PYR Ambassador Izzy Shurte explains how she incorporates these two concepts into her practice
Two important Sanskrit terms that I use nearly constantly in my practice, in teaching and in life, are Abhyasa and Vairagya from Patanjalili’s Yoga Sutra 1.12 which states Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah. Abhyasa is a word that means a practice, a discipline or study. Vairagya means non-attachment or disinclination. Tannirodhah is a composite of a couple of words that means to restrain or control and specifically restraining the turbulent turning of the mind.
On its face, this verse is a practical bit of instruction for meditation. Pick an Abhyasa, a technique or practice, and repeat it. Repetition or habit is another translation of Abhyasa. When the mind or body strays away from the practice, Vairagya (detach from the distraction), returning to the Abhyasa. This works well as a basic introduction to the skill of meditation, which requires lots of toggling back and forth between the skills of Abhyasa and Vairagya and results in mind states that are more settled and less surly.
This verse can also be broadly applied to skillful living. Moment to moment, it is helpful to have clarity regarding what our Abhyasa is. In other words, what are we cultivating or inviting into our lives? Moment to moment awareness of the direction we wish to travel can help us make choices that materialize our heart’s desire. Confusion around direction can create detours and suffering. With a clear understanding of what we are practicing, we can also filter out what is extraneous or even incompatible with what we want. Upon recognition that we are off course and closely tied to our Abhyasa, we have the power to let go, Vairagya, refocus and correct.
At the metaphorical level, contemplating these concepts acknowledges that at any given moment we are either moving in the direction of what we want…or doing something else. In order to cultivate and manifest what is in our heart (Abhyasa), we must be honest with ourselves about what is NOT compatible with that vision (Vairagya). We may need to clean house and let go of patterns that are currently draining us of time and energy and essentially taking up space where new more helpful patterns may emerge.
Have you heard of the ways meditation can improve your day? Join us every Wednesday at 6pm for one of our weekly meditation classes: Finding Stillness Through Meditation with Jena Morrison, PhD.
This class is a 20-minute guided meditation done in the style of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR meditation (mindfulness-based stress relief). It’s perfect for anyone wishing to start a meditation practice or for a more experienced practitioner to revive their existing practice.
Here is a bit more about this special meditation class from Jena!
What has been one of your favorite moments during this class?
One of my favorite moments during class is when everyone is reluctant to leave after the class has finished. The lingering, slow-moving, relaxed movement is the embodiment of what it means to be mindful. And, it’s exciting to see students who have attended a session return the following week with a friend or family member in town. They’re so excited to share this feeling of mindfulness with others that they care about.
What first brought you to the practice?
I’d been curious about meditation for a while, but it was finally my own anxiety that led me to my practice. Finding some quiet for my monkey mind has been a blessing. And, while I still struggle with my own practice, the struggle is a lesson in itself. The brain is like a muscle – you just need to continue to work it out to see the results.
How do you think meditation benefits the world today?
Mindfulness is immensely useful. Research shows that it helps with mental clarity and focus, handling strong emotions, treating mental illness, and improving memory. It also improves your relationships with those around you by allowing you to respond rather than react to a situation. Some research even shows that it grows grey matter in your brain! My personal research links mindfulness to overcoming the effects of stereotypes in society and improving test grades. These are just a few of the things a regular meditation practice can do. But, my favorite is improving your quality of sleep. I find that I sleep a great deal better and fall asleep faster when I maintain a regular practice.
How has PYR impacted you and your life?
I first found PYR back in October of 2014. Jim Temple used to lead meditation during the days there and suggested I check it out. That December I finally got brave enough to try a yoga class. I went to Sarah Humphries’ Saturday morning EnJoy yoga and have been hooked ever since! I love that PYR welcomes everyone from all stages and backgrounds of life and has such a deep appreciation for both diversity and service to others. And, PYR emphasizes the importance of self-care. This really appeals to me as both a sociologist and a psychologist. It’s also important to me to serve others in some fashion, and PYR gives me the opportunity to do so. I love the chance to pay it forward by providing meditation to others at the same place where I first learned to practice.
We love practicing meditation with Jena every Wednesday at 6pm and we hope to practice with you soon!
Finding Stillness Through Meditation, Wednesdays 6-6:30 pm at Project Yoga Richmond
Reflection from PYR Ambassador, Elisa Hayden: Mindfulness on the Mat at Boushall Middle School.
