ELLE Active

Week 2: How to be a yogi

This week hit pause to the million thoughts and just calm down

This week I had a brush with my earlier life. I went to fashion week over the weekend and the excessive stimuli hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve only been training for 10 days and didn’t realise how it had cocooned me from the outside world. What used to be routine now seemed like another planet. While I loved seeing my friends, I found it very difficult to focus. All the lights, sounds, people, clothes, music, and smoke were a sensory overload and my eyes kept darting in every direction. A day later, I’m still recovering.

This was quite unexpected, especially since I’ve been learning that the ultimate goal of yoga is ‘chitta vritti nirodha’, meaning to stop your mind from fluctuating. It’s a tough but imperative task given the constant stream of texts that need responses, deadlines that need to be maintained and new people we meet. According to Patanjali, the father of yoga, there are five mental modifications or ‘vrittis’: Valid cognition (knowledge via logic, experience and trustworthy testimony), misconception (based on personal biases), imagination (ideas created in your mind), deep sleep (the absence of thought) and memory (experiences that create lasting impressions). These fluctuations can be harnessed as positives or negatives, like imagination can be used to create a painting or to fabricate lies. I think if Patanjali was alive today even he would be distracted by the bleep of his mobile. Personally, I find the awareness of these vrittis a very handy tool. It’s enough to identify a negative thought and convert it to a positive. So if I’m afraid to try a headstand because of the memory of a neck injury, I will use that memory to take precautions the next time I try. Technical, I know, but with practice you’ll see how this can change your life.

Here’s a little experiment: Set an alarm for five minutes and sit with your eyes closed. Make a mental note of every thought that comes to your mind, release it and move on to the next one. Write down these thoughts afterwards and then try to match it to a vritti. It will be like looking into a mirror for your mind. And if you found that your brain was working at a million thoughts per second then this week’s pose is ideal to calm you down. 

The Paschimottanasana or seated forward bend helps calm an overactive mind, slow down the heart rate, relax a tight lower back, and extend the spine.
- Start by sitting on your mat with your legs extended in front of you and spine extending upwards.
- Make sure that you’re on your sit-bones by separating the flesh on your hips.
- Flex the toes towards you, bend your knees and fold forward till your chest and stomach touch the thighs. Hold on to your toes.
- Straighten the legs keeping the chest on the thighs. Keep going till the chest separates from your thigh – that’s your limit. Do not go any further or your will overstretch your lower back.
- Relax and breathe. Follow this pose by lifting up and pushing your chest out in a mild backward bend to counter-stretch the spine.        

Vasudha Rai is doing her teacher’s training course at The Yoga Studio, New Delhi, and blogs at www.vbeauty.co.

Also read her lesson from last week: How to be a yogi