Living Life Inside A Whirlpool: Vrittis, part 1

You know that saying “misery loves company”?

The vrittis can be kind of like that. They’re power is magnetic, pulling you back into a churning state of agitation. It’s the kind of power that is built out of habit and familiarity, but also, simply out of human nature.

If you’ve paid attention in yoga class, you’ve heard this word before —vrittis.

As in Parvritta Trikonasana or Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana.

Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana

Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana

The shape of these poses—revolved—is an obvious hint to what this word means.

You find the word again in one of the most recited of Patanjali’s yoga sutras: Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodahah.

Vritti translates as —to spin, to churn, to turn, or —a whirlpool, a vortex, a tornado.

The vrittis are the churning, whirling, agitated thoughts of an unquiet mind.

And that sutra, 1.2? It means: Yoga calms the churning mind.

Anjali Mudra

Anjali Mudra -one symbol for union.

The Goal Of Yoga

Classes today teach a minuscule portion of yoga, focusing mostly on the physical. Underlying the physical, though, is the chance to reconnect with the calm, quiet and peaceful part of yourself that’s always been there, no matter how crazy or stupid you’ve acted.

Yoga would call this reconnection “union.”

Part of the human condition, however, is to be pulled out of union, out of wholeness, to identify only with the more external and differentiated aspects of yourself.

These more superficial layers, like what your job and income are, how old you are or how old you feel, whether you’re single or in a relationship, are transient and shifting.

Your experiences, memories, hurts and fears go into this pile too, causing the mind to be occupied with the story of what was or what could be, instead of being here now.

While these experiences and external layers are part of who you are, they are not ALL that you are.

Until you see a glimpse of the deeper source of stability and wisdom within, you falsely identify with the external, and your mind’s loud chatter —the vrittis.

This causes suffering.

Asking The Hard Questions

Experiencing the vrittis is like being right-handed; no matter how much you practice writing with your left hand, you’ll still always be right-handed. You will get better and better at writing with your left hand, but you’ll never quite be ambidextrous.

You will always have thoughts; you need them to function. But with practice, there are pauses between them. There is space to watch them rise and fall. And the agitation, the churning, diminishes.

In that quiet space, not only can you reunite with yourself, you can also question the nature of your thoughts: is this actually true? does this cause me suffering? is this habitual and mindless? does this belong to me or did I just inherit it from my culture or my family? is this an old story I keep repeating? what am I really afraid of? how does this thought relate to pain in my physical body?

Making Transformation

Habits, even thinking ones, can be changed.

The practice is to focus inwards on the self, to create union within. In yoga, we call this pratyahara —a withdrawing or redirecting of the senses.

This inner union, then, becomes the new habit. It isn’t about going inward to ignore or hide from the world, but it is about making lasting transformation to walk through the world from a calm and centered place within yourself.

Newly found mental focus can be directed and channeled constructively, and though the vrittis continue to spin like a whirlpool, you are not caught up in them.