Abhyasa and Vairagya: Effort and Release

In the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes two aspects of personal practice that will help us progress on our path of yoga – important qualities to understand for our practice on and off the mat.

The first is abhyasa, which is often described as sustained, consistent commitment to practice over time.  It is the effort it takes to repeatedly come back to the present moment, again and again. Distractions of all kinds abound in our world, so of course our attention is pulled away from the moment all the time. In yoga, it is the effort and subtle discipline to gently bring the mind back to present that matters. Here and now, this breath, this moment, is where it is all going on… where the truth of right action and calm may be found.  When we come back to now, it is then possible to relax our tension and breath into whatever is going on in body, mind and heart and attend to it with love.

Practicing arm balancing poses with Nadia Toraman

Vairagya is the aspect of practice, the complement to abhyasa,  and literally means ‘not getting stirred up’.  Sometimes it is translated as detachment or letting go. The essence of it is the practice of not reacting to your perceptions, letting things arise in our mind and experience without a knee-jerk reaction based on our conditioning from the past. Vairagya is allowing life to unfold fresh and new in each moment without telling the same stories about it again and again.

In the asana practice, think of a pose you have put forth considerable effort to get into over time. Suddenly you’re in the pose and the effort is balanced with a sense of letting go, release, surrender, or even floating. This is the essence of the practice, achieving a perfect balance of abhyasa and vairagya.

When we commit to this aspect of practice, confusion and judgment fall away, revealing the sweet equanimity that is the fruit of practice. This makes room for the love and light that is you to shine through!

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