Yoga Sutra 1.6 outlines the five fluctuations (vrittis) of the mind. Pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smrtayah. The word “Vritti” itself means as whirlpools. According to Pantanjali, all thoughts fall into the following five whirlpools.
It’s important to note that none of these whirlpools, are considered to be good or bad, just painful or painless. They are:
Pramana or Right Knowledge. These are based in reality. If we hear, see, taste, touch or smell something, and it is true, it is considered “right knowledge.” The tricky part is separating right knowledge from the emotion tied to it. For example, this morning, I took a Qi Gong Class. The class was slow. My thoughts around this today were, “I’m bored, I’m annoyed, I’m wasting my time, I want to leave.” This is not right knowledge - this is the emotion I’m tying to it (vikalpa).
Viparyaya or Wrong Knowledge. These are thoughts that are based in misperception. For example, if I think the coffee I am drinking is decaf, but it’s actually caffeinated, I will know because I won’t be able to sleep at night. My thought that my coffee was decaf was rooted in wrong knowledge. Again, the emotional baggage is where the pain comes from: if I beat myself up for making the mistake, I’m tying my own suffering to the situation.
Vikalpa is our imagination. Imagination can be seen as a good thing - it houses our creativity, or inspiration, our art…but it can also cause suffering. For example, if I make up a story in my head that my self worth is tied to me having a boyfriend, and that I need a boyfriend to make me happy…this is rooted in my imagination, but it’s causing needless suffering.
Nidra is sleep. According to pantanjali, sleep is not just a human need, it’s also a category of thought. If we get too much or too little sleep, it can be painful.
Smrtayah or memory. This is all the stuff we hold onto from our past that shapes our present. The trauma of a divorce, a death, an abusive relationship - any memories we cling to can cause us pain if we can’t let them go.
The sutras start with a focus on the habits of the mind so that we can recognize them for what they are.
We are not our thoughts. We have thoughts.
If we learn how to observe our thoughts, we can navigate them - and discover our genuine selves.
This is yoga.