What is this thing called practice?

तत्र स्थितौ यत्नोऽभ्यास​ः

tatra sthitau yatno’bhyāsaḥ


tatra Of these two (practice and non-attachment)

sthitau steadiness

yatno’bhyāsaḥ effort (is) practice.


Practice is the effort we put in to achieving steadiness of mind. So whenever we are putting effort into making our mind steady we are practicing, whether this is through asana (physical shape making), dhyana (concentrating), yama (our conduct in the world) or anything else. Patanjlai is inclusive, rather than prescriptive, there is an acknowledgement that the mind may be made steady through many means and it is the effectiveness of the means rather than dogmatic adherence to a specific path which will lead to Self evolution.


As this is a short sutra and easy to grasp I thought you might be interested in a little Sanskrit?

from this sutra let us take ‘sthitau’ and ‘yatno’.

Sthitau comes from the root class sthā from which words associated with standing come. For example tishṭhati (third person) – stands, or samasthitiḥ – same standing or even/balanced standing, or sthira grounded, steady, firm. When you begin to get your head around the root, suffix, prefix, case system of Sanskrit you begin to find a melody and a poetry in the language. A word rarely, if ever, has one meaning. Mostly words are associated with ideas, for example standing can conjure images of a statue or an ancient tree, or people waiting at a bus stop. Because there is a spaciousness in the way Sanskrit can be translated, there is room for us all to find our own understanding. The essence of the idea is captured but we are not limited by a prescriptive definition. This flexibly acknowledges the inherent limitations of language. What I call green and you call green are probably not the same colour, what I consider just and your comprehension of justice is possibly different. Words mean what we want them to mean. Remember vikalpa? metaphor or imagination born of words with no foundation in reality? We live our lives striving for understanding, often times we think this comes through language, critical thinking and study but what if it came through putting effort into steadying the mind?


Yatno is probably from the root yam via yat. The origin of yam is to stretch – which is of particular interest to asana practitioners as we are stretching our bodies in an effortful way. Or in the context of concentration/mediation we are stretching our attention, in yoga we stretch our awareness to encompass all things, rather than alone we are all one.




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