Decrease Anxiety through Understanding the 4 Functions of the Mind (Part 2)

The Four Parts of the Mind

Last week, we talked a bit about how and why we are not our thoughts. Please check out Part 1 of this series if you haven’t yet, as this is a continuation of our previous post.

Thinking is just but one aspect of our mind. The yogis have distinguished four different functions and components of the mind that must work together in balance in order to feel less mental agitation. So, the mind is not just “the thinker,” but has many other components and parts of it that must be strengthened and utilized or else the thinking will take over all other aspects of our mental capacity.

These four parts of the mind are known as Antahkarana in yoga, and I will outline them below:


  1. The Higher Mind, Buddhi:

    The higher mind is representative of our intellect and discernment. This part of the mind is our decision maker and looks at the big picture. This part of the mind inquires on the Self through questions like “who am I” or “what is it that I truly desire.” This part of the mind can see beyond the limited self and holds a more universal view of life and the Self.

  2. The Sensory Mind, Manas:

    This is a reactionary part of the mind where sensory experiences occur, including tasting, smelling, feeling, hearing, and even thinking. This is also considered a part of the reptilian mind based upon survival instincts rather than rational thought.

  3. The Storehouse, Citta:

    Citta is where all of our past experiences are stored, along with how we value them (good, bad, positive, negative, etc.). We were not often taught how to successfully process and integrate our life experiences, which leads to experiences that get caught in our mind as micro or macro traumas (we call these samskaras in yoga). Citta is the replay reel of past experiences, emotions, and thoughts over and over in our head. While its innate purpose is to benefit our survival, when we are not conscious of this mental chatter and reactivity based on past experiences rather than present reality, we begin to get stuck in a cycle of suffering and prolonged pain. Remember: this part of the brain cares more about your physical survival that personal growth or evolution. Once you make it clear to this aspect of the mind that you are safe and not in threat, it can rewire to a new reality.

  4. The Self Identity, Ahamkara:

    In yoga, this part of the mind is often referred to a the I-maker. It is a component of our ego that tells us that our experiences and circumstances in life are ours, and that identifies who we truly are. This part of the mind can either take us deeper into ego or lift us up to experience the higher mind depending on how we choose to identify. For example, if we choose to solely identify with our role at work, we are playing into a limited sense of self. If we identify with that role and that within ourselves that is much larger and more universal, we are rising into higher, more expanded states of mind.

Don’t worry if the above feels a little heady or hard to understand. Really the most important thing to understand here is that you have choices. I’ll lay them out below:

  • You have the choice to be aware of your thoughts.

  • You have the choice to question your thoughts.

  • You have the choice to identify with limited parts of yourself or the full expansive picture of who you are.

  • You have the choice to rewire your mind to your present reality rather than the past.

  • You have the choice to ask yourself big questions that have the potential to elevate you out of limited, anxious thinking, such as “who am I, really?” and “what is it that I truly want?” Remember, it’s not the answers that are important but the process of asking the questions.

If you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts, please leave a comment below or if you know someone who might benefit please feel free to do so also.

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