According to the Yoga Sutras, the core principles of yoga are abhyasa and vairagya. April’s Word of the Month was abhyasa, meaning "to practice." Vairagya is a Sanskrit term meaning "detachment." It is a state of being free from attachment to material things, beliefs and ideas. Letting go of feelings such as pride, ego, aversion, inferiority, false identities and fear, are also associated with vairagya. Together, the principles of abhyasa and vairagya take us down the ‘right’ path to achieve the ultimate goal of realizing the Self and ultimately, achieving enlightenment.
As yogis, we may develop vairagya as we are gradually drawn toward the inner spiritual source of fulfillment and happiness. Attachments and desires fall away naturally over time. This does not happen overnight but is a result of longstanding study and progress to more of a spiritual life or a desire for finding satisfaction and fulfillment within ourselves. Each of us may be willing to look more closely at our own thoughts, beliefs and judgements and may be ready to step back and reassess the beliefs by which we have lived. Letting go is often the answer to achieve great relief and happiness in this world of rules and expectations.
There are many practical benefits of practicing vairagya in daily life. Detachment from desire clears out clutter from our consciousness and allows us to experience greater levels of peace and tranquility. We won’t worry so much about what happens next and we can more readily go with the flow. Seeing and accepting our attachments gives us great power to move beyond them. Once we are able to accept them, they lose their hold over us and we gain freedom and the strength to let them go.
Besides being a great way to cultivate equanimity, vairagya helps us to see our lives from a different perspective. It allows us to step back and observe ourselves without judgment, which makes it easier to notice patterns and habits that we may want to change. This detachment gives us the ability to look at our thoughts and actions objectively, which can lead to greater self-awareness and insight into what really matters in life. A consistent practice of vairagya reduces emotional reactivity and increases patience. It increases acceptance, forgiveness, non-judgement, contentment and self-worth. This, in turn, improves our relationships with others.
In conclusion, vairagya does not mean that we disengage from the world around us. On the contrary, vairagya allows us to perceive situations clearly for what they really are and to make choices or take action based on this correct knowledge due to our sharpened sense of perception. One does not need to become a vairagya guru to receive the benefits of this practice and experience improvement in mental well-being and overall happiness. Every time we loosen the chains of desire and aversion, we create more freedom, less suffering, and move one step closer towards enlightenment.
Joslyn Shehab, M.D., R.Y.T.-200