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.