Vrittis – how to control the churnings of our mind

The yoga sutras describe vrittis of the mind as energies that can cause us endless suffering. It’s the relentless churning that goes on and on when we aren’t the one in control of our thoughts. Vexations, annoyances, frustrations and all the other stuff that occur during a typical day. What can you do? Here are 6 techniques to help put you back in control.

How do we tame our mind? How do we slow down if not remove those irksome vrittis, the endless churnings of the mind? Well, as the story goes, a wise mahout (elephant keeper) would give his elephant something to hold in its trunk before he would think of walking it down the streets in a procession. Why? Because it is the nature of that trunk to reach out to touch this, feel that, grab this or that. It’s the same with our mind. In the words of the Buddha, provided you train it to focus, your mind would be like ‘a monkey jumping from tree to tree in search of fruits‘. So the trick is to give your mind something to focus on. For the Buddha, it would be the breath as it comes in and out of the nose. It’s called Satipatthana.

As you meditate more and more, you will come to discover that your mind is really just as the Buddha said. It will hop all over the place with first this thought. Then another. Then another. And very soon you catch yourself and wonder where your mind went! But guess what? Each thought is actually discrete and independent of each other. There is actually a space in between and the trick is to lengthen that space instead of allowing them to run on. Like lemons in a row, you learn to space them out. Farther and farther apart. That’s what sitting is about while thinking is when you let the lemons touch each other.

The following are therefore 6 techniques that a) gives the elephant trunk of our mind something to hold on to and b) creates the space in between thoughts.

1. Chanting

mala beads

Reach for your mala or prayer beads, settle down and chant your favourite mantra or one that resonates with you. Keep up the recitation and as you find your mind slowly becoming less and less agitated, you’ll find your chanting slowly down as well. If it has been an especially bad day, and you find yourself still agitated, accept it for the time being, do something else, like go for a run or walk, and return to your chanting when you can. If it takes time to train your dog to sit, stay and heel, don’t think it’ll take any less time to train your mind. Have patience.

2. Pranayama

How do we manage the daily vexations that arise from our interactions with others who seem to annoy us and have a mentality that's from another planet? In this post, you will learn tested and proven techniques (from my work as a counsellor and yoga teacher) to help you not only cope but thrive in the face of life's stresses. #mind #copingstrategy #metta #maitri #nadishodhana #anulomviloma

Pranayama can change your mind state by regulating the breath. It is said that the breath is the way to the mind and so true! You will find this out as you draw out the length of the inhalation and exhalation, especially the latter. This is known as Rechaka and Khumbaka. With each inhalation, you count to 6, and as you exhale do it to a count of 8. You could also inhale with ‘So’ and exhale with ‘Hum’. So Hum is a mantra and another name for the Divine. So, you get a double bonus here. The more drawn out the breath, the better it is in slowing down your mind. In fact, all you have to do is just hold your breath and you will see that the mind can’t hold a thought but we can’t have you going blue, right? So, work on slowing the breath down as much as you can.

3. Maitri

goodwill, maitri

If chanting and pranayama is not your thing, then consider this. Maitri is a Pali word that means ‘kind friendliness or goodwill’. Basically, you adopt this mental attitude that no matter what the other person does or say, you don’t allow yourself to be changed by it. You will always be the kind and friendly person that you are. You show yourself to be the model of wholesome and spiritual behaviour and who knows! it might very well make the other person sit up, admire you and want to change to be like you!!! And you walk away rather than to engage till the person is ready to be engaged. This is the power of Maitri. Would you find a Buddhist monk retaliating just because someone called him a dog? No, he would just hold his palm to his heart chakra, give a slight bow and go amituofo. Because no matter how crazily annoying the other person is, there is a Buddha in him, too.

4. Metta

metta meditation

This technique reminds us of Ajahn Brahm who has a whole lot of teaching videos on Youtube and if you like, you could go watch those on metta meditation. Metta is Pali for compassion and basically you put different people in your mind, starting first with folks you love a lot and love you back a lot and you bless them. You then work through people whom you like less and less and at the last, the one person who is the biggest thorn in your side and you, too, have to bless this person. Whether you find it easy or you find you are not quite ready to go there yet, it’s okay. Know that this meditation exists. New habits take time to form and it’s really not in our nature to be nice, full of goodwill or be compassionate. Our human nature is such that we get offended, and want to hit back. Haiz!

5. Meditation

There is a reason why we kept meditation till the last. Unless you have been meditating for a while and you know how to block the churnings then well and good, take to your meditation cushion. But if you are still shaky in your meditation, then more likely than not these churnings will follow you to your cushion and give you a really tough time and then you end up beating yourself up even more about how inept a meditator you are. So, our take on this is, go do the other stuff first (1 to 4 suggested above). And continue to work on your meditation by sitting more regularly and supporting it with asanas and pranayama. Make your yoga sadhana consistent and regular and you will find yourself with a very portable emotional and mental support in all situations.

6. Stuff it

If all else fails, well, you can just tell that churning in your mind to stuff it! There are times when nothing else works so why not just choose not to dwell on it for the time being. Especially when dwelling on it leads you nowhere. Do something that soothes you. Take out the ice cream. Go for a massage. Shut the door and windows and let it out a good scream. We know. On some days, you just can’t win.