Abhyasa and Vairagya: The two pillars of success in Yoga

Avoiding the extremes is the key to success in Yoga. “One has to be temperate in food and recreation, exercise self-restrain in work and moderate in sleep and in waking” says the Bhagavadgita. Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (non-attachment) the two means to achieve success in Yoga also point to the balanced path towards transformative and safe yoga. To put it in one line – never give up and always let-go is the mantra for success in yoga.

Yoga stands for chitta vritti nirodha or “to calm down the fluctuations of the mind”. By so pacifying the mind we reach our original state of unperturbed silence. This calming effect is the main objective of any yoga training. It is only when the mind is steadfast in calmness that we can tap our inner potential and realize our original state.

The practical utility of chitta vritti nirodha is the pleasant experience of balance and equanimity felt within the body and mind. For such transformation to occur within, we need a careful training in Yoga. Fortunately, the ancient Yoga master Patanjali has provided us with substantial sensibilities to achieve this inner transformation.

Abhyasa – practice and vairagya – non-attachment are the two basic interrelated sensibilities to remain steadfast on the path of yoga with sure success. Abhyasa means to be perfectly fixed in our effort. The effort here involves the attainment of chitta vritti nirodha. It includes continuous effort in the practice of asana, pranayama, meditation, wholesome action or any other yogic practice towards attaining a peaceful mind. A beginner usually utilizes the body by practicing asana to reduce the fluctuations of mind.

If we continue to refine our effort in yoga only through abhyasa, there is high possibility that abhyasa or practice may turn our asana into a competitive sport or exercise with the aim of attaining some static or predetermined goal.  This is because abhyasa-how so ever good it may be-will have its own impressions or samskaras which slowly collect together to make a habit. A habit is always a mechanical and unconscious process which always denies a larger part of our life experiences. Secondly, habit will create its own waves in the mind to make it fluctuate. To check our practice turn robotic, and to keep our spiritual growth in the right direction, Patanjali gives another essential tool as vairagya or non-attachment. Non-attachment or the awareness of let-go, keeps us alert and our practice conscious.

With non-attachment we open ourselves into the balanced attitude towards practice. When we learn not to associate much with our practice, it not only helps in avoiding unnecessary waves that practice generate but also connects us to deeper intentions of contentment and happiness residing in heart. Non-attachment breaks the unconscious pattern within us to open new insights and perspectives.

Therefore, cueing students in the asana with a balanced attitude of abhyasa and vairagya helps ensure that they feel motivated in their practice while feeling free of attainment-related expectations. In other words abhyasa stimulates us to perform activity towards bringing a stable state of tranquility and vairagya withdraws us from activity to let go all abhyasa for actual experience of the state of tranquility.  

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