III.9 व्युत्थाननिरोधसंस्कारयोरभिभवप्रादुर्भावौ निरोधक्षणचित्तान्वयो निरोधपरिणामः

vyutthāna-nirodha-saṁskarayor abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodha-kṣaṇa-cittānvayo nirodha-pariṇāmaḥ
vyutthāna-nirodha-saṁskarayoḥ abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodha-kṣaṇa-citta-anvayaḥ nirodha-pariṇāmaḥ

“The nirodha transformation is the saṁskara [pattern] of nirodha manifesting as the saṁskara of awakening lessens.  The moment when nirodha [is experienced] shapes citta.”

In sūtras III.9-16, Patañjali explores pariṇāma, or transformation. The word derives from pari-, “around,” and nam, “to bend”–one can imagine the universe bending things round, changing shapes. Nothing in nature is static. All changes, and we ourselves are part of that change. We will change and be changed. The question is, what part will we take in that change.

Many of us come to yoga welcoming change. We hope, perhaps, to feel calmer or more integrated, to move with more grace and less pain, to regain health. The physical experience, attention to breath, practice of awareness that is yoga does powerfully work on us–on the body, yes, and on the mind and consciousness expressed in the body, that is, on citta (consciousness, mind, “the field,” see II.4). It is transformation of citta that Patañjali describes here.

As I return to these sūtras, I am struck by how indomitable they seem, how intimidating. The commentaries are difficult, and–for me–obfuscating. I choose to stay with the Sanskrit, with Patañjali’s words. When I do that, I find a graceful and lyrical quality. He makes repeated use of the dual case and of parallel construction. This creates a rhythm of juxtaposition, coming/going, rising/falling, waking/settling, filling/emptying. The imagery stays with me.

In sūtra III.9, Patañjali uses the word nirodha three times. This is an aspect of Sanskrit that is always delightful–the same word repeated with different emphasis, with contrary meaning, even. It serves to open up meaning in a remarkable way. The first kind of transformation, Patañjali says, is governed by nirodha.

Yoga is nirodha (I.2).  Vyaas Houston describes nirodha as a power, not a power we wield, exactly, but a power that moves in us, that is us and is not us, like grace. Genny Kapuler has said it is “a melody that we like.” I love both of these, because they prompt us to look at our experience, to recognize there what we may already know nirodha to be.

In sūtra I.2, I have translated nirodha as “removal,” but I might have equally said that it is a freeing up (of possibility), an opening (of perspective); it is the new thing.

Rohit Mehta describes the process of nirodha (the process of yoga, of dhārana, dhyāna, samādhi) as a death and a birth. Yoga demands of us that we surrender our drive to certainty, our assertion of continuity (no change!). It is only in the moment of discontinuity, he says, that the new mind can be born. In his view, it is only a new mind that can experience a new thing. How does yoga bring this transformation?

Nirodha, continues Mehta, is not a forcible ending of thought process, not an exercise of will, nor does it happen by taking drugs or inducing a hypnotized state. The mind may be rendered blank by these means, he says. But this is like putting the thinker of the thoughts in a prison house. And the thinker will wait, restlessly, until released. On release, the thinker will reassert the old pattern of thoughts. The silence of nirodha, in contrast, comes from the ongoing process of saṁyama (that is, dhārana, dhyāna, and samādhi), itself wavelike. It comes from an attention and care to the mind’s story. Nirodha is a letting go, an emptying; it brings an increase of awareness, as when one feels that one has been heard. One can settle, and can attend, see something new.

The dual cases in this sūtra describe the patterns of thought of the mind. The pattern (saṁskara) of awakening (vyutthana) impressions and responses subsides (abhibhava), and the pattern of nirodha manifests (prādurbhava). A rising and settling, like a wave. An activated old pattern lessens, dissipates; and a new pattern becomes more established. The new pattern, strangely, is a patternless pattern, a pattern that allows the release of habit, concept, fixed idea, insistence on continuity. We practice letting go. The wave lifts.

