Mastery of those (tat) – the activities of the mind – is cultivated through practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagyam).
PRACTICAL LIVING Patanjali has told us previously that Yoga is the ability to choose, focus and sustain (Sutra I.2), which requires commitment and will lead us to experience inner peace (Sutra I.3). In this sutra, Patanjali offers the first solution to cultivate that one-pointed mind. Like two sides of the same coin, we are told that we need to both practice and detach. Abhyasa (practice) is the ability to be engaged and act in life. It refers to all of the other solutions that Patanjali will later offer in Chapters 1 and 2. Merely having knowledge of these solutions is not enough: we need to act. Our personal practices remind us of that. Abhyasa reminds us that reflection is not enough, doing needs to happen as well. The actions are ideally those which help us cultivate a more focused and joyful state. This involves our relationships, our lifestyle, our thoughts, emotions, and life.
Vairagya (detachment) is absolutely necessary. There is a significant part of life that we have no control over. If we can consciously understand and remember that, letting go and allowing life to unfold in its own time allows us to cultivate vairagya. Many of us struggle with letting go – we have a need to control and know everything. Therefore, we could say that vairagya is also abhyasa for most of us: the more we practice letting go, the easier it becomes. Vairagya is also related to being okay with space. During my last trip to India one of the wonderful teachers explained this concept as the difference between grabbing onto an object as opposed to holding it in the palm of our hand. In grasping, there is a passionate attachment that eventually leads to suffering. However, in holding there is space for that object to leave when it’s the right time. What can we do to ensure that we are acting to lead an AMAZING life, yet allowing life to run its course, trusting that we will be okay? Sraddha (faith or conviction) is a key component in the abhyasa-vairagya relationship. But more on that in a few weeks :). My teacher, Robert, translates this sutra as the replacement therapy sutra: let go of one destructive thought/behavior and replace it with another more constructive action!
IN THE YOGA WORLD This idea of practice and detachment is revisited throughout the sutras. Chapter 2 begins with the concept of Kriya Yoga, reminding us of abhyasa-vairagya with the concept of tapas (action, refinement), svadhyaya (self-reflection), and isvarapranidhana (letting go of the results and focusing on the quality of the action). Later in Chapter 2, the 8 limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga Yoga) provides many opportunities to practice abhyasa. The yamas (relationships), niyamas (lifestyle), asana (body) and pranayama (breathing practices) are all limbs that allow us to engage with the world and practice certain qualities. Your abhyasa today could be: choose ONE of the yamas (ex: kindness, honesty or moderation) to dedicate yourself to and practice for a sustained period of time. The other 4 limbs – pratyahara (control of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (complete absorption) could be related to vairagya. These last 4 limbs are the fruits or results of the practices of the first 4 limbs. Since they are more subtle or internal, they are listed after the more external parts of life that we should be working on (more easily accessible to the mind, which tends to focus on the external).
The abhyasa-vairagya partnership is one of the fundamental concepts of Yoga, allowing us to act and let go on a daily basis. Abhyasa is a movement towards our internal world. Vairagya is necessary in order to let go of the attachment the senses have to external objects. Can we put down our phones and practice breathing (pranayama) for a few minutes every day?
Are there any thoughts, belief systems or actions that you are currently practicing that you could let go of and replace with new, more constructive ones? If you are having a hard time doing this alone, find a teacher, someone who can guide you, who can point the way so you take the action and walk the path 🙂
Natasha inspires me, truly. Her presence and attitude towards life makes me smile. I
have known her since we were 6 years old, but have gradually become closer friends in the past decade. This woman engages with life in a way that brings me joy. This active role she plays is reflected in her positive and fun relationships. She works hard when it is required, and she plays hard because it brings her closer to people and brings her immense joy. Her presence is felt: she is noticed wherever she is because of her active and joyful attitude towards every situation she is in. She brings joy to herself and others: that inspires me! Her wisdom in detachment is also great: she has lived some challenging losses in her life and I admire her reaction to it: she allows herself time to experience the loss but also allows life to bring new people and wonderful moments to her life.
Na, thank you for your inspiring personality and life! Every time we talk or spend time together I am invigorated! Te adoro amiga!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and we will look at abhyasa (practice) in more depth!
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One thing I do is retail therapy, or shop & sometimes buy stuff when I’m feeling down. I’m working on that by figuring out a healthier way to bring myself up again, such as painting, coloring, journaling, or practicing yoga for a few minutes. Shopping is an immediate fulfillment, but not in the long run. However, I’m learning that moving my body with purpose (yoga) or creating things is much better & longer lasting.
And please remember to add kindness and gentleness to all of this beautiful change you are going through 🙂