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The 5 Vrittis – How to Live in the Present Moment

The 5 vrittis or modulations of the mind keep you away from the present moment. By overcoming them, you will be able to rest in the now.

What keeps you away from the present moment?

You might be thinking: thoughts, emotions, stresses, fears, anxieties, your To Do List…

All these answers are correct and in fact, they all originate from one place.

Your mind.

Your mind and the activities of your mind are what keep you away from the present moment.

According to yoga philosophy, all the activities of the mind can be neatly grouped into 5 categories called vrittis or modulations.

In this article, we’re going to explore the 5 vrittis of the mind as shared by Sage Patanjali thousands of years ago and as observed through the ages by yoga practitioners.

Table of Contents

What is Yoga?

Before we can dive into the 5 vrittis, it’s important to understand that yoga is not just postures. The word yoga comes from the root word yuj in Sanskrit which means union.

This is a union between the body, the breath and the mind.

To be in yoga, is to be in samadhi or rest in higher levels of consciousness.

Today, yoga has become synonymous with asana or posture practice. In fact, yoga is the science of consciousness and lays out the step-by-step method to attain moksha or liberation.

Asana practice is a tool to help you overcome obstacles on this path and the root of all obstacles on this path (and in your life), is your own mind.

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What is the mind

In the yoga sutras, the mind is given great importance because it is the concepts in the mind that are the source of this maya and all misery in the world.

Woah, that’s a big statement.

Let’s break it down.

Yoga Sutras

5 vrittis | The 5 Vrittis – How to Live in the Present Moment

Thousands of years ago, the knowledge of yoga was hidden and scattered. Sage Patanjali did the work to structure and compile the knowledge in one place in the form of short, concise sutras.

These sutras become known as the Patanjali Yoga Sutras and they share the vast knowledge of yoga in a series of short, sweet statements or sutras.

Each sutra contains an ocean of knowledge in it and together the sutras share all that yoga is.

Concepts in the Mind

There are many models of your inner world. Among them is the 3 shariras or 3 bodies model.

This model tells us that each one of us has 3 bodies: physical, subtle and causal.

The mind is contained in your subtle body along with your intellect, memory and ego.

The subtle body is composed of:

  • The mind which observes and perceives information from the 5 senses at all times
  • The intellect which interprets the data coming into the mind and makes relevant decisions
  • The memory where you store information that has come into the mind
  • The ego which is your sense of identity or “I-ness”

By grouping these 4 inner faculties together under the name “mind,” we can start to formulate a deeper understanding of what is meant by the term “concepts in the mind.”

Your ego is the innermost layer of you. It is the deepest layer right before the Self and it harbours all the ideas and concepts that you have about yourself.

For example: “I am a man. I am a woman. I am American. I am Indian. I am African. I am a millennial. I am a heterosexual. I like hot, sunny days. I dislike cold food. I know how to swim. I am an introvert.”

And so on and so forth.

Like this, you have innumerable ideas of who you are and these concepts then trickle down through the layers and inform your thoughts, speech and actions.

5 vrittis | The 5 Vrittis – How to Live in the Present Moment

If you identify with being a woman, you might have certain ideas of what that means. You might consider certain things to be “a woman’s responsibility” and other things to be “a man’s responsibility.”

This strong belief will urge you to behave in certain ways and become angry, upset and disturbed if your idea of normal is threatened by someone else who has different beliefs.

All concepts and ideas you have of yourself behave in this way.

Maya

Everything that I have just described is maya.

Maya is illusion or untruth.

In yoga philosophy, there are 2 distinct aspects of reality: purusha and prakriti; Shiva and Parvati; yin and yang, the male and the female.

The purusha is the aspect of reality that is deep stillness. Taken in the framework of the panchakosha model this is Satchitananda, Atman or the Self. This is your Higher Self and uniting with this aspect is yoga.

Uniting with and becoming established in the Self is moksha, liberation, and the ultimate goal of yoga and the spiritual path.

