When you cease to identify with the fluctuations of mind, then there is yoga, identity with Self, which is Samadhi, happiness, bliss, and ecstasy.
PYS I.12 abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah
Identification with the fluctuations of mind is stopped by practice and non-attachment.
The first sutra above answers the question “What is yoga?” and the next one answers the question “How then do we attain yoga?”.
Yoga is also referred to as a state of samadhi, the state of happiness, bliss, and ecstasy. This kind of happiness is not how we usually define happiness. It’s not the pleasure we get from eating a vegan cupcake or buying a new pair of shoes. It is not conditional. This kind of happiness is steady, like a baseline we would have, such that despite the highs and lows of life, we would be okay. This state is when we no longer identify with the fluctuations of the mind. We know that we suffer a lot because of the storylines we create, how we take things personally, how we think we are victims. No longer identifying with the thoughts does not mean absence of thoughts. It is like watching a movie unfold with a sense of objectivity. In the same way that we may be engaged in watching a movie, that we may laugh or cry, we still know it is only fictional, that it has a beginning and an end, that it is scripted. To not identify with the fluctuations of our mind is like that— we watch, still engaged, still involved, but not caught up needlessly.
How then do we achieve that? Patanjali says the elements of both abhyasa and vairagya must be present. Abhyasa is practice, commitment, discipline. It is showing up, not only when things are new and exciting, but showing up even when we are bored, even if we’ve reached a plateau, even if it rains and it feels so much nicer to just stay in bed. Vairagya is non-attachment or non-clinging. It is being able to surrender and let go, recognizing that we do not and cannot control everything, so we might as well be at peace with whatever is. These two elements are not steps, one is not a prerequisite for another. They should exist alongside each other.
When practicing asana, we can use the namaskar gesture (hands in prayer) as a reminder to infuse the two elements of abhyasa and vairagya. This gesture is a symbol of joining together what we often perceive as opposites— and practice and non-attachment do seem like they are opposites. We can then pay attention if we are pushing too hard, to the point that there is a lot of clinging. Or on the other hand, we may also be able to see clearly if non-attachment is making us complacent and not go far enough. It is a personal balance we each have to find. No one else would be able to know, and we cannot cheat our way into yoga, or there is no yoga (happiness, bliss, ecstasy) at all.
Outside the mat, finding yoga is the same. We practice and we show up, no matter what. Not only when we have a new job or exciting prospects or material success etc, but also and especially when things are tough, when we have to deal with loss or grief or disappointment. Abhyasa is to show up then, even if in the context of that showing up, all we do is breathe. Vairagya is to not fight the difficulty, to not deny it, but to learn to surrender to it so that we may get through it.
The what and how of yoga have been presented to us by Patanjali. The rest is up to us.