I.12 अभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोध:

abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyāṃ tan-nirodhaḥ
abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyām tad-nirodhaḥ

“The state of yoga (nirodha) happens by means of abhyāsa and vairagya.”

Having defined yoga as nirodha (sutra I.2), Patañjali here describes How yoga happens–by means of abhyāsa and vairāgya –often called the two wings of yoga. As the flight of the bird requires both its wings, so the path of yoga involves a twofold and balancing application of these contrasting actions. What are they?

The word abhyāsa (commonly translated as “practice”) derives from the prefix abhi, towards, and the root as, to throw; it could be understood to carry a sense of aiming at something. Indeed, the practitioner “aims” his or her mind toward a point of focus. (Siddhartha, the name of the Buddha,  literally means “one of powerful aim.”)  Abhyāsa also carries with it a sense of repeated action and of continuity; neither missing the target or hitting the target is a one-time thing.

Vairāgya (often translated as “nonattachment”) comes from the prefix vi, away from, and the noun rāga, passion. The act of choosing a point of focus involves a choice and that choice requires a letting go, a detaching from past matters of concern or worry. That choice is also a commitment, an opportunity to identify with the seer and enter the calm flow of attention that is nirodha.

Vyaas Houston describes how he uses abhyāsa and vairagya  in teaching: “The practical application of the yoga principle of vairagya is the agreement that concepts such as ‘slow’ and ‘stupid’ come only from the past, are irrelevant to the immediate learning experience, and therefore are to be relinquished. What takes precedence here is the commitment to vigilantly remain as the seer.” (From “The Yoga of Learning Sanskrit,” by Vyaas Houston.)


“While in Practice there is the putting of effort, in Dispassion there is obviously the cessation of effort. How can these two exist together when they contradict each other? And yet it is in their Co-existence that the secret of freeing the mind of all vṛttis lies. Their co-existence denotes a state of relaxation in the midst of tension, of inaction in the midst of action, of silence in the midst of noise.” –Rohit Mehta, “Yoga, the Art of Integration,” p. 26.

“Practice without nonattachment can lead to a superinflated ego that relishes using power to satisfy self-interest regardless of consequences. Many demons in Hindu mythology were advanced yogis who fell from the path of righteousness when they succumbed to a tragic flaw, usually a burning craving. On the other hand, without the strength and mental clarity gained from practice, true nonattachment may never really dawn. Instead, the mind can slip into apathy. This faux nonattachment can provide a temporary haven for the fearful—a spiritual façade where they can hide in order to avoid challenges and responsibilities. When fears remain untouched, innate capacities remain undiscovered. We become Clark Kent, never knowing that Superman lies within. It is practice that mines our untapped inner resources.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 35


• Commentators emphasize the interconnected nature of abhyāsa and vairāgya. What is the interplay of these two aspects of yoga in your experience? Are they sequential or simultaneous?
• Are you temperamentally more attuned to making an effort or to letting go?
• Has yoga helped you experience “silence in the midst of noise”?


masculine noun in compound

practice, repetition (from abhi-, “towards,” + as, “to throw”)


neuter noun, 3rd case dual
this ending emphasizes the dual nature of abhyāsa and vairāgya

nonattachment (from vi , “away, + rāj, “attract,” + ya, suffix that creates abstract noun)


pronoun in compound

of these (refers to vṛttis)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

ending, removal (from ni, “in” or “down,” + rudh, “stop” or “check”)

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