At times, the discipline of a yoga practice can be a struggle. It’s easy to forget this in a world of rainbow-coloured unicorns and perfect handstands on Instagram. If a yoga practice is indeed ‘practicing for life’, practicing skills on the mat that we can take off the mat, then a yoga practice should at times be a struggle, it should require effort, it should be hard. How that struggle manifests itself for any individual will be different, we all have our own demons, but building a sustainable yoga practice gives the personal space in which to identify and confront those demons.

In our October ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class at Whitespace Yoga & Wellbeing Studio, we looked at sūtra 1.12 of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras. This line begins a group of five sūtras that introduce the ‘how’ of a yoga practice. Two elements are identified: abhyāsa and vairāgya.

अभ्यासवैराग्याभ्यां तन्निरोधः

The Sanskrit word ‘abhyāsa’ is often translated to English as ‘practice’, and challenges us to cultivate a consistent practice over our entire life. An individual personal practice. One of persistent effort in our actions, our speech, our thoughts. A practice that leads to stillness, stability, tranquility, equanimity. One that builds positive patterns in our life, in good times and in bad, in times of struggle and in times of ease. Never give up.

This practice works together with ‘vairāgya’, meaning ‘non-attachment’. Letting go of aversions and fears, understanding the need to practice without attachment to the outcome. Seeing the negative patterns in our life, both the conscious and unconscious ones. Always let go.

We all have patterns in our lives, some we see clearly and others are deeply buried. Our unconscious mind, our automatic associations, attitudes and beliefs, influence what we perceive as conscious, rational decisions. These deep biases are the lenses through which our perceptions our filtered. The ‘IAT’ Implicit Association Tests developed by Harvard University measure attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable acknowledge conciously, such as biases on age, race, and gender.

The balance between practice and non-attachment given in sūtra 1.12 is sharply focused in an Ashtanga Yoga ‘led’ class, in which all the movements, the vinyasas, are counted out loud and everyone practicing follows along together. The effort of these classes is high, it’s easy to get too caught-up in the energy of the group, to lose ourselves in the practice and at the same time we’re challenged to let go of our own pace, let go of attachment to achieving a particular posture, a specific form. Find the balance.

The next ‘Monthly Primary Series’ class is on Saturday 14 November and there is regular Ashtanga self-practice and led-practice every Sunday.