Sutra 1.12: Balancing Practice and Detachment
Photo by Sarah & Sunbeams
In Sutra 1:12 (Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah), the sage Patanjali continues to focus his teachings on how to calm the vrittis—the mind’s restless, swirling thoughts. Many yogis consider this particular sutra to be the foundation of a lifelong practice and the key to integrating yoga with all aspects of daily living. One translation: “The vrittis are restrained (quieted) by dedicated practice and nonattachment.”
Dedication and dispassion (abhyasa and vairagya) may sound like opposing instructions—“hold strong” vs. “let go”—but the interplay of opposites is deeply rooted in yoga. Hatha Yoga developed from Sankhya, an ancient philosophy describing the dualistic nature of the universe. The word Hatha reveals this dualism: “Ha” is the solar principle of the universe, “tha” the lunar. The word yoga (from “yuj,” the source of the English word “yoke”) joins these opposites. In yoga, we reconcile seeming contradictions—in this case, practice and detachment—to create wholeness or balance.
Yoga teacher Rama Jyoti Vernon often translates abhyasa as “checking the downward pull.” We do this both on and off the mat. In standing asanas, for example, we move against the forces of gravity, keeping the spine long, moving the torso upward toward the heavens even as the feet ground down into the earth. The physical poses train us for the mental aspect of abhyasa—returning to the mat or meditation cushion each day, even when we’re tempted to check out.
How we reconcile effort and ease is different for each individual and might shift from day to day, moment to moment. Can you sense when the tapas of dedication becomes competition or struggle? Or when ease slides into complacency or self-indulgence? Balancing practice and detachment is yoga’s self-mastery. When we become adept at reconciling abhyasa and vairagya, we take this balance off the mat and into daily life, checking the urge to give into our lower impulses. In his commentary on Sutra 1.12, Swami Satchitananda said, “Always keep your high aim to control the restless mind.”
When you can check the impulse to fall back into unhelpful patterns—a saggy Downward-Facing Dog or self-defeating thoughts—you are embodying the wisdom of Sutra 1:12. Simply put, you are learning to uplift, a lesson you take from the mat to the rest of your life.
How has yoga helped you stay uplifted when your thoughts or impulses threaten to pull you down?