The 5 States of Mind
Maharishi Patanjali, the author of the famous yogic text The Yoga Sutra, describes the purpose of yoga in just 3 words: the cessation (nirodha) of the fluctuations (vrittis) of the mind (chitta). Chitta (mind stuff) is constantly undergoing changes. These fluctuations create thoughts and emotions leading to actions.
The goal of yoga is to reach a state of Samadhi where the mind is calm and undisturbed even in the most difficult circumstances. But according to The Yoga Sutra, to reach this state of absolute calmness and balance, we must first understand the different states of mind.
The 5 States of Mind, According to The Yoga Sutras
1. Kshipta — the Monkey Mind
In this lowest state of mind, a person will be restless and anxious. Kshipta is the monkey mind, constantly jumping up and down. When in this mind state, a person alternates between extreme states of love and hate, like and dislike, pleasure and pain, enthusiasm and boredom. Managing simple activities becomes challenging because there is no clear focus. It is the most common state of the mind while awake, especially now in modern, stressful, fast-paced times.
Symptoms of the kshipta state of mind include difficulty making decisions, restlessness, anxiety, confusion, and lack of clarity.
The good news is that through yoga practice, we can develop an understanding that thoughts come and go. By managing and prioritizing your attention only toward healthy, important, and constructive thoughts and letting go of the undesired ones, you can give clear directions to your mind to stop wandering and focus only on what is required at the moment.
2. Mudha – The Donkey Mind
This is the state when the mind is dull, lazy and sluggish. It is called the donkey state of mind because there is a lack of concentration, alertness, and energy needed to deal with different life situations. Because of this lack of drive, a person in this mind state will often give up and feel hopeless when situations are challenging, leading to failures and feelings of dissatisfaction.
Symptoms of the mudha state of mind include lack of energy and vitality, poor concentration, depression, sadness, and lack of connection with the self.
If you find yourself in this state of mind, begin to reconnect with yourself through yoga and meditation. Get quiet and listen to your inner self so you can begin to move through changing life situations with ease and comfort.
3. Vikshipta – The Butterfly Mind
In this state, the mind alternates between moments of clarity and distraction. When you’re in this state of mind, you are not fully in control of your thoughts. Sometimes the mind might feel balanced and joyful, but in difficult times it can get pulled back to states of agitation or sadness.
Symptoms of the vikshipta state of mind include calmness that is easily distracted. In this mind state you experience better concentration than that of the mudha and kshipta states, but you still need practice focusing.
Practice yoga with full awareness to keep your mind calm and focused. With practice, this calm state of mind will become stronger. Meditation will also foster calmness and help you hold it for longer durations of time, bringing your focus to peace whenever distractions and difficulties arise.
4. Ekagra — One-Pointed Attention
This state of mind is relaxed and focused. In one-pointed mind, one can completely focus, without getting affected by any external agencies.
Symptoms of the ekagra state include better focus, awareness, and clarity — a prerequisite to meditation, awakening intuition, and feeling happy and whole.
This is the state of mind that signifies yoga: union with the highest consciousness. When you’re in this state, you’ve found a single-pointed focus in life that will be unaffected by external factors. Your intuitiveness is awoken, and you sense things beyond the five senses. Consistent yoga practice can help maintain this state.
5. Niruddha — Fully Focused Mind
In this state, the mind is not distracted by random thoughts but is fully absorbed. After surpassing the state of ekagra, you will be able to hold on to a single point of focus. This can occur during meditation or when you are fully engaged in something. In this state of mind, nothing can distract from the point of focus and complete stillness. When the Yogi sustains the state of niruddha for long periods, the mind reaches a state of complete liberation (samadhi).
Symptoms of niruddha include complete focus, stability, and calmness.
The niruddha state of mind is the ultimate goal of yoga. Through the practice, continue to internalize and begin to reconnect with the eternal peace that lies within.
Try this course, Yoga for Balancing Emotions, by Shani Dayal, a Roundglass meditation teacher, to experience how moving your body can support you in processing and releasing negative emotions that can impact the quality of your waking life.