ‘fight-or-flight’ kind of way, and it also releases cortisol into the blood stream. Every time this happens your body focuses on whatever stress is at hand instead of maintaining other functioning systems, like your immune system. Eventually, your system will even out again, but if you continue to let yourself worry about the everyday stressors of life, the pattern continues.
Now you can picture stress piled on top of more stress and what that physically does to your body, not just your sanity and perceived level of happiness.
Where does yoga come in to all of this, you ask? On your mat, you experience those same natural urges to either fight or get away from an uncomfortable pose. But here, you have the benefit of only working on one thing at a time, so you can work on training your mind to choose a third, almost unheard of option: to stay and breathe. When you train your mind to utilize that option versus the fight or flight response, stress starts to dissolve. If you can take that skill off your mat and into your everyday life, you’ll be so much better for it in the long run.
And what’s so cool about all this to me is that it’s not a new concept at all. Yogis hundreds of years ago practiced for the same reasons, according to that long gibberish phrase, and now we have the science to prove that mindfulness is a legitimate pursuit. And yet it has more relevance today than I think it ever did. We’re constantly on the go, inundated with technology, always online, stretched thin, sleeping less, eating worse and exposing ourselves to more stressors than you can count in a day.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for going on a run or taking a HIIT class. And yoga isn’t for everyone. But a mental workout clearly does have benefits in addition to just the physical kind. And if being more mindful in this way means I’m healthier, happier and more sane throughout the rest of my day, it’s totally worth spreading the word to all my fellow full-time, on-the-go, overachieving, busy-bee friends.