“Twice a week, my co-leader, Sara Lovelace, and I would walk into a middle school gym not sure what to expect. Each week, we introduced intentionally planned yoga practices, in hopes that these students, ages 11-13, would feel some relief from the everyday stress of life.
We worked a lot on self-reflection; on who we are as individuals, what makes us unique, how we react to situations, and how we can find calm in those moments. I was constantly amazed by how receptive the students were to this.
“Lay down and close your eyes. Think about something special in your life. Breathe in (1..2..3..) And breathe out. Then, (gong), then think about something you want to do in the future. – Mindfulness on the Mat Student
Sometimes, at the end of sessions, we don’t really know what impact the work will have on our students. We hope, as teachers, that they take the tools that they have learned and apply them to their lives every day. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s normal. However, this time around, we had the students write their own meditations based on their favorite parts of class and we were blown away. They ARE listening. They ARE getting it.
“Get in a comfortable area or position. Then relax your entire body. Dream that your back in your house or castle and then you see snow outside. You wish you can go outside but you have no winter clothes. So then you try to create your own winter clothes. You go outside and you breath the winter air.”- Mindfulness on the Mat Student
These small practices that seem simple to us as yogis have a much greater effect on our lives than I think any of us will ever know. I am so glad that I can share this with youth since their days bring more stress now than ever before. It is an honor and a privilege.
Mindfulness on the Mat Students, Boushall Middle School 2017
Support Yoga for Youth
It is hard for me to find words that describe how my heart felt after this past session of Mindfulness on the Mat at NextUp Boushall. I have always felt something pulling me towards working with youth and this session just proved why PYR is doing the work that it does.
I think one of the most vital parts of PYR is it’s heart, and the hearts of the ambassadors who make up the studio and outreach programs. It is incredibly powerful working with someone who has the exact same passion for this work, along with the same desire to make people, especially pre-teens, feel seen, valued, and heard.” – Elisa Hayden
“OK everybody start taking deep breaths…Then start to think about the best time ever. It might be a birthday party, it could be your friend came over. Whatever it is think about what made it the best time ever. Take deep breaths. Inhale…Exhale… Think about where the best time ever took place. It might have been at home, at school, at the park. Think about who was there with you. Take a deep breath…inhale…exhale. It might have been your mom, your dad, friend, enemy. Then start to think of what you did. It might have been played video games, ate pizza, played tag. Take deep breath…Inhale…exhale. Wiggle your finger and toes. Now stretch. Whenever you ready you can get up.” -Mindfulness on the Mat Student
by PYR Ambassador Amy Taylor
Hey there, PYR supporters! Thank you for making the world a more mindful place.
Research tells us that mindfulness practice helps reduce stress, improve performance and enhance relationships. It makes sense. When we calm down and get centered, life flows more smoothly.
Yet it’s so hard for most of us to unplug from the outer world and plug in to our inner power source. This is where yoga comes in to work its magic.
Yoga is the gateway.
Yoga allows us to “do” something that feels great, strengthens our bodies, improves our health and — oh yeah —requires that we step away from the clamor of the world and tune in to our inner voice.
When we practice yoga, we are practicing mindfulness. We focus on the breath. We guide our wandering minds back to the present. We grow more mindful by the moment. And we are changed by the effort.
Sometimes, when I leave a yoga class, I notice that trees seem greener as they dance in the breeze. Birds sing in harmony. The air smells like cotton candy. Often, I’m inspired to reach out to a friend or take action towards my dreams.
Always, I’m grateful to be alive.
Exercise alone never gave me those side effects. I believe it’s because practicing yoga makes me more mindful.
History tells us that yogis practiced asana, or physical postures, in order to build up the stamina to sit in meditation, which supported them in attaining advanced states of spiritual consciousness.
Honestly, though I have practiced yoga for 18 years and taught for eight, I have been unable to sit still and meditate on a regular basis. Or at least I didn’t choose to make it a priority.
That changed this year. Maybe all those years of yoga practice prepared me. Who knows? But now I have a daily meditation practice. It’s a source of true bliss.
Project Yoga Richmond offers Mindful Meditation for 30 minutes at lunchtime on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These classes are a wonderful way to weave mindfulness into your days and your life. Give them a try.
Or just give yourself credit for practicing mindfulness whenever you step on your yoga mat. You are building physical, mental, emotional and spiritual stamina that will nourish and sustain you, our community and our world.
So thank you, PYR community! Your mindfulness matters.
Visit our class schedule to see what meditation can do and find the class that is right for you!