Yoga Sutra 13 Chapter 1, Abhyasa, continuous Effort no Distractions

“tarta sthitau yatnah abhyasah”

Yoga Sutra 13 explained:

Tarta – of the two, vairagya and abhyasa

Sthitau – undisturbed stillness,

state of being stable

Yatnah – persisting, sustaining

Abhyasah – sustained and regular practice

As per the yoga sutra 13, chapter 1, the word abhyasa stands for the continuing effort one needs to sustain in order to keep the mind one-pointed or steady. Mind will not get steady and calmer on its own or just by wishing for it, effort is required to sustain it in a steady state. One needs to make a conscious effort to keep the fluctuations of the mind under control, or arrested.

Meaning of Abhyasa – Yoga Sutra 13

Abhyasa by itself, which means continuous effort without looking back, without stopping, is required in any activity in life, more so in yoga. It cannot be a half hearted effort i.e. start. stop and start again. The original impulse has to come when the person is clear and determined, and then the only thing that comes next is to start work, or begin making the effort.

In Abhyasa there is continuous effort and there is no looking back once started. Another of the factors in Abhyasa is that the mind loses any interest in any thing that can distract the effort. One cannot ride two horses at the same time, one decides on one and live through that only. In yoga one is not concerned with small efforts which one keeps on making along the course of life.

who doesn’t do Abhyasa to make a lot of money? Who doesn’t do Abhyasa for acquiring material objects that please the senses? Yoga considers these as very ordinary kind of efforts. The main target of yoga is the complete stoppage of Citta, so the effort which needs to be made is to stop the mind from fluctuating.

Ahbyasa is the continuous effort without Distractions

Abhyasa, or perseverance is discussed in this yoga sutra as an tool or practice to help one progress on the path to achieve the highest goal of yoga, to reach the Ekagra state of the mind. Perseverance is the effort to hold the mind to the desirable tendencies and ultimately leading to the stoppage of all the modifications of the mind.

Attaining this state of the mind is very challenging, given the inherent nature of the mind – to incessantly remain embroiled in the whirlwind of thoughts. Abhyasa, or perseverance, is the main pillar in the practice of yoga. Once the direction of once progress, as in yoga, is decided effort, abhyasa, must begin. Vairagya is the direction.

Initially one has to hold on to one’s determination and go on working even meaninglessly, as the results do not seem to be forthcoming. Our mind generally objects to this seemingly meaningless effort and it begins to give various excuses to terminate it, like this work if meaningless, hopeless etc. What is involved here is the work and the attitude.

That is why the words abhyasa and vairagya are put together. Effort or Abhyasa is only possible with a mind that do not have any other interests or indulgences which can act as distractions for it. The mind is held on one and only one objective by the strong clutches of determination for the effort to be effective in the long run.

It is suggested in other yoga sutras that in order to fix the mind on one objective one can tie it down to a positive thought, or feelings like compassion and friendship which a act as aids to keep it steady.

The effort needs to be made in the direction on which the mind can be kept one-pointed for longer duration of time. A short story in Mahabharata clarifies the significance of an one-pointed mind in achieving any thing one sets its mind on.

The teacher is training the students of his ashram on the art of archery. After instructing them on the basics of shooting an arrow from a bow he asks them to assemble in front of the dummy target which they need to shoot their arrows at for a practical trial.

Just before the training begins the teacher asks all his students to describe what are they seeing in front of them at that moment. The students begin to describe the elements of the scene around the target , the trees, flowers, bushes and the sky, but none is focused on the target yet.

At his turn to answer on the same, Arjuna says that he can only see the target in front of him and nothing else. The teacher declares that it will be Arjuna who will succeed in this and all other ventures, and not the others, as his mind is fixed only on the target and not the distractions situated around it.

One needs to make continuous effort towards arresting the Citta by avoiding all the other distractions the mind can get embroiled into. Desires and aversions are some of those distractions which need to be overcome. One needs to cultivate an equally strong determination, motivation in order to stay on the chosen path and direction the relentless effort need to be made in.

Individuals who have achieved mastery over their respective chosen areas of work, art, science, or commerce, are the ones who have worked full time with a single minded devotion to their areas of interests, and have not treated it as an part-time affair. Concentrating mental energy on a limited area, or a single task helps one gain deeper insights into the task which aids uplifting the quality of the work done or the goal so achieved.

The mind can be trained to be steady by learning to meditate, or focus the mind on God, as in Bhakti yoga, or a word or string of words as in Mantra Yoga.

Conclusion: There is a famous saying that practice makes you perfect. In this yoga sutra 13 of Chapter 1 Patanjali explains the nature of Abhyasa, the effort one needs to make towards achieving one’s goal.

Abhyasa is a continuous effort, without any breaks, in the direction of one’s goal, with the mind completely focused on to and in the direction of the goal. One can achieve anything by keeping one’s mind concentrated upon the target continuously, without any other interests distracting its focus from it.