Yoga is the stillness of the flame of the mind from the winds of thought.

1.2 yogah cittavritti nirodhah

  1. Vrtti – wir, weird, wreath, wrong
  2. Rodh – root, radish
    1. five sheaths
    2. the opposite of agni is ama
    3. Learn to observe and to think and to intensify your effort until svastha is attained
    4. Ayurveda is stilling the body and yoga is stilling the mind

Laying the Foundation

Both Ayurveda and Yoga derive understanding of their respective paths from Sankya Philosophy. This is the primary cosmology that when used in coordination with other Vedic sciences sheds light on their respective knowledge. A brief summary of Sankya is that the universe is composed of two primary principles or opposites. This duality is the divine reality and is composed of Purusa and Prakriti. Purusa is the individual soul and its parts are Prakriti. The entire process of yoga is a unification of the parts into the whole or the merging of Prakriti into Purusa. This lack of separation dispels duality and allows for the absolute reality to be experienced.

The principle that allows for an experience of union is Mahat which is the cosmic causal intelligence that informs all of creation. Creation then differentiates itself into individual parts and the identification with these parts is Ahamkara. From Ahamkara the three gunas or primary principles that make up the qualities of apparent reality form the building blocks of the vehicles used to experience matter. How we experience our natural environment or how we relate to it is the science of Ayurveda. It could be said that Ayurveda’s primary focus is to allow us to know Prakriti and Yoga’s focus is to allow us to know Purusa so that we can merge the two.

The three gunas mentioned earlier are sattva, luminosity; rajas, activity; tamas, inertia. In terms of Ayurvedic psychology the goal is to increase the amount of sattvic emotions that we experience. This could be called mental discipline or pratyahara. In order to easily increase sattva we must bring the three doshas and their purest qualities into balance. The purest parts of the doshas are agni, prana, and ojas. Agni is the luminous aspects of fire, prana is the beneficial aspects of wind and ojas is the balanced aspects of earth. When they are balanced then the self awareness that guides the individual toward actions that increase purity and luminance is attainable. I find that the translations of the yoga sutras leave me wondering where to go. In focusing the interpretation on the Ayurvedic principles we can easily see how our actions can be used to increase sattva.
The primary element that relates to sattva is agni. It is the cultivation of agni through yoga and ayurveda that leads to an increase in sattva. Thus agni is the gateway.  

Agni and the Second Sutra

The second sutra is considered to be the most important of all the sutra’s as it describes the ultimate goal of the practice of yoga. In order to understand the sutra we will look at each word in light of Agni and then we will look at how to cultivate agni in order to experience yoga.

The medium through which consciousness functions is citta and it is often translated as the mind. Through the cultivation of agni and sattva the medium/mind is pure and experiences reality as it truly is without preconceptions. Any state that is not sattvic is characterized by vritti. This is when the thoughts and vibrations they create are out of harmony with the divine reality. The mind becomes a stable flame and is no longer swayed by the winds of thought.

This inability to be swayed is nirodha- which I translate as mastery. When we become masters of our mind and it no longer controls our actions then we are free. Mastery comes from the cultivation of agni. When the sacred flame is tended through Ayurvedic principles we can experience the truth of this sutra.

Types of Agni

As Agni primarily relates to the digestive fire there are many types of agni within the body. In all languages the internal representation of truth is associated with FIRE- perspective, insight, imagine, and clarify, clear. Through the proper cultivation of Agni we can understand internally the nature of external reality. Dr Lad points out that the two agni’s associated with the mind are sadhaka agni and manas agni. Sadhaka agni is used to digest thoughts, feelings and emotions into pure intelligence. Manas agni is the fire of the mind and there are four possible states that characterize it.

