The Path of Abhyasa & Vairagya

Abhyasa and Vairagya are for the most determined sadhakas. What makes the best kind of student different it is a deep faith in the yoga goal which helps in keeping their materialistic pleasures under control. This absolute clarity in the spiritual faith helps them forge ahead with abhyasa and vairagya. Both are interconnected and vairagya can be inculcated through practice, starting with small but consistent efforts.

Types of Yoga Students

There are different types of yoga students, according to their chitta (mind) state. For each chitta bhumi (mind type) there is a recommended yogic path for reaching the goal. Some need to work more on themselves than others, taking gradually all the eight steps of Patanjali, moving from gross to subtle. Those are the mudha (dull) and kshipta (restless)-minded students. Others, with vikshipta (fluctuating) mind, need to focus on Kriya yoga, which includes tapas, swadhyaya and Ishwara pranidhana. Abhyasa and vairagya represent the path for the best and most dedicated students. They help in transcending from ekagra to nirodha mindset, which is the goal of yoga. For any chitta, for any yogic path taken, what matters the most is how sincerely dedicated you are to your sadhana! All the rest comes with time and practice.

“Yoga chitta vritti nirodha.”
अभ्यासवैराग्याअभ्यां तन्निरोधः ॥१२॥

What are Abhyasa & Vairagya?

abhyāsa-vairāgya-ābhyāṁ tan-nirodhaḥ ॥12॥
The state of yoga is attained via a balance between continuous practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya). ||12||

Abhaysa means repeated practice and commitment, that does not get dull. Enthusiasm of the practice makes a difference- it can ignite the inner light or can put it out. The same abhyasa can have opposite effects. Enthusiasm is like oxygen to the flame. Also, right amount of abhyasa is crucial. If you blow a candle light too hard, it goes out. But if the breath is right then it makes the flame glow. So abhyasa can move you forwards or can bring you backwards, depending on those factors. Abhyasa is the right practice with the right effort with the right attitude.

Vairagya is detachment. Avidya and the kleshas may be very sneaky, while you are progressing. Detachment means to do not identify yourself with that which you are not. It is also the letting go of the fruits of your practice, detachment from expectations, results, people, ideas and anything else which alienates you from the goal of yoga. Opposite of vairagya is raga, or attachment. Vairagya is not running away, is not renunciation. How can you overcome your attachments if you avoid them? No, you need to face them, see them objectively and act accordingly.

Abhyasa and Vairagya are both equally important in yoga, and can be followed only by the best kind of students. Their minds are stable and not easily distracted. The other students need to practice techniques such as Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga prior, because they have less control over their desires.

On the path of yoga what must remain are only two factors - deep faith and complete focus towards the goal- abhyasa and vairagya.

Commitment and Attitude

There are few who follow the path of Yoga sincerely. For them, Abhyasa and Vairagya are the shortcut, taking them to samadhi. They put in continuous efforts till the mind is fully controlled. The question is how truly committed are we? If really dedicated, we can reach the highest. Otherwise, if our efforts are not consistent, we are simply playing around, and not really practicing yoga. Showing off your “skills” on social media does not correspond with the correct attitude too.

The Limbs of Yoga

In the practice of yoga, we move from gross to subtle levels, with our physical body being the grossest. Remember the pancha koshas- from annamaya kosha (our physical body) to anandamaya kosha (our bliss body). In this sense, all limbs (steps) of yoga are equally important. That is why we practice yama and niyama, asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, concentration and meditation.

There is no practice that can be regarded as unimportant. Even a cleaner in a corporation is an important person with his own duties, and we cannot say that he is less important than others because people may get sick if there is lack of hygiene. This comparison of one thing better than other is always present but must not be. The ethical and moral disciplines, the physical and energetic techniques, the breathing processes and meditation are all different methods of gaining the same inner knowledge.

Are You Ready for Abhyasa & Vairagya?

