Insightful Yoga: The 5 States of the Mind and What To Do About Them

Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind. Then there is abiding in the Seer’s own form.
— Patañjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The mind is constantly fluctuating as your emotions ebb and flow with the patterns of your life. The practice of yoga aims not to end that fluctuation, but to allow you to reach a state of balance where even the highest of highs and lowest of lows can be approached with a clear awareness, focus and intention. However you have reached your moment of awakening, it has likely created within you a longing to learn more, experience more, and grow more. To navigate the stages of the mind, you must first recognize them and DROP what you know to make SPACE for honest personal inquiry. Pantajali defined 5 states of mind in his yoga sutra that can guide you in recognizing your mental state and how to grow with it.

  1. Wandering (Ksipta)

This is described as the “lowest state of mind.” In this state you may feel agitated, unable to fully comprehend your thoughts, experiences, and communication with others. You may hear the term “monkey-mind” to characterize this uncomfortable state in which you may find yourself stuck in unhealthy cycles that bring continuous pain into your life.

What to do:

Recognize your destructive patterns and make an honest effort to change them. This can be a physical cycle, like unhealthy eating habits or lack of exercise. Or it can be personal and emotional. For example, how does your self-talk benefit or harm you? It can involve our communication with others. Do you find that your relationships tend to follow a similar pattern? What role do you play in that sequence and how can you improve it?

2. Dull (Mudha)

You are now aware that change is in the air, but still lack real focus and awareness. You may find yourself forgetful, unable to communicate as your true self, and only able to focus on material concerns or the day-to-day hustle without awareness of life’s subtle nuances.

What to do:

In this state you may still find it challenging to drop what you know and refocus your attention on what’s really important. Especially when faced with difficult times or new adjustments in life, remind yourself of your purpose, your intention, and your true self — especially in those moments where you feel like the last thing you have time for is meditation and yoga. You will find that staying aware of your spiritual self, even amid the mayhem, will allow you to move through life’s changes with a newfound ease.

3. Restless (Vikspita)

As you begin to reach a higher awareness, you may experience a sense of restlessness as your mind alternates between moments of clearness and distraction. This confusion may make you indecisive and not entirely in control of your actions, but at least able to notice and contemplate the subtleties of life.

What to do:

This is a time to focus on meditation, your tool for staying still and focused while combatting the monkey-mind. In meditation, you enjoy brief periods of peace and clarity that are hard to hold on to. A regular meditation practice will make you better able to grasp those moments and make them a way of life.

4. Focused (Ekagra)

Now the mind is both relaxed and aware. The internal chatter subsides and the potential of the mind becomes clear. As you find it easier to focus, you lose the restlessness, confusion, and agitation because you can now concentrate on one subject with an open, honest heart and without successive distracting thoughts.

What to do:

The journey isn’t over, yogi. Use your new one-pointed state to trickle through your daily life. Sense things with more than your five senses and allow your ego to subside as you now have control over your thoughts, actions, and desires.

5. Arrested (Niruddha)

You are now able to hold one single successive thought in mind. Complete stillness is the ultimate enlightenment, and the quieting of thoughts is achieved entirely, allowing you to glide through life without a reaction to its fluctuations.

What to do:

Continue your yoga practice. Continue to constantly analyze your mental state and your connection to the universe. Continue making progress in your yogic pursuits and looking for new ways to grow and develop.