Abhyāsa & The Yoga of Action

The central theme in the Bhagavad Gītā is action; yoga being the willingness to act fully and completely without attachment to the results. For this to happen, two essential, dynamic, and highly practical principles of yoga, described both in the Gītā and in the Yoga Sutras, need to be cultivated.

The first of these principles is abhyāsa. Abhyāsa is the effort of placing one’s attention at a chosen point of focus. This effort (not to be confused with “struggle”) is something that becomes a practice by allowing it to blossom over a long period of time; to be refined through continual application, and to be brought alive through an attitude of devotion. Abhyāsa is one of the fundamental keys to living a life rich with committment — committment to fully be in the moment and to let it go as it passes.

In my counseling practice, one of the most common issues that clients face is the fear of committment. This often comes from the fear that choosing one thing fully will eliminate the ability to choose other things, and results in the feeling of being trapped. In the attempt to keep free, we refrain from action. However, refusing to act is actually what traps us. When we are afraid to act, we try to hold ourselves in place — treading water as the current of life flows by. As we do this, suffering occurs.

Also, we fear committment in action because we have been trained to think that we need to know what the results of our actions are going to be before we act. We want a guarantee that everything will turn out exactly as our egos think it should. From this place of control (which is the anthesis to growth), comes the demand that says “I want to grow and change….but I need it to look exactly as I think it should be.” This becomes the very thing that stands in the way of growth.

Another reason that we fear committment is that, both culturally and personally, we deeply fear making mistakes. This comes from the false preception that says that we ARE our choices, rather than the empowered realization that we MAKE our choices. We are afraid that if we make a mistake, we ARE that mistake. This misperception, born from shame, keeps us paralyzed and afraid to act.

From the perspective of the Bhagavad Gītā, yoga is equanimity in both success and failure. The willingness to learn from both our successes and our mistakes and to use them equally as vehicles for growth and self-realization, is the essence of yoga in action.

Committment only looks frightening from the outside in. Once there is committment to action, the very willingness to act brings with it a deep sense of peace and freedom.

As an exercise, take a moment to think about abhyāsa – the willingness to place your full attention at a chosen point of focus. What is one thing that you want to place your attention on? It can be anything that you choose. For one week, take some time in your day, it can be 5 minutes, and fully commit to placing your attention on this thing. As you do that, practice consciously releasing any attachment to the result from your action. Act simply for the sake of acting.

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