Obstacles on a Yoga Path and Ways to Overcome Them


Aryn Trimble

The meaning of yoga has been defined in numerous different ways, but what all of them have in common is the idea of change, the idea of positive transformation. This change brings us to a point where we have never been before – where the impossible becomes possible, the unattainable becomes attainable. One of the basic reasons that many people take up yoga is to change something about themselves: to be able to think more clearly, to feel better and to be able to act better today than they did yesterday in all areas of life. Yoga requires no prerequisites that must be fulfilled before we set out on this path. It does not challenge any belief system; it does not impose any religion. The point at which we start is very personal and individual, depending on where we are at the time

The reason we usually set out on a yoga path is because we feel that we do not always do what may be best for ourselves and for others, because we don't always truly realise the things that are happening around us and within ourselves. There are several obstacles, described in the Yoga Sutras by the great sage Patanjali, that distract us and prevent us from proceeding on the yoga path. Recognising these obstacles can help us to prepare the mind for attaining a state of clarity. The mind obstacles, or Antarayas, to success in yoga practice are listed by Patanjali: illness, lethargy, doubt, haste or impatience, resignation or fatigue, distraction, ignorance or arrogance, inability to take a new step, and loss of confidence. They manifest in feeling sorry for oneself, a negative attitude, physical problems and so on. Illness, or Vyadhi, disturbs the mind and body and it is one of the most obvious obstacles to recognise - we quickly know if we need to improve our health. The next obstacle is Styana, or lethargy and heaviness, that all of us experience sometimes. Some days we feel like we can do anything and some days we lack energy and lose the enthusiasm completely. It can be caused by eating too much, or eating the wrong kinds of food, by the cold weather or by the nature of our own mind, especially in people who are subjected to their moods. The effort must be made in recognising those moods and training the mind to resist them with performing a positive action in spite of the mood, to make the mood disappear.

For many people doubt, or Samsaya, is a regular and persistent feeling of uncertainty. When suddenly in the middle of doing something we ask ourselves, is it worth it? Am I able to do this? Perhaps I should try a different school or different teacher? Perhaps I should try to do something different? When all these things start running through the mind the progress on the path of yoga slows down or stops. To prevent this, one must search to communicate with the teacher or with good kind friends, who may encourage the practitioner, remind them of the progress that they went through already. We have to make an effort to focus on our achievements and positive points of our practice.

Another obstacle is called Pramada – acting hastily and carelessly, especially when we want to reach a goal quickly. Usually when we act in haste we do not spend enough time analysing and reflecting on what we are doing and what causes us to make mistakes and slip back instead of making progress. The effort to stay in the present and develop the awareness of every moment and every step of the practice without focusing so much of the result or the achievement can be of great help in this situation.

Next we have Alasya which is a kind of resignation or exhaustion. It manifests in self doