Definition: Composed of the prefix ‘abhi’, which means toward, or into, and the verb root ‘aas’, which means to sit. Therefore, the linguistic and etymological understanding of the Sanskrit word ‘abhyasa’ is sitting facing the goal.
Rock climbing is a challenge we face against ourselves. To complete a long climb we have to be willing to make many attempts – learning the territory through many falls as we develop strength, confidence, and fearlessness. The climber cannot actually see the top, so she must persevere without a guarantee of success in sight. In the end, the effort is rewarded with an expansive View.
“The very heart of yoga practice is abhyasa – steady effort in the direction you want to go” — Sally Kempton
1.14 sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih
When that practice (abhyasa) is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation. — Patanjali
To progress in any discipline requires effort. Your body, mind, energy, and emotions must be repeatedly harnessed in the direction of your intent to realize your goals. In the case of yoga, abhyasa is whatever we do to maintain spiritual awareness and expansion.
If our mind fluctuates wildly, our effort is to remain a witness. If our body becomes filled with inertia, our effort is to develop dynamism. If our hearts become dull and unfeeling, our effort is to awaken sensitivity and compassion. If we become completely self-absorbed, our effort is to serve others selflessly. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “abhyasa is the constant practice of any one of the yogas.”
Aim to develop a skillful blend of effort and ease in all that you do. In yoga, vairagya, or letting go, is the counterpoint to abhyasa. Just as a rock-climber needs to exert effort and intelligently chart their course, they also trust that the next available hold will appear when they need it. You too need to know when to plan, when to act, and then release fear, anxiety, and unnecessary tension by trusting that you’ll receive what you need at the right time.
It’s important to remember that obstacles are a natural part of the path, otherwise we may become disheartened. When your sense of abhyasa is established even obstacles become opportunities for expansion – this is your insurance policy against complacency and your growth contract with the universe.