Practise and non-attachment can seem to be very contradictory terms as we usually associate practise with the expectation of some sort of results. Yet together these two form the principles that the whole yoga system as we know it today rests. You might have heard your yoga teacher to say the words ”just let everything go that does not serve you”. Maybe you even liked that phrase because it almost felt like a permission to let go and relax in a world that seems to be full of demands. Yet when we hear those words in a yoga class most of us do not think that they mean we are going to let our asana practise fall apart. If anything, in this context “letting go” can easily be understood as an invitation to focus only on the practise taking place and give it all our attention.
And that is the moment when the meaning of abhyasa and vairagya – practise and non-commitment – reveals its logic to us.
To describe things as concisely as possible, abhyasa, as Patanjali explained them in his Yoga Sutras (Sutras 1.12 to 1.16), means to make consistent effort (i.e. practise), over time and even when do not feel like it (especially when we do not feel like it, some might say) to observe and follow thoughts, actions and general lifestyle choices that lead us towards a state of tranquillity. Why? Because this practise and the stilling of the mind it brings with it will help to reveal our true, “original” self, free from fears, stress, upsets and pain, all those things we so often feel our lives are filled with.
By using the word ”effort”, this sutra reminds us that Yoga is not for the lazy. Nothing great was ever achieved without effort.
– Reverend Jaganath Carrera
Vairagya on the other hand can be understood as study or process of actively recognising, exploring and letting go of everything that stands in the way of finding inner peace and tranquillity. Put in other words, vairagya encourages us not to attach any significance on material wealth (clothes, cars, our latest phone…), non-material issues (situations that makes us agitated or angry, certain exam or career results, fancy yoga poses to be posted on Instagram) or anything else that may think of as important to us. Whilst we may fool ourselves to believe that obtaining more of wealth, recognition or whatever it is we crave for, it really just diverts us from finding inner peace and at the end is more likely to contribute to further unhappiness.
Non-attachment is the cultivation of realistic, healthy relationships with objects and attainments based on understanding what the world can and cannot offer.
– Reverend Jaganath Carrera
It is of course hard to be conscious of the fact that we should not grow too attached of the outcome of our results, as after all this is very human. We might do well at work or with other projects, extremely well even and our efforts may even bring us material wealth or acknowledgement and we think we have the right to be proud of our hard work. And of course there is nothing wrong in those feelings. What we must be vary though is how we allow those attachments we have on desired results affect our mind and how we view ourselves in relation to our surroundings. Because equally, our efforts may not bring the success we wished for. How do we feel then? Do we get upset, do we feel our self-worth evaporating, do we feel we should have achieved more tangible results, feel more proud of our efforts?
In summary, abhyasa and vairagya remind us of the importance of consistent, daily and joyful practise, with a lifestyle and environment that support this, and how we must remain aware of our underlying motivations and expectations of this practise and aim to use it as a tool to experience peace that transcends external circumstance.
And that requires constant, conscious effort. That’s why we call our yoga practise a practise in a first place.
The blockquotes are from the sourcebook for Yoga Sutras I use – you can read more about the book here.