With time and progress, the higher stages of yoga may look scary when we are in a lower stage and are not yet ready yet for them. No step should be taken for which we are not entirely prepared. You may be intellectually prepared but morally and emotionally unprepared. You may be emotionally prepared but intellectually not ready. In the worst case- you may be physically prepared but morally unprepared. This is a prove that everything must go hand-in-hand – our bodies, our emotions, our knowledge and moral values.

According to Vyasa, the best student of yoga is one who possesses the various requisites and is imbued with intense non-attachment. The spirit of vairagya has been grossly misinterpreted by its association with renunciation. Renunciation in fact is sannyasa and not vairagya. Vairagya is an intellectual quality which is attainable only through such mental habituation to non-attachment as is awakened by the virtue of discrimination, indifference and enlightenment.


The practice of vairagya takes enormous patience, inner strength and effort–so be prepared for this skill to develop slowly and gradually. Fortunately for us, vairagya has four stages, according to Sankhya Karika, that allow us to practice at the level best suited to our abilities. The word rāga refers to impurities or kaśāyas. The word kaśāya means color or in this context, stain in the citta. In essence, these impurities are the two emotions of rāga and dveśa- attachment and hatred.

The 4 stages of Vairagya are:

1. Yatamana- A stage, where none of the kaśāyas have been removed, but where an effort has started to remove them.

Here, the effort involves restraining the senses from the sense objects. At this stage, the sadhaka has recognized that there are impurities in the heart and wishes to get rid of them.

2. Vyatireka- This is the stage where some kaśāyas have been managed, while others have not.

Vyatireka refers to discrimination between those kaśāyas that are deactivated, and those that are not. For example, one’s sense of hearing may no longer be attracted to non-devotional music. But one’s tongue may still not be under control. When one knows this about oneself, then one is at the stage of vyatireka.

3. Ekendriya- the stage where all kaśāyas are managed, but a curiosity for the sense objects remains.

Here none of the senses are capable of running toward sense objects. However, there is still a curiosity (autsukya) or taste/longing in the citta.

4. Vasikara- Complete loss of any lingering taste. This is the stage of complete control over the senses.

Vairāgya is the third characteristic of the buddhi. The other three are dharma, jñānam and aiśvarya, which we will discuss in another article.

Nowadays, we are slaves of the senses, and the senses are never complete or totally focused in any direction. When the eyes are active, the ears do not function. When the ears are active, the eyes do not function, and so on. It is very difficult to find an occasion when all the five senses are alert and concentrated. The system of yoga is a kind of discipline that offers us a total view of things.

But how are we to find out if our understanding and feeling go together? This is a difficult task, because many of us are incapable of making a subtle analysis of our own nature. We are prone to choose the easiest- doing the least action in the fastest time possible. We do not want to practice because effort is always regarded as a kind of pain.


In yoga we cannot say which stage ends where, and where which stage begins. There is an interconnection of one with the other. We cannot say which works first and which works afterwards. The circulatory system, the nervous system, the excretory system, the respiratory system, all systems are all working simultaneously. We cannot say the asana comes first and the meditation comes last. Everything is together. With this in mind, the yogi figures out what he has to do next.

The yogi has to control the mind. He has to remove the vrittis, the modifications of the mind. How is this done? Sage Patanjali says by constant practice towards the goal. Even such a simple act as walking was a very difficult thing when we were babies, and we fell down many times and injured our knees; but now we can run. Practice makes perfect.

abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tannirodhaḥ (Y.S. 1.12).

The nirodha, or the cessation of the modifications of the mind, is affected by two consistent efforts: the spirit of detachment, and continuous practice.

A deep, whole-souled concentration or absorption of the mind on a given subject, object or concept works wonders. It brings about a miracle by itself. Vairagya and abhyasa should go together.

But vairagya is the most difficult to achieve. The condition of vairagya is generally defined as ‘not to need an object’. We should not be in need of that object. Not that we cannot get it, or we are exerting not to think about it, and so on—that is not the case. We have no necessity for it.

There is no vairagya without abhyasa, and no abhyasa without vairagya—practice and dispassion. In the system of Patanjali this is sometimes regarded as the whole of yoga, and if we are well established in abhyasa and vairagya, we are already rooted in yoga.

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