“Yogah Chitta Vritti Nirodha”. This is the second sloka (stanza) in the first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. This sutra provides the definition of yoga: it says that yoga is the cessation of the modification of the mind. This means that the goal of yoga is to reach a state of mind that is so focused that the constant chatter of thoughts is bought to a complete halt.
The question then is: if yoga is connected with thoughts, why is practicing of yoga-postures part of yoga? Why did Patanjali make Asana (or Yoga Postures) one of the eight limbs of yoga? What is the connection between yoga-postures and thoughts?
To answer this we have to first ask the question: Can stress have an impact on thoughts? The impact of thoughts on stress is well known. Just by thinking we can create stress in our body. This is easy to demonstrate. Close your eyes and think for a minute of a situation where you felt insulted (or embarrassed). You will soon find that your heart rate and blood pressure has gone up, and you are sweating and flushed. Just by thinking you were able to cause your body to generate stress hormones! But the question being asked here is the reverse. It is not about thoughts affecting stress, but about stress affecting thoughts.
The key insight here is that bad stress is a “Thought Bender”. Bad stress can bend thoughts so that they bend inwards to create an endless cycle of thoughts. The presence of bad stress causes you mind to generate an endless cycle of thoughts where each thought feeds the next one in an endless unproductive cycle. This can lead to a cycle of worry, anxiety, anger, angst, or other negative emotions.
A mind that is flooded with stress will not be able to concentrate or focus. Some of these thoughts can in turn generate additional stress and create a positive feedback loop. When this happens, it is very difficult to break out of the cycle and the situation can best be described as a “Stress Trap”.
Thus from the point of view of yoga it is important to counter the “thought-bender” aspect of stress. This is done by countering stress itself. This is why Patanjali included Asana or yoga-postures as a separate limb in his 8-limb yoga system. Patanjali knew that the practice of yoga-postures would counter stress. This in turn would free the mind up because, in the absence of stress. the mind would be able to function normally and there would be no thought-bending taking place that then generates endless cycles of thought.
All of us can be helped by this new insight, even if we have no interest in the deeper goal of yoga. So no matter what your profession or your interest is, you can greatly benefit if your mind is freed from the thought-bending aspect of stress. When this happens you can benefit from increased focus and increased creativity along with lower anxiety and worry.
When the mind is freed from the last thought bender it truly becomes happy, free and boundless. Its thoughts are now in harmony with the deepest wisdom of the universe and limitless creativity, love, and harmony flow out. The question now is: are you ready to free your mind of its last thought-bender?