The beginning of Chapter One of the Yoga Sutra follows a logical structure: First, our attention is summoned in sutra 1.1, then Patañjali defines yoga in 1.2, subsequently stating what happens when we are in the state of yoga in 1.3 and what happens when we are not: we get confused by our ways of being in sutra 1.4. Sutra 1.5 indicates the effects of what we are calling ways of being. The following sutra, 1.6, enumerates the ways of being, and sutras 1.7 to 1.11 define each way of being. Patañjali’s definition of yoga is commonly translated as controlling or suppressing the turnings of activities of the mind, thought or consciousness. Thinking about ways of being as mind or thought can lead us to assume a separation between body and mind. Consider instead that the original Sanskrit words, citta vrtti can be translated as a combination of the meanings of citta: intentions, thoughts, wishes, intelligence, reason and memory with the definitions of vrtti as ways of behaving, course of action, tendencies, nature, activity, character and disposition. Is it possible that your own cells, tissues, organs and systems have their own intelligence, dispositions and tendencies?
Sutra 1.5 suggests that your ways of being can be painful or not painful. First, rather than thinking about your ways of being as static tendencies that are active all the time, it is more accurate to understand your ways of being as dynamic. For instance, some of your tendencies may be primed by your context and circumstances. When you are socializing with a group of risk-taking friends, you may be more willing to take some risks yourself. Conversely, you may respond by reinforcing your risk-averse inclinations. Besides, you could be fine with taking risks in your professional life, but you may be conservative in how you manage your finances. This variability of your ways of being may be a reason to focus on the effects of your ways of being to assess their utility. For example, on some occasions it is wise to remain silent, so that you do not create confusion or offer unsolicited opinions that may bring up hostility or pain. Other times, it is important and necessary to express your perspective so that you act according to your conscience.
This sutra is an invitation to know your own tendencies. The more entangled you are on your preferences and habits, the more difficult it will be to have a critical distance to choose consciously the most appropriate and life affirming action for each situation. Attending to your inner state and noticing your reactions and responses to external events, can reveal if some of your tendencies increase your levels of internal disharmony as pain, lethargy or agitation. Conversely, you may find that some of your tendencies enhance your level of harmony, clarity and effectiveness. As you explore your own tendencies and their effects, pay attention to levels of pain. Keep in mind that there is a clear difference between pain and bearable discomfort. Pain serves as a warning sign alerting you to avoid the risk of injury. Bearable discomfort often indicates that you are reaching the boundaries of what is familiar to you.
Questions to guide your inquiry on the meaning and relevance of this sutra for you and your life: Am I aware of my tendencies? How do these tendencies manifest physically, mentally and emotionally? Do my tendencies influence other tendencies? When you notice a tendency you may ask: At this moment, is this tendency my best friend or worst enemy? What are the effects of my preferences on the quality of my life? How do my habits influence my participation in my life? Are there some tendencies that are sometimes useful and other times painful? Can I regulate my own inclinations?
As usual you can also chant this sutra to feel its vibrations directly in your whole being. The traditional chant is:
वृत्तयः पञ्चतय्यः क्लिष्टाक्लिष्टाः ॥५॥ vṛttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭākliṣṭāḥ
The simplified version with each word chanted individually is: