August 22, 2022
Practice & Detachment
If someone were to ask you what the cornerstones of a yoga practice are, you might think about the breath, or perhaps the bandhas. You might also think about alignment, or possibly even the yamas and niyamas. And while those things are all important aspects of yoga, there are two concepts in particular that encompass all of those components and more.
In Sanskrit, the words are abhyasa and vairagya. If you’ve taken a Teacher Training or studied the Yoga Sutras, you might have heard these words translated as “practice” and “detachment,” which is not wrong. But as with most things in yoga, there’s more to it.
As the great teacher Georg Feuerstein says, “Abhyasa doesn’t simply mean ‘practice.’ It means the correct practice for a given practitioner on a given day, or in a given moment.” In other words, abhyasa means checking in with yourself to consider your physical, mental and emotional needs, and then choosing a practice that will address those needs. As much as you might love an intense, sweaty power yoga practice, there are bound to be days when a yin practice is more appropriate, and vice versa. And sometimes, the correct practice might just be going for a walk, or reading a book, or simply being friendly, or sitting quietly and observing nature. It all depends on your circumstances, which are constantly in flux.
Then there’s vairagya, which for many people presents a bigger challenge. Essentially the concept of vairagya is encouraging us to seek peace and fulfillment within ourselves. On one level, this means not basing our contentment on material possessions, titles or other external things, which is no small task in a culture that tends to glorify material success. Vairagya isn’t encouraging us to not have things. It’s simply encouraging us not to base our happiness or self-worth on what we have or don’t have.
On another level, though, vairagya also means finding joy in our efforts, rather than the results that come from them. Or, as the Upanishads say, “Let work alone be your reward, never the fruits thereof.”
For most people, especially those of us who grew up and live in the west, which tends to be a very results-driven society, the concept of finding joy in the work and not worrying about the outcome is very foreign, and very hard to put into practice. But I’m here to tell you it’s not only possible, it’s actually essential for success on the yoga path.
Whether your goal is to find peace of mind, or to stand on your hands, or heal an injury, or let go of some pain or resentment, or something else entirely, the important thing is simply that you practice to the best of your ability with awareness, with determination, with curiosity, honesty, enthusiasm, patience, consistency, courage and faith. These are the building blocks of an effective yoga practice, and the more you can bring them into your practice, the more you will find yourself rising to new heights. Guaranteed.
And if that list of ingredients feels like a lot to remember, don’t worry. Just keep abhyasa and vairagya in mind, and do your best to honor their true meaning. It’s been my experience that if you do that, good things are bound to happen.
Below are some recommended practices as always: