Yogic wellbeing depends on what we do, and what we don’t!

Yoga presents a two-fold approach to the path of self-transformation, termed abhyasa and vairagya. The first, abhyasa, is what we do to progress towards the goal of yoga. The second, vairagya, is that we move away from things that disrupt our yoga path. The details of abhyasa and vairagya in the classical Yoga Sutra text are aimed at leading us to a still mind. That is because that inner stillness is the goal of classical yoga.

However, beyond the classical yoga definitions, this duo remains relevant to all our efforts to move towards greater wellbeing and positive change. There are things we must do to progress towards wellbeing and positivity shifts, and there are things we must leave behind. Both are important.

For instance, healthful nutrition depends just as much on what we eat as what we do not eat. Whole, natural, nutritious food is great for our health. Ultra-processed food or too much sugar is damaging to our health. We know this. But we may find it difficult to stay away from the latter.

This “staying away from” principle is relevant to all our senses. Our inner calm is influenced by what watch with our eyes, and by what we decide not to watch. If we binge-watch a disturbing TV series, it can linger in our mind, reminding us of those scenes when wish to sit calmly in meditation.

The challenge, yoga acknowledges, is to distance ourselves from what harms us, but without unpleasantness or upset. We cannot shut ourselves away from all experiences that may just possibly be harmful to us. A normal life is also about a variety of experiences after all. Very few of us are ready to leave all our life behind in the pursuit of inner transformation.

Forcefully denying ourselves the things we enjoy, even if they are unhealthy, often boomerangs on us in the long run. Cravings may grow instead of disappearing. Vairagya, non-attachment and withdrawal, cannot be forced.

What can we do instead? We can cultivate balance and wisdom, with patience and perseverance, and seek centering and pleasant experiences inside us. And when we choose to stay away from an experience, we can gradually do it from a place of wisdom.

With time and growth, we should be able to say to an experience, “I do not need this” from a place of inner clarity. When we grow our inner self in that way, we will realize that we truly do not wish for some of these experiences. We know where it takes us in the long run—it brings more disturbance to our body and mind. Those experiences do not hold positivity for us, in balance. We have had enough, we feel.

When we let go of what diminishes our wellbeing from a place of such experiential insight, that change will last. That is the wisdom behind vairagya!