Over the years I’ve come to view my yoga practice with a sort of ”it’s all about the journey” mentality. My classes with Bob Whittinghill at Yoga Circle have enriched the journey considerably! I’ve recently opened up (no pun intended) to learning about the philosophical underpinnings of yoga. With that in mind, I asked Bob to discuss two related concepts that he has mentioned in class: abhyasa and vairagya.
How are they defined?
According to the Yoga Sutras, freedom, or samadhi (absorption) can be attained through yoga’s “twin pillars” of abhyasa and vairagya. In the words of BKS Iyengar, “Abhyasa is the art of learning through the cultivation of disciplined action.” It is effort sustained over time to attain a steady state of mind and body, encompassing the intense efforts of the ashtanga (eight-limbs) model of yoga, including the practice of asana and pranayama.
Vairagya is defined as detachment from desire, or renunciation, called by Iyengar, “the art of avoiding that which should be avoided.” Learning to control the (desires of) the senses and eventually withdrawing them toward introspection is the path to self-realization.
How can a yoga practitioner integrate these to enhance daily practice?
These principles are the elements, or the “stuff,” of all yoga practices, a steady effort balanced with a cultivation of detachment from the expectations and outcomes of our actions. Steady effort includes the disciplines of asana and pranayama, and the observation of the ethical precepts of the yamas and niyamas. Our regular practices should strive within and toward the evolution of abyhasa and the involution of vairagya.
Can you choose an asana and demonstrate the relevance of abhyasa and vairagya within the context of the pose?
These two principles, and their practices, are in evidence within the context of one’s asana practice on many levels. For example, abhyasa should guide and inform one’s approach of the poses which require application of tapas, or zeal–like the standing postures.
The regular practice of savasana is the cultivation of vairagya,which is pursued and refined further in the recuperative poses and the practice of pranayama.