We we use the term “standstill” we usually think of stagnation and the need to move forward. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras the term “standstill state” has another meaning. The Yoga Sutras’ objective is to lead us to an understanding of the dynamic of conditioned consciousness so as to then allow this dynamic to subside of its own accord.
The key technical term around which all of the Sutras circle is the term >>vrtti<<, and it basically means the form which conditioned consciousness takes as it acts itself out through the individual small self (ego).
Here is a short definition:
vrtti = the form of the movement of this citta (mindstuff), that is like a vortex or whirlpool due to the dynamic of attraction to the desirable and the repulsion of the undesirable (I want this; I don’t want that). This drawing towards and pushing away creates a spin in consciousness: the vrtti. It is often equated with the English word ‘modifications’. The English words ‘patterning’ and ‘turnings’ also give a good picture. (source)
After this basic introduction I now move on to how this subsiding of the vrtti-movement can be understood (taken from the excellent book “The Authentic Yoga” by P.Y. Deshpande pp. 32. 33):
“We have seen that the vrttis are of two kinds, painful and painless. Vrttis become painful as a result of one’s identification with them. Identification is entanglement with vrttis. Non-identification results in disentanglement. Opting for ‘not-choosing’ results in non-identification.
When choosing ceases, the momentum of past, impregnated vrttis slows down. This process of slowing down of vrttis results in gradual disentanglement from them, because, having ceased to choose, one becomes a mere onlooker of vrttis. To be a mere onlooker is to be a ‘seer’. When one remains a mere ‘seer’ one sees that vrttis (born of past impregnations) appear, stay for a while, and disappear.
And then a stage comes when one sees that the disappearance or absence of vrttis continues for a while. This interval devoid of vrttis is called >>sthiti<< – a standstill state. This is an entirely new ‘happening’, not of a phenomenal nature (in which the continuity of events remains unbroken), but of an altogether different order of being.
And because of this extraordinary ‘happening’, there comes about an energetic interest in this sthiti – an interval devoid of vrttis and, therefore, of time. This energetic interest is called abhyasa. Persistence in this abhyasa, as stated in Sutra 14, results in laying down a firm foundation for Yoga.
Thereafter, this persistence in abhyasa, a state in which one is a mere onlooker (seer), brings about a loss of craving for all that one has experienced or heard in the past. Such a loss of craving or appetite for objects of experience and objects indicated by words, is in fact a disentanglement from identification with vrttis. Such a state of disentanglement is called vairagya (dispassion).”