  1. SamAgni (regular, balanced).
    This occurs in individuals who are enlightened. They are beyond karma and so they can choose rajasic or tamasic food and it will result as sattva in the mind. This is when agni is balanced.
  2. TiksnAgni (sharp).
    This is a state of overly strong digestion that can lead to excess mental heat. This causes rajas in the mind that is characterized by: Imposes will on others – overly ambitious for one’s self – aggressive – controlling – overly critical – dominating – manipulating – anger – reckless – vain – envious – jealous – irritable – argumentative – defensive – egotistic – egocentric – provocative – false pride – impatient with others – intolerant – glutton habits – unwillingness to surrender to god – dreams of passion and violence – attachment to success – perverse – not caring for others – never satisfied – likes praise – fault finding – advertising prowess – fanatic. Usually seen in Pitta constitutions.
  3. MandAgni (slow).
    When the digestion of the mind is slow any type of food will yield a tamasic quality. This type of mental digestion leads to thoughts, feelings and emotions such as: Dull – gross – lethargic – apathetic – spiritually inactive – coarse – slow comprehension – insensitive – attachment to past – overly addicted to food – short lived – chronic fatigue – lamenting – over sleeping – unchangeable – sleeping during daytime – overly conformist – lack of ambition for self-improvement – laziness. This is usually seen in Kapha constitutions.
  4. VisamAgni (irregular).
    With irregular routines intense periods of activity alternating with lack of interest, the manas agni becomes variable. This causes rajasic emotions such as Fearful – worried – nervous – stressed – restless – hyperactive – indecisive – full of problems – unreliable – overly talkative – noisy – disruptive – impatient with one’s self – overly excited – insecure – unsteady – moody – unorganized – unrealistic – emotionally unstable – gullible – deceptive – illusory beliefs – lack of self confidence – lack of endurance – hyper sensitive – anxious – bad habits – grinding of teeth – biting of nails – unhappiness – blind religious following – changing faith – artificial renunciation – false enthusiasm – superficial understanding – easily discouraged – easily influenced – false expectations. This type of Agni is common in Vata constitutions.

Examples of imbalanced mental Agni

Tikshna Agni – Excess Hunger, Excess Thirst, and Less Sleep
Visham Agni – Anger, Irritability, Mental Heat, Mental Sharpness, Intensity, and Sharpness or heat in breathing/speech
Mandagni – Loss of Ability to Forgive, Impatience, Irritability, Over-indulgence, and Greed

Methods for Cultivating Agni

Agni is all about feeding our mind. It is about creating and maintaining routines and rituals that suppor the mind and body. Activities such as affirmations, yoga, mantra and meditation all feed the mind in a positive way and allow the mind to become more sattvic over time. The nature of mental agni is just like a fire that you may build in your woodstove. The four states of agni descrived above are due to feeding the fire in different ways

  1. Mandagni – If you don’t feed the fire enough fuel, it goes out.
    • Strategies to balance Mandagni
      1. Avoid crude or uncultured things
      2. Enjoy uplifting music, art and books
      3. Expect positive things to happen
      4. Think positively – what you think becomes your reality
  2. Tikshnaagni – If you feed the fire too much, it becomes insatiable and tries to eat everything.
    • To Balance Tikshna-agni
      1. Don’t overdo
      2. Don’t overwork
      3. Meditate
      4. Avoid over-stimulating television programs, movies, music, etc.
      5. Balance mental activity with physical activity.
  3. Vishamagni – If you fluctuate between the two extremes noted earlier, the fire is unstable
    • To balance Vishamagni
      1. Use the above recommendations
      2. Culture uplifting friends
      3. Avoid negativity and gossip
      4. Find a place of work that is uplifting to you
      5. Take time for yourself away from your activities to reflect on your experience
  4. Samagni – you feed the fire just enough, but not too much, to sustain the flame of intelligence.

How do we Feed our Mind?

By determining what is the most common state of our mind and following the recommendations for balance, we can begin to develop a physical and mental agni that will allow for the evolution of our minds to a place described by this sutra. For more help balancing your Agni, join an Ayurvedic cleanse:

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