Where’s your head at? 1

Where’s your head at?

Where I live we have a saying: “where’s your head at?” meaning where are your thoughts/what and how are you thinking? In yoga we call this the citta akasha, the mental space. And in that mental space just like in universal space there is a LOT happening. Patanjali calls those happenings “citta vrittis” or the activities of the mind/mistaken Self (cit: consciousness/ citta: mind)

It occured to me that while i’ve had lengthy conversations with many of you about the chitta vrttis and touched on them in day 3 reading I had not yet written about them in any detail during this 40 days practice. However as the definition of yoga in the yoga sutras is indeed “chitta vrtti nirodhah” it seems apropo to bring them to the conversation.

Patanjali states the 5 vrttis as…

Pramana: right analysis

viparyaya: faulty analysis

vikalpa: imagination

nidra: sleep

smrti: memory

The mind moves in 5 ways: RIght analysis, wrong analysis, imagination, sleep and memory.

These 5 categories are defined in the subsequent sutras: 


pratyaksa: direct experience

anumana: inference

agamah: hearing about it (from a reliable source)

pramana: right knowledge/perception

We have discussed pramana several times before. Pramana or right knowledge is of three stages or entry points. First is hearing or reading about it from a reliable source (agamah). Second is inference based upon the continued contemplation and applicaiton into our living state (anumana). Third is diect experience (really seeing for yourself).

We can take this in rudimentary terms. Let’s say we are learning to swim. First we may listen to our swim teacher about breathing, stroke pattern, kick, center line, etc. This is agamah. Then we put that into practice. We infer the meaning of our coaches instructions as we begin to mimic the strokes, alternated breathing, flip turns, sprints, glides etc. At first it may feel mechanical or choppy and require a lot of concentration and thought. We return to the pool again and again practicing what our teacher taught . This is anumana. Then one day it all clicks, we begin to swim and we don’t have to think about the breath pattern, the reach, the kick, the turn etc. It all fits together into the experience of swimming. We are doing it because it has become a pattern in our body. This is pratyaksa. 

Ultimately we want to cultivate direct experience as a means to proper analysis. Specifically of interest is yogic pratyaksa or direct experience of the true Self. The rest is simply stages on a journey to that final recognition. Most of our practice we need to accept is still established in exploration. If we try to make things too concrete, too quickly we get stuck before we actually have that experience. 


viparyaya: wrong perception

mithya: myth

jnanam: knowledge

atadrupa: bad copy (atad: poor/bad+ rupa: form)

pratistam: established

Faulty analysis (viparyaya) is here expounded on. Patanjali says that this citta vrtti is rooted in myth that is neither real or the actual nature of the object being analyzed. Our mental projections are incorrect. 

Ramaswami says that most of our citta vrttis fall (in atleast some way) into this category. Because we identify with this body we think we see, hear, know via the senses and sense objects. As we’ve talked about previously this is recipe for staying tied down into the myth or story of our own constructed “identity.”


sabda: word

jnana: knowledge

anupati: to follow

vastu: object

sunya: void, non-existence

vikalpah: imagination

Imagination (vikalpah) is when the mind imagines itself to be something it is not, “based upon a word that has no real basis in reality.” Words have weight. Language is a valuable tool when clear and moderate. However, words trigger images upon the mental screen. Poetry and prose is vikalpa, dreams are vikalpa, guided relaxation and “meditations” are also vikalpah. Through the use of words and language the mind comes to imagine a certain reality. 


abhava: non-existence

pratyaya: mental mold

alambana: foundation

tamo: tamas/tamo guna

vrttir: activity

nidra: deep sleep

Deep sleep is the vrtti defined as a “mental mold of non-existence that is supported by tamasic activity.” I.E. Deep/dreamless sleep is still an activity. It is supported by tamas (darkness, matter, inertia) and as such can create a feeling of non-existence or false samadhi. If we identify this tamasic state as yoga we will get stuck in tamo guna. Patanjali says this is still an activity even if it is shrouded in darkness- just because the lights aren’t on, doesn’t mean something isn’t happening. That something is still a connection to identitiy with prakriti.


anubhuta: past experience

visaya: an object

asampramosah: not erased

smrtih: memory

Memory (smriti) is defined as a mental activity based in the past. Here a conscious experience has been recorded on our mental screen that keeps playing at various intervals in our present and future. Until this memory is cleared it helps to define our lived experience, even though it is not necessarily part of our present.

Now, in general daily living, these vrttis are not happening in isolation. The mind is able to act in multiple ways all at once, or in the very least the sequence of events is so rapid that we can’t differentiate what is what.

Even in the example of learning to swim there is also the other 4. In the stage of agamah we may hear what our teacher is saying and immediately begin to imagine or visualize the action of swimming (vikalpah). We may have misconceptions about whether we can do it or not (viparyaya), we may dream about being in the water (vikalpah). We may use our memory (smriti) to remember the sequence of movements and breaths. We may get distracted as we listen and drift off (nidra)…All at once these can be happening. So it’s important to develop continued observation of the mind to get to pratyaksa or the direct experience of what is happening.

There are ways this is helpful or not in our regular lived experience of course. However, when Patanjali uses the words klistah and aklistah he is intending them to refer to meditation/samadhi (as this topic is in the Samadhi Padah). Some activities of the mind are helpful in our practice of meditation. Others are not. This is not static but dynamic. Tomorrow we will walk through those scenarios. For now consider Patanjali’s words- where is your “head at”? 

See you tomorrow,



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