Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Prayatna Mean?

Prayatna is a Sanskrit term meaning “effort,” “exertion” or “endeavor.” It can also be translated as action or activity in general.

In yogic philosophy, it refers to the amount of effort required for one’s breathing to ensure that an asana practice is performed smoothly and evenly. Finding a balance between asana work and breathing that is perfectly between exertion and ease is called prayatna saithilya. With saithilya meaning “laxity” or “relaxation,” prayatna saithilya is said to be achieved when the body is held effortlessly by the yogi’s innate intelligence.


Yogapedia Explains Prayatna

One Sanskrit scholar from around 4 B.C.E. explained the concept of prayatna as being more specific than simply effort. In ancient texts, it refers instead to the effort made at the exact point of articulation. Thus, the term encompasses a sense of human determination and initiative. This becomes the driving force for action when it is complemented by confidence and clarity of purpose.

In Patanjali’s guidance about yoga, he discusses the need for prayatna sithila, which means breathing with the correct effort for the breaths to be smooth and long. Sithila, meaning “smooth,” is derived from saithilya (relaxation). This quality of the breath is one feature that is said to set yoga apart from other forms of exercise.

Different schools of Hindu thought place slightly different emphasis on the concept of prayatna. In the Nyaya School, for example, prayatna is split into three groups of which two are citta vrittis, or fluctuations of the mind, and the third is the effort an individual makes to maintain their life. In the Vaisesika School, prayatna is defined as exertion made with haste before the result has been obtained.

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