Non-Attachment & the Yoga Sutras

In our last article, we looked at the first few yoga sutras and what they have to say about the states of the mind. In short, our mind can become more still through practice, or we will remain trapped in the patterns of our thoughts and our habits. 


The sutras take this further by saying Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah, or through practice we can cultivate non-attachment. Non-Attachment is an idea that comes up in several ways in the paths of yoga, meditation, marital arts, and other practices, and it is not always the easiest concept to understand right away. 

Caroline Myss, ph.D, explains it well in a talk with Shannon Allgeo. She says, “Imagine you are at work one day, and you don’t know it, but your boss just ate a very bad meal and feels awful. When your boss walks by with a grimace on his or her face, doesn’t acknowledge you beyond a glare, and storms by seeming angry and frustrated, we usually wind up with stories in our head.”

Immediately our mind begins constructing thoughts about what we did wrong, why this person is upset? Is the company closing? Am I getting fired? Was that report I wrote full of errors? We make the whole thing about us. We attach ourselves to someone else’s story and experience. 

The reality is the person ate a bad meal, a shabby donut, and they feel sick. But we craft all of these ideas, all of this stress, all of this anxiety, which only leads to our own suffering, about something that actually has nothing to do with us. This is attachment, injecting ourselves into everyone else’s experiences and missing what is actually real. Most things don’t have anything to do with us, however we don’t think that way.

Although the actual number is subject to some discussion, experts in the field of neuroscience, meditation, and psychology report that we have somewhere in excess of 20,000 thoughts per day. Left to its own devices, the mind churns thought after thought, continually narrating your experience to you and generally putting the spotlight of other people’s experiences squarely on ourselves. Non-attachment, or Vairagya, comes from practice or Abhyasa.

Vairagya, or non-attachment is the subject of the 15th yoga sutra. It says in essence, when we let go of seeing the world through self-colored glasses, we begin to help free ourselves of the cycles of craving and aversion. We step off the wheel of suffering, and find peace. The Bhagavad Gita, another seminal text of yogic philosophy, says, “Our free will comes from the ability to discern what is real from what is not.” Practice (abhyasa) of non-attachment (vairagya) brings wisdom (viveka), our ability to see the truth of who we are.


Adam Schifferli