The classic definition of yoga is “Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah” (Yoga is the calming and quieting of the turbulence in your personal energy field. –PYS 1.2) Okay, so what exactly is a “personal energy field?” It sounds like some vague, new age hooey, “Back off, Man! Your negative vibes are polluting my personal energy field!” But, further study reveals that the Yogis, as scientists, were actually quite clear and methodical in breaking down the components of chitta.  Let’s take a closer look at the chitta– all those things that make us who we are, and inform how we perceive and move through the material world.

Chitta comes from the Sanskrit word “cit”, which means “to collect.” In the Yogi’s Roadmap, Bhavani Maki writes, “The chitta is our personal energy field, the individuated field of consciousness, and the repository of every experience we have ever had.” Its four distinct parts are forever intertwined. Knowledge is power, and understanding the “technology of consciousness” can help reduce unnecessary distortions and suffering in our lives.

ManasThis first part is all about intake and output. How we draw in information from our surroundings, and the way that we respond to it. The jnanendriya refer our senses. The five sense organs of eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and skin are how we acquire information about the material world…what we bring in. The karmendriya are our organs of action – what we use to put things out into the world. They are the hands, feet, mouth, sex organs, and organs of elimination.

AhamkaraThe EGO. This part of our consciousness is like a toddler – or teenager…completely self-absorbed. The ego spends its time looking for what makes us special and unique. It’s the internal critic, as well the bravado. Its very survival depends on convincing itself of its separateness. It is completely one-sided. It is the lower mind that’s caught up in the illusion of separateness. It is concerned only with self-preservation. The ego is a vital part of our make-up, but gets us into trouble when it’s left alone, unchallenged, to run the show. It’s the ahamkara that grasps and clings to our beliefs and resources, often at the expense of everyone else. It can be incredible persuasive and is excellent at rationalizing. Yoga teaches us to look beneath its knee-jerk selfishness and tap into a deeper lever of understanding.

BuddhiOur higher state of consciousness. The buddhi views the world through a panoramic lense. It is our deepest knowing, our conscience. It recognizes the connection between all things. It is that wise little voice that whispers beneath the loud proclamations of the ego. It is the part of us that sees the truth underneath the lies we tell ourselves. It is our intuition and our loving compassion. It’s that part of us that always knows the right thing to do.

ChittaThe subconscious mind. This is the deep, dark swamp that conceals every experience we’ve ever had, the hidden judgments we hold about them, and the habitual patterns we’ve adopted in response. It is the repository for all of our latent beliefs and thoughts about the world, and our place in it. Yoga contends that we cannot question or challenge the biases contained here until we bring them out into the light of our conscious awareness. If you’ve ever overreacted in a situation, and then looked back and wondered, “Where the heck did that come from?” chances are good that your subconscious has been tickled.

Let’s explore an example of how this all comes together. Imagine you have a disagreement with a friend. She defends her position by saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Suddenly you blow up, yell hateful things to her, and storm out. You feel self-righteous, attacked, and angry. Later, after you cool down, you’re embarrassed and regretful of your outburst, and recognize that perhaps you didn’t have enough information to state your opinions as fact.

What happened? You heard her say that you didn’t know what you were talking about. (Jnanendriya– senses). You forgot that your mother used to say the exact same thing when you were young. It made you feel unheard and unimportant. (Chitta– sub-conscious mind). You felt the need to get loud so you could be heard and acknowledged (Ahamkara– ego). So you yelled and marched off. (Karmendriya– organs of action). Once the dust settled you were able to consider her point of view, and admit where you may have been confused or off base. (Buddhi– higher consciousness)

Yoga is self-exploration. It demands honesty and compassion. If we are curious and motivated, we can gain wisdom from the above situation. We get to see the ego at work, uncover a hidden trigger, and explore a habitual response to feeling unimportant. With this new information, we can honor our friendship, offer a heartfelt apology for overreacting, save an important relationship, and weaken the pull to react the same way in the future. Otherwise, we can dig in, convince ourselves that we are right and she’s a jerk, and sacrifice a valuable connection in our lives…and it probably won’t be the last. Yoga practices encourage self-examination and personal responsibility. They help us untangle our “stuff” and clear our personal energy fields of distortion. Then we can be present and open in every situation, see each interaction for what it truly is…an opportunity to connect, and respond in a way that increases peace and harmony in our relationships.