It seems, then, a contradiction when Patañjali adds, nirodha-kṣaṇa-citta-anvayaḥ–the change follows the “moment” (kṣaṇa) of nirodha. This description of nirodha as a moment, a point in time, is significant. Nirodha is not a state that stays; it is an experience and then is gone. Mehta describes it as the moment of discontinuity. And because of this, it is an experience of timelessness itself. Yet it passes. Kṣaṇa is an instant, with no duration. The double imagery of nirodha as a point and as a wave is like quantum physic’s description of light as both a wave and a particle.

Painter and sculptor Anne Truitt began a journal, in mid-life, with the purpose of investigating her own artist’s sensibility, to meet herself, as it were. She writes beautifully of awareness:

Consciousness seems to me increasingly inconceivable. I know more and more that I know nothing of its nature, range, and force except what I experience through the slot of this physical body….When we love one another the most delicate truth of that love is held in the spirit, but my body is the record of those I have loved. I feel their bones as my bones, almost literally. … The love is fixed, instantly accessible to memory, somehow stained into my body as color into cloth.  –Anne Truitt, Daybook, pp. 12-13

In her description of the moments in between things, when “nothing” is happening, she presents a remarkable and everyday example of yogic process. As Patañjali has described nirodha happening in moments, so  Truitt writes that the meaning of  experience “is held in the infinitely short intervals between our sensory perception.” She describes a mother’s attention:

It is clearly to be observed in babies and young children. The mother listens to her baby. She tunes her neural receivers to the baby’s and then is able psychologically to hold her child, to prevent the child’s feeling distress. This is the bliss of motherhood, this heavenly capacity to make another human being happy. This same attunement enables the mother to catch her baby’s frustrations before they become too painful for the baby to accept. The art of motherhood is to maintain this nimble adjustment to the child’s course of experience, catching the intervals in such a way that the child can learn to explore independently without coming to harm. –Daybook, p.15

Nirodha happens in intervals, a particle. And yet that particle is part of a wave pattern, and the wave pattern shapes us, transforms our inner landscape.


“It is apparent that practices such as meditation, prayer, study and self-analysis develop nirodha. But nirodha really gains momentum when we create the inner environment in which nirodha thrives in practical terms…. By adopting sacred standards as our guidelines for living, we create an inner universe where fears, anxieties, and restlessness are diminished by faith, compassion, and clear steady focus.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.9

“The old mind wedded to continuity is averse to coming anywhere near the experience of silence. It cannot change itself into a new mind by conscious effort as the birth of a new mind is not a process of continuity. The new is born when the old dies. It is in the moment of communion that the new mind comes into existence.”–Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 297

• How do you experience nirodha? What words or images would you use to describe it?
• Has your practice brought you awareness of an interval, between movements or breaths, between articulated thoughts? Would you describe that as silence? What is the significance of the moment of interval, for you? What does the moment feel like in the body?
• What does the imagery of waves reveal to you?
• Do you suffer from insomnia? How do you experience your energy, your thoughts at that time? What helps you with sleeplessness?


neuter noun in compound

rising up, awakening (vi-, “away” + ut-, “up,” + sthā, “to stand”)


masculine noun in compound

ending, removal (from ni, “in” or “down,” + rudh, “stop” or “check”)


masculine noun, 6th case dual, “of”

impression on consciousness of past experience, conditioning (from sam-, “with,” + kṛ, “to do”)


masculine noun in compound

defeat, submergence, undoing (from abhi-, “against,” + bhū, “to be”)


masculine noun, dual 1st case

becoming manifest, emergence (from pradur, “outdoors,” + bhū, “to be”)


masculine noun in compound

ending, removal (from ni, “in” or “down,” + rudh, “stop” or “check”)


masculine noun in compound

moment, point of time (from kṣan, “to break”)


neuter noun in compound

mind, consciousness, life field (from cit, “to perceive, to observe, to know”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

connection, connectedness, succession (anu-, “alongside, near to,” + i, “to go”; anvi is “to go alongside or be guided by”)


masculine noun in compound

ending, removal (from ni, “in” or “down,” + rudh, “stop” or “check”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)

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