What Is Chitta?

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citta (the mind; thought and emotion)

Chitta Definiton

In yoga philosophy, ‘chitta’ or ‘citta’ refers to consciousness or the mind.

It is one of the four components of the antahkarana, which is the inner instrument or the inner aspect of the mind. The other three components are manas (the thinking mind), buddhi (the intellect or discerning faculty), and ahamkara (the ego or sense of self).

Chitta Deep Dive

Chitta encompasses the totality of the mind, including thoughts, emotions, memories, and impressions. It is often described as the ‘substratum’ or the ‘field’ in which all mental activities take place.

Understanding chitta is important in the practice of yoga because it is the mind that must be disciplined in order to attain higher states of consciousness and self-realization.

a computer generated image of chitta, the mind

Chitta Vritti Nirodha

One of the key teachings in yoga is to still and control the fluctuations of the chitta, which is often referred to as chitta vritti nirodha.

Chitta vrittis are the various fluctuations, movements, and modifications that occur within the chitta.

These fluctuations can be compared to the waves on the surface of a lake. They represent the ever-changing nature of the mind, where thoughts, emotions, desires, and distractions constantly arise and subside.

By quieting the chitta vrittis through practices like meditation, concentration, and mindfulness, you can attain a state of mental stillness and clarity.

This state of mental stillness and control is believed to lead to a deep sense of inner peace, self-awareness, and ultimately, liberation (moksha) from the cycle of suffering (samsara).

In essence, chitta in yoga philosophy is a multifaceted concept that encompasses the entire mental realm. It’s the canvas of consciousness on which thoughts, emotions, memories, and perceptions are painted.

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Chitta In Ancient Yoga Texts

The concept of chitta is referenced in various yogic texts, providing insights into its role in yoga philosophy and practice. Below are some examples of when chitta is referred to in ancient yoga texts:

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali extensively discuss chitta as a fundamental aspect of the inner instrument (antahkarana).

Patanjali’s teachings revolve around understanding and controlling the fluctuations of chitta (chitta vrittis) as a means to attain higher states of consciousness and spiritual realization.

Example: “Yogash chitta-vritti-nirodhah,” which means “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the chitta.” This is one of the most well-known sutras, emphasizing the central role of calming the chitta in the practice of yoga.

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The Bhagavad Gita

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna discusses the nature of the mind and its connection to the chitta. He emphasizes the importance of transcending the ordinary mind to attain a state of pure awareness and self-realization.

Example: “When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a lamp in a windless place.” (Bhagavad Gita 6.19) Lord Krishna speaks to the power of focused meditation in stabilizing the chitta.

The Upanishads

The Upanishads, ancient Indian texts exploring the nature of reality and the self, mention chitta in the context of self-awareness and the inner journey toward realization.

Example: “The mind (chitta) is subtle, and it has the power to imagine and project. It is like a camera that projects the images of the world onto the screen of consciousness.”

This metaphorical explanation illustrates how chitta is responsible for the mental projections and perceptions of the external world.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a classical text on Hatha Yoga, discusses the importance of chitta in relation to asana (posture) and pranayama (breath control) practices.

Example: “Chitta should be concentrated upon as being within the body. When the chitta is thus concentrated, prana also becomes steady.” (Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2.2)

This verse underscores the connection between the chitta and the regulation of prana (vital energy) through focused awareness.

These examples reveal that chitta is a central concept in yoga philosophy, highlighting its crucial role in achieving mental control, inner transformation, and spiritual awakening.

Yogic texts offer guidance on understanding and working with the chitta as a means to access higher states of consciousness and self-realization.

Chitta In Your Life

For yoga practitioners, incorporating the concept of chitta into one’s daily life involves understanding and applying the principles related to chitta in a practical and transformative way. Below you will find several suggestions to begin:

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Regular mindfulness meditation is a powerful way to work with chitta. It involves observing the fluctuations of the mind without attachment or judgment. By developing mindfulness, practitioners can become more aware of their thought patterns and emotional responses in daily life.

2. Self-Reflection

Take time for self-reflection and self-inquiry. Ask questions about your thoughts, feelings, and reactions to various situations. This process of introspection helps you gain insights into the nature of your chitta.

3. Emotional Awareness

Pay attention to your emotions as they arise throughout the day. Acknowledge and accept them without judgment. This practice helps you develop emotional intelligence and respond to situations with greater clarity and equanimity.

a computer generated image of chitta, the mind

4. Yamas and Niyamas

The ethical principles of yoga, known as the yamas and niyamas, provide guidelines for ethical living. Practicing non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), contentment (santosha), and other principles can positively influence the chitta.

5. Pranayama

Breathing practices, or pranayama, can help regulate the mind and calm the chitta. Techniques like deep abdominal breathing or alternate nostril breathing have a soothing effect on the nervous system.

6. Asana Practice

Yoga postures, or asanas, can help release physical tension, which in turn can calm the mind. Practicing asanas mindfully and with awareness allows you to connect with your chitta and cultivate presence.

7. Mantra and Chanting

Reciting mantras or chanting can have a harmonizing effect on the chitta. The repetition of sacred sounds or affirmations can help shift your mental and emotional state.

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8. Journaling

Maintain a journal to record your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Journaling provides an opportunity to examine the contents of your chitta, identify recurring patterns, and work through unresolved issues.

9. Mindful Communication

Practice mindful and compassionate communication. Be aware of the words you choose and how they impact both you and those you communicate with. Mindful communication fosters better relationships and a more peaceful chitta.

10. Satsang and Community

Connect with like-minded individuals in satsangs (spiritual gatherings) or supportive communities. These environments encourage positive influences on the chitta and provide opportunities for sharing and learning.

11. Sattvic Diet

Consume a sattvic diet that includes pure, wholesome foods. The quality of the food you eat can affect the clarity and stability of your chitta.

12. Non-Attachment

Practice non-attachment (vairagya) by letting go of excessive desires and clinging to outcomes. Recognize that attachment to external things can create mental turbulence.

13. Regular Practice

Consistency in your yoga and meditation practices is essential. Over time, regular practice helps stabilize and purify the chitta, leading to greater mental clarity and inner peace.

14. Service and Karma Yoga

Engage in selfless service (karma yoga) to shift the focus away from the ego and towards a sense of interconnectedness. Acts of service help purify the chitta and cultivate a compassionate heart.

By integrating these practices into daily life, yoga practitioners can work with their chitta to foster greater awareness, clarity, and inner transformation, ultimately aligning with the deeper spiritual dimensions of yoga.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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