Practice Non-Attachment: Abhyasa & Vairagya

Written by on July 1, 2017

July Sage Theme of the Month

Practice Non-Attachment: Abhyasa & Vairagya

“Let go and go beyond living the dream, by dreaming the reality, into a reality beyond the dream.”
Tom Althouse, The Frowny Face Cow

If you are an avid follower of astrology, you will see in many reports for July that many planets are going into a volatile alignment with the Sun, which will create lots of tension and opposition on a personal and global front. This will all culminate on July 9th during a very intense full moon when the alignment of the moon, Pluto, the Sun and Mars stir up a storm of chaos that could potentially spin everything out of control. Even if you don’t follow astrology, the unfolding of global events from April until now have been one upping each other like some kind of race towards the most damaging possible outcome.

We don’t have the power to alter the alignment of the stars, but as human beings with free will; we do, however, have the ability to raise our level of conscious awareness. This month when you find yourself swimming in a sea of intense emotions with a short temper, make a conscious decision to practice NOT responding and NON-attaching to volatile situations.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, in the first chapter, he highlights two core principles on this journey we call yoga: “abhyasa” and “vairagya” – Practice and Non-Attachment. He says that the two work together, and with consistent practice, we can remove our attachments to fears, doubts, worries, and any cords that bind us to a sense of false self. I meet so many clients who identify themselves with temporary and non-lasting attachments. They all have in common an underlying fear, anxiety or anger that stems from over-attachment to a false identity. It could be an emotionally dependent lover who constantly is frustrated and let down by their partner because they don’t understand how to be whole on their own. Or an overzealous career junkie who sees themselves fading from the limelight. Or an aging dancer or model who cannot accept how to evolve their way of living after 30. So whether you’re emotionally attached to another person, to a career, or anything as trivial as your looks. Eventually, there will be some kind of disappointment and suffering, in varying degrees, if we do not learn to ‘let go’ and disengage from the thoughts, words, actions which disturb our middle ground … our so-called Zen.

There are two words for practice in the sutras, abhyasa and sadhana. While sadhana refers to the specific yogic techniques of working the mind, body and breath system, abhyasa focuses on the decision making process. It is about practicing to CHOOSE the options in life that promote the greatest amount of even-mindedness.


Non-attachment is not detachment. Detachment is a technique of disconnecting from an attachment, while NON-attachment means the interface between the subject and the object never occur in the first place. An example would be two different people who have quit smoking: Mary sees a cigarette and craves it. She has to repeat a mantra in her head to resist the temptation. While Jane sees a cigarette and has absolutely no attraction nor aversion to it. This is the difference between non-attachment and detachment. Detachment is a stepping stone towards non-attachment.

The most essential way of describing this concept is to practice “letting go.” It doesn’t mean to suppress our cravings either, which is a huge misconception, which is why there are so many cases of sexual misconduct in the Church with priests taking vows of celibacy. They are in fact suppressing their sexual urge,when they have not successfully undergone the process of non-attachment. It eventually erupts into an ugly expression of perverted sexual angst taken out on innoncents. Vairagya is about developing awareness of our attachments, and then slowly with this awareness, we loosen the binds to the attachments. This is a gradual process that happens through constant practice.

An exercise to practice this is to list your top 10 attractions and top 10 aversions (people, objects, etc) on paper. Then, rank on a scale of 1 – 10 how attached you are to these attachments. Now that you are aware, work on detachment with mantra, and check back in a few months to see how attached you are. It may seem that we are trying to make our lives less colorful and boring. The reality of the matter is that through this practice, we learn how to truly let go, and free ourselves from the chains of emotional bondage. Through this practice of CHOOSING to strip down to our rawness, we come more and more into contact with who we TRULY are.

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