Introducing Abhyasa and Vairagya

Abhyasa and Vairagya describe the dual pathways of action and renunciation.  This subject examines the important role they play within practice and teaching.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali gives the 2 general means of practice. In the opening chapter he indicates Abhyasa/ Vairagya (Action and renunciation) for those who are supremely intense in their efforts and, in the second chapter he provides a second set of practices called kriyayoga – Tapas/ Svadhyaya/ Ishvara pranidhana; for those of more moderate means.

He then goes on the define the 8 limbed Astanga Yoga made up of Yama, Niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.

The different schools of Yoga define different sets of practices to achieve the Yoga practices. Iyengar focussed himself upon asana and pranayama. These sit at the centre of this slide.

In his book the Tree of Yoga Iyengar places his emphasis on his practice:

‘Mahatma Gandhi did not practise all the aspects of yoga. He only followed two of its principles—non-violence and truth, yet through these two aspects of yoga, he mastered his own nature and gained independence for India. If a part of yama could make Mahatma Gandhi so great, so pure, so honest and so divine, should it not be possible to take another limb of yoga -asana- and through it reach the highest level of spiritual development? Many of you may say that performing an asana is a physical discipline, but if you speak in this way without knowing the depth of asana, you have already fallen from the grace of yoga’.

BKS Iyengar, Tree of Yoga. Depth of Asana p.46

Read the extract Depth of Asana

This subject applies the following key terminology

The Yoga Practices

  •   Twin Pillars – Abhyasa / Vairagya
  •   Kriya Yoga – tapas / svadhyaya / isvara pranidhana

The disciplines

  •    Astanga Yoga – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi

Our practice

  •   Asana and pranayama

This subject differentiates between the skills and activities of delivering instruction, adjusting, setting up of a classroom etc and the teaching of the Yoga Practices.

Patanjali tells us that the Yoga Practices are assured, they are proven. The Yoga Practices, in effect, are the teachers – but how are we teaching these Yoga Practices? This question becomes extremely important in the context of Iyengar Yoga where our daily practices “appear” to be merely the performance of the disciplines of asana and pranayama.

It is interesting to consider that Sri Krishnamacharya, who is BKS Iyengar’s guru, also trained TKV Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois and that each of these great teachers has applied themselves to the Yoga Practices as detailed by Patanjali. Whilst each had the same teacher, each evolved their own way of teaching the practices: Desikachar, the Viniyoga method; Pattabhi Jois, the Ashtanga Vinyasa method; and BKS Iyengar, the Iyengar Yoga method.

BKS Iyengar himself has never presented his teaching as other than traditional Yoga and has fully aligned his work with Patanjali’s sutras. How he has chosen to teach the Yoga Practices has over the years been described and explained. In the article “Exploring Iyengar Yoga through technique, timings, sequence and repetition”, I have attempted to define more clearly the approach that BKS has taken to teaching the Yoga Practices. Specifically, I have identified technique, timings, sequence and repetition as methods of teaching Yoga as applied by Iyengar teachers.