Four Basic Characteristics of the Mind

I recently went back to my Kundalini Yoga teacher training book “The Aquarian Teacher” and started re-reading it. It’s fascinating how much more I understand now after 10 years of teaching and practicing Kundalini Yoga have passed. I thought I’d start sharing parts of the book with you. The section is about understanding the mind and this section outlines the basic characteristics of the mind. They are below.

These characteristics are excerpted from page 121 of the 2007 edition of The Aquarian Teacher by Yogi Bhajan.(1)


1) The mind is largely automatic.

“Since the mind is fast and beyond the categories of time and space, it supports your actions with many more thoughts than you could ever act on. The result of this is that it is not you who thinks. Your mind thinks, not you. It floods you with thoughts, both wanted and unwanted, intended and unintended. Not all thoughts support the you which is you. You are awareness itself and not all these thoughts. You are actually carried through the soul.”(1)

I particularly like the concept that not all your thoughts support the “you that is you.” This makes a lot of sense and aligns with my personal experience. The more I’ve been able to get my thoughts under control, primarily through the breath work of my Kundalini Yoga practice, the more I feel like myself. This also helps explain why many people who practice Kundalini Yoga (and other forms of yoga and meditation) for long periods of time say “My practice make me more ‘me.’ ”


2) The mind is ever moving.

“If the mind stops, it cannot function. It is not a local phenomenon. Just like the ocean, you can feel waves that were generated from far away so in the mind, you have thoughts and feelings from the entire universe and every other person. The places and people you are most attuned to and attached to are what usually fill your stream of thoughts. As you become more neutral and non-attached, the scope of these thoughts and feelings widen.” (1)

The essential idea is your thinking broadens as you become more neutral and in control of your thoughts. This makes a lot of sense—when you are stressed and your thinking is polarized trying to decide between good and bad decisions, your thinking grows narrow. When you are relaxed and neutral, new ideas come in.


3) The mind functions best in contrasts.

“The mind seeks polarities and tends to classify things in pairs, in positive and negative, in good and bad. It seeks polarities and contrasts.” (1)

I find this charactistic helpful when I’m trying to understand if information is coming from my mind or more from my higher self (soul). Information from the mind seems harsher and more rigid. Information from the higher self seems less polarized and softer. It allows for flexibility.


4) The mind is just as material as the body, only it is subtler.

“Water exists in degrees of subtely from vapor to liquid to ice. Just so, you can think of the mind as the vapor, feelings as water and the neurons and connections as ice. The mind is a structure, a process and an energy that lets your awareness operated and manifest in this creation. You can observe it, and you can change it. You can affect it with gross things like food, powerful things like breath, and subtle things like thought. It has its own flow, structure and metabolism.

The mind itself does not stop. This is where special techniques like meditation, mantra and breath control are needed. Using the mind to try to convince the mind to be still is like trying to stop a hurricane by blowing at it. There is too much going on.

A further difficulty is that you use your mind to observe your mind. Just imagine two mirrors facing each other at a slight angle. If you put a candle in between and look into the mirror, you can see hundreds of candles, reflections upon reflections. The mind can reflect back on itself and create images within images, thoughts within thoughts.

We need to be able to affect the mind without getting caught in an infinite self-reference. To do that, we need to understand the structure of the mind, recognize the origin of thought, and consciously determine which thoughts are consistent with our true self. If the 81 facets of the mind can be controlled so that the mind perceives each thought clearly, then the mind can align with the intention of the soul. The result is effectiveness, inner and outer peace, and awakened intuition.” (1)

This is a huge topic, and there are specific Kundalini Yoga trainings about the 81 facets of the mind. However, you don’t need to take the training to understand the general concept. The mind has to be controlled so it can clearly perceive and understand its own thoughts. An uncontrolled mind will have no basis to know. And techniques to cultivate a controlled mind include breath work, meditation and mantra. This article from Scientific American shows how they are now able to study the brain and show how yoga changes the brain.  But you who are  meditating and doing yoga regularly already know this to be true. 🙂


I’ll be sharing more from this book in upcoming posts. You can read about the full teacher training manual here.


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