I am beaming with gratitude to share with you a guest post by Gary Kissiah, the author of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Illuminations Through Image, Commentary, and Design… one of my favorite sutra books I reference when writing the Sunday’s Sutras. Enjoy the post and share your thoughts, please.
Falling out of Handstand: Practice and Non-Attachment
Sutra 1.12: Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah
Restriction of the fluctuations is achieved by practice and non-attachment.
In Yoga Sutra 1.2 Patanjali defines yoga as the cessation of the misidentification with the modifications of the mind. When our minds are still, we can then rest in our true Self. This state of being or resting in our true Self is the ultimate goal of yoga.
Patanjali takes an open and inclusive approach to Yoga practice and describes over twenty separate practices within the Yoga Sutras. One of the most important pathways to attain our true Self is described in Sutra 1.12: through consistent, devotional practice (abhyasa) and detachment from the results of that practice (vairagya) we can still our minds.
B.K.S. Iyengar describes this practice as follows: “Practice is the positive aspect of Yoga; detachment or renunciation the negative. The two balance each other like day and night, inhalation and exhalation.” Iyengar also equates these principles to hatha yoga. The “ha” or “sun” aspect represents practice and the “tha” or “moon” aspect represents detachment. These principles embody the two poles of our Yoga practice.
Achieving the proper balance between a dedicated and successful practice and non-attachment to the results of that practice may be difficult because we may view these goals as paradoxical. This paradox is aggravated in Western cultures because we tend to be achievement and goal oriented.
I frequently reflect upon these twin principles in Yoga class. If I allow myself to become attached to my desire to progress up the asana ladder, I become ego-centered and try to outperform myself or other students in the class. As I become more focused on my desire to “excel”, I lose awareness of my body in the asana, I forget to breathe, I tighten my muscles and I may fall out of the pose. This happened in class this week as I fell out of my handstand because I was so proud that I finally made it upside down! However, the fall in turn, triggered a cycle of self-criticism and judgment, a focus on other students who had beautiful handstands and other distractions. This attachment to achieving the “goal” only served to agitate my mind, disrupt the flow of the practice and prevent me from obtaining its benefits.
On the other hand, if I focus too much upon non-attachment, I have a tendency to become apathetic, non-attentive and to daydream. I do not push the poses to their edge or approach them with attention and concentration. Non-attachment provides me with an excuse to avoid challenging poses and to forgo practicing with the intensity that will expand my practice. In some classes I opt out of doing poses that are difficult for me to reach such as handstand. Again, the result is that I do not reap the full benefit of the practice.
A bird cannot fly with one wing; it needs two wings to fly. To reach our spiritual goals we need both wings of yoga: practice and non-attachment. They need to be coordinated in a rhythmic flow to keep the flight path on course. If we can keep both principles firmly in mind and in balance through constant awareness, we will find that our practice will tend to be far more effective. And those of us who are challenged by handstand may find that we are able to find the pose and even hold it with elegance and stability!
For those of you in the Bay Area, Gary will be teaching a workshop: Learning, loving, and living the yoga sutras at Breathe Yoga Studio Los Gatos on April 14, 2012.
Gary Kissiah has been studying Yoga for the past 10 years at various Yoga studios in California, the Esalen Institute and Parmarth Niketan Ashram in India. He has a Certificate of Yoga Philosophy from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He is a technology lawyer and enjoys traveling, trail running, graphic design and photography. Gary currently resides in Los Gatos, CA.