On the other hand, we have prakriti or the feminine. This aspect of reality is ever-changing. It is in constant motion and this is what makes up our day-to-day lives. For most of our day, we are immersed in the prakriti.

5 vrittis | The 5 Vrittis – How to Live in the Present Moment

Prakriti is also known as maya because of its ever-changing nature.

Purusha is considered to be Truth because it is unchanging, without beginning, without end and undying.

Misery in the World

Misery is unhappiness, pain, and sorrow.

The concepts in the mind that lead to ever-changing thoughts, behaviours and ideas create discomfort and restlessness in your mind.

This discomfort leads you to take certain actions which may cause pain and suffering.

Being immersed in maya – in the ever-changing world – causes sorrow when you lose touch with your true nature.

Your true nature as your Higher Self is the stillness that resides within.

It is only by disconnecting from maya and sitting in meditation that you will be able to transcend the mind and reach the stillness within.

5 vrittis | The 5 Vrittis – How to Live in the Present Moment

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Patanjali Yoga Sutras bring Freedom from the Mind

Bringing it full circle: the yoga sutras recognize and describe the tendencies of the mind and explain how to overcome them so you can attain true peace and equanimity.

Peace of mind doesn’t come from the world around you, instead it comes from connecting with the truth within.

If you have ever sat to meditate or worked with the mind in another way, you can appreciate how tricky this can be.

The Tendencies of the Mind; 5 Vrittis

So what is it that the mind is busy doing 24/7?

Sage Patanjali categorized the activities of the mind into the 5 vrittis.

  • Pramana – seeking proof. The mind is constantly seeking proof or validation. There are 3 types of Pramana, they are:
    • Pratyaksha – that which is obvious and can be experienced. For example, you know it is summer when the days are long, flowers are in bloom and is it warm outside.
    • Anumana – that which is not so obvious but can be inferred. For example, if there is smoke, you can infer that there is also a fire somewhere.
    • Aagama – scriptures. This is knowledge that cannot be known but is believed because it comes from a reliable source. For example, you will not drink a bottle labelled poison to prove that it is poison, instead you will believe the label assuming that someone who knows has labelled the bottle.
  • Viparyaya – wrong understanding. The mind is caught in a false version of reality. For example, living with a superiority or inferiority complex would be considered viparyaya because this false understanding affects your perception of your day-to-day life and interactions. When this vritti is active, any proof you might have of the opposite is overruled by the deep-seated belief.
  • Vikalpa – delusion or imagination. The mind is lost in fantasies and building castles in the sky. The objects of imagination do not have any grounding in your day-to-day reality. Fear and paranoia also fall into this category.
  • Nidra – sleep. The mind is not conscious, it is lost in sleep.
  • Smriti – memory. The mind is busy thinking about things that happened in the past.

At any given time, one of the 5 vrittis is dominant.

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Relevance of the 5 vrittis to your day-to-day life

In some way or other, it’s safe to say that your mind is the central hub of your life at every moment.

If your mind is calm and happy, you will have great interactions with others, you’ll be productive and smile regardless what comes your way.

On the other hand, if your mind is disturbed, it may be challenging to even get out of bed in the morning.

If you have never practiced yoga or meditation, it’s likely that your mind is a very busy place and the five vrittis are active without your conscious knowledge of them.

5 vrittis | The 5 Vrittis – How to Live in the Present Moment

In fact, it’s likely that the 5 vrittis are the culprits that are keeping you away from your Higher Self and the present moment.

So how do you come back to the present moment?

Subduing the 5 Vrittis

Yogaschitta vritti nirodha

Patanjali Yoga Sutras ||1.2||

Yoga is subduing the modulations of the mind.

Sage Patanjali tells us that yoga is the key to subduing the modulations of the mind and coming back to the present moment.

Yoga is a spiritual practice and through the 8 limbs of yoga, you can safely, effectively and repeatably come back to the present moment.

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Parm Saggu

Hey, I'm Parm! I help people who long for a deeper meaning in life but feel caged by societal expectations to break free, uncover the secrets of life, and forge a path to be the difference they want to see in the world.

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