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Patanjali Yoga Sutra: Vikalpa Vritti

Maharishi Patanjali succinctly defines Yoga as: Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodha or Yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind.

There are five types of mental fluctuations (or vrittis) which help us get a better understanding of the workings of our mind. He says these five vrittis can be painful or non-painful. They are:

  1. Valid Cognition (Pramana)
  2. Misconception (Viparyaya)
  3. Imagination (Vikalpa)
  4. Sleep (Nidra)
  5. Memory (Smriti)

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This article focuses on the third vritti: Vikalpa. Vikalpa or Imagination is one of the 5 types of mental thoughts or vrittis. It means fantasy or illusion.

We are all no strangers to creating our own little imaginary drama theatre by going over and over every tiny detail of a past event. We depress ourselves over the “what if”, the “if only” storylines which could’ve lead to different results. As human beings, this is something we all indulge in from time to time. Daydreaming and worrying about the future by playing out worst case scenarios is where anxiety thrives. Mulling and obsessing over the past is how we go on accumulating generous helpings of guilt. 

Although controlled imagination, creativity and visualization (known as Kalpana) is beneficial in daily life, Vikalpa is uncontrolled, unproductive, and random.

Classical yoga suggests letting all vrittis, including the Vikalpa, go and not to fall for fantasies and the trappings of our imagination. Instead, we should call its bluff and recognise its emptiness through yoga and meditation.

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