Yoga Philosophy - What is Mind?

Article discussing the work we covered in the first Yoga Practice Philosophy Group session in June 2018

Yoga Philosophy Group

In the article I summarise what we covered in our first group meeting in June 2018 ‘Yoga Philosophy – What is Mind?’
I’ll also be writing blog posts for the future 2 sessions that link to this theme.

Yoga Philosophy - What is mind?

We had a great start to the first Yoga Philosophy Group I’m leading, with 11 people sharing ideas last Saturday.

I chose to cover three topics ‘what is mind’, ‘what is heart’ and ‘what is soul’ in three, 2-hour monthly meetings.  In the first – ‘What is mind?’ we started by exploring our ideas around the activities of the mind, first individually and then in small groups.  This gave everyone a chance to think about their own ideas around this topic before we looked at the yoga teachings.

I checked what ideas people were coming up with and I ask for any thoughts that might be linked with emotions, senses and intuition to be put to one side. Even though these are definitely thoughts we all experience, they are precursors to the activities in the mind.  So, we put them to one side to be explored in the next couple of session.

Each group came back with a long list of activities of the mind including some of those I wrote on the flipchart…

We also looked at the nature or state our mind can be in.  We came up with a list of the opposite ends of the spectrum of states of mind.  In all of these instances our mind may be anywhere between the two extremes of the spectrum.  I photographed the list we made on the flipchart.   Often in yoga we try to move from a distracted to a focused mind, or maybe try to use yoga to help us move from an agitated to calm mind or from a dull to sharp mind.


After this exploration of our understanding of the mind’s activities and nature from our own perspective’s we then looked at the mind from yoga’s perspective.

I introduced Patañjali’s Yoga Sutra which is a collection of yoga teachings thought to have been compiled around 200 CE.

I’ve always thought of the term sutra to mean collection of teachings, but Hillary asked for a definition, so I thought I’d check.   The translation Paul Harvey gives for sūtra is thread.  The sūtra style of writing has a flow or thread between each verse and chapter, in that they follow a thread of logical succession of ideas. When I was looking up the definition of sūtra I also found this quote from TKV Desikachar

“The beauty of the Sūtra is that they are only related to the mind.
Thus they stand above various religions and can be studied and
related toby all types of persons from all types of religions.”
– TKV Desikachar on Yoga Sūtra Chapter One verse 1

A few people were asking if Patañjali’s Sūtra were the only text yoga is based upon.  There are many texts and teachings that have influenced yoga, I explained that the Yoga Sūtra are the most universally quoted text, again I refer to a quote from TKV Desikachar.

“Therefore one must be clear when one speaks about Yoga:as far as we are concerned, we refer mainly to Patañjali’s Yoga.Otherwise, quoting various texts,one can justify almost anything in the name of Yoga. Patañjali’s Yoga is obviously the most open, universaland the most clearly distinct from Vedānta, which is a school in itself.”– Extract from an interview with TKV Desikachar

If you would like to know more about other textual sources you can look at this link

There is a great introduction to the Yoga Sūtra in Frans Moors book and he gives a little bit more information on who Patañjali was.  (Frans Moors – Liberating Isolation, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali)

I explained that the 4 themes for the Yoga Sūtra chapters are all being linked to the mind.

Chapter One samādhi-pādaḥ – know the mind
Chapter Two sādhana-pādaḥ – refine the mind
Chapter Three atha vibhūti pādaḥ – direct the mind
Chapter Four kaivalya pādaḥ  – go beyond the mind

We looked at Chapter one verses 1-11, some verses were very briefly discussed, others were covered in more detail, some of which I’ve outlined below.

Chapter One verse 2
yogaḥ citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ |
Yoga is the containment of movement in the psyche.

Or an alternative translation as
Yoga is the settling of the fluctuations of the mind.

I explained that through yoga practice we can work with these movements or fluctuations in the mind and that a more experienced yoga practitioner may find that their minds move from a scattered state of movements (vṛtti) to a more channelled or directed state of movements of the mind.


We discussed that Patañjali identified five different types of activities of the mind and that these can afflict or don’t afflict.

Chapter One verse 5
vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭa-akliṣṭāḥ |
The movements are fivefold and they afflict or don’t afflict.

We then stopped for a tea break to help digest some of the ideas we’d been discussing.  After which we explored the five activities of the mind in more detail.  Chapter one verse 6 defines the activities.They are right perception, misconception, imagination, deep sleep and memory.

Chapter one verses 7-11 looks at each one of these in more detail.  I gave examples of each of the types of activities and how they mayafflict or don’t afflict.

Chapter One verse 6
pramāṇa-viparyaya-vikalpa-nidrā-smṛtayaḥ |
They are right perception, misconception, imagination, deep sleep and memory.

The Yoga Sūtra’s and Paul Harvey’s discuss for each can be found here…

To finish I summarised the thread we followed from exploring our own understanding of the activities and nature of mind to discussing the Yoga Sūtra’s teachings of what yoga is and how Patañjali defines the five activities of the mind.

I’m looking forward to exploring what is heart in the next workshop and exploring some of the Yoga Sūtra based around emotions and intuition.

During the session I also referred to the Romanised Online Sanskrit Glossary available on Paul Harvey’s website…


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