On any given day my mind can be super focused, agitated, excited, erratic, or calm. It can be racing with ideas or sluggish and stubborn. It can be attached, fixated and resistant to change. Or it can be all over the place, wildly swinging from one direction to the other.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to yoke or unite. Yoga means connection, and by connection, I mean: connection to who you really are — your truest self, your highest consciousness. I call it the soul.
In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, an ancient text and one of the foundations of classical yoga, the second sutra says "Yoga is the stilling of the modifications of the mind." In other words, it's about restraining the disturbances that your mind offers up. I find that the practice of stilling the modifications of my mind is the practice of living life from my soul's point of view.
Think of it this way: Imagine that you're sitting on the side of a serene pond. It's so still that you can see your reflection in the water. You see your own image in the water, but you aren't in the water. You aren't the reflection, who you really are is the witness sitting on the side of the pond looking at the water. This is similar to how you can work with the mind. When you live from your soul's perspective, you can see your own image in your mind but you know you're not your mind. You're not your thinking. You're the witness of the thinking.
Now imagine that someone throws a stone into the pond. The ripples distort your reflection. Your face looks wavy and weird in the water. But you don't panic, you don't think that your face is actually changing. You know it's merely the water being disturbed. You know that the waves will pass through. You don't jump in the water and try to smooth it out, panicking because you think your face is melting off. You know that the reflection will become still as soon as the pond settles. And this is the key to working with the modifications of the mind. The mind's illusions try to trick us into believing that we are part of the disturbance. Our soul knows better.
When you live from your soul's perspective, you might look into the pond of your mind and see all sorts of waves. Depending on the size of the disturbance you might lose your reflection completely. But you know that you aren't changing, just your mind-stuff. Who you really are is the witness watching the mind-stuff be agitated. When you deliberately move your focus to your soul's perspective you find yourself back on the edge of the pond looking at the disturbance, rather than being disturbed.
For instance, you're going about your day just fine and someone sends you an email that bothers you. You notice that you're disturbed (angry, hurt, annoyed). This is where you get to work with the "modifications of the mind." You can jump into the water and swim around and try to smooth it all out. Or you can pull yourself back to the side of the pond and watch as the water settles on its own. This doesn't mean that you don't reply to the email, it doesn't mean that boundaries don't need to be set, it doesn't mean that action doesn't need to be taken. It simply means that you wait until you're taking action from the clear vantage point of the soul rather than jumping in the water trying to make all the disturbances go away.
Each moment offers you the choice to move into or move away from the mental disturbance. The practice of yoga deepens the connection to the stillness within you, the witness that observes the modifications without being involved in the disturbance. In this practice, each moment is an invitation to see who you really are and to experience the still water within your soul.