Generally we can consider the vrittis as types of thoughts but they are broader than that. There are five main fluctuations that affect our outer consciousness:

  1. Correct knowledge (pramana)
  2. Incorrect knowledge (viparyaya)
  3. Imagination or fantasy (vikalpa)
  4. Sleep (nidra)
  5. Memory (smrti)

We all are subject to these five turnings in our minds, and they are not necessarily bad. Correct knowledge can help us do the right thing at the right time. But we can also do the right thing for the wrong reason; even incorrect knowledge can be helpful at times. The truth is, these fluctuations can be good or bad. Even right knowledge can be used in a harmful way. We have often seen things done with the best of intentions turn out drastically wrong. It not that these vrittis are good or bad that makes them worthy of study, it is their effect upon the state of our mind that is of interest. These turnings of the mind obscure the view of our real self and need to be calmed. Like the surface of a mountain lake on a clear moonlit night (our mind) when still, reflects perfectly the full moon (reality). But with even a small ripple, caused by a vritti, the moon’s appearance is distorted.

The vrittis are the whirlings of the mind.

Yin yogis, like all practitioners of modern yoga, can gain from understanding the Yoga Sutra’s model of citta and the vrittis. Knowing that these five vrittis are operating during your practice, and during your life, can help you increase your ability to calm them. Being aware that the mind moves in notable, observational ways gives you a way to understand what is arising. Knowing that the vrittis exist gives you the opportunity to watch for them.

(Next: Kriya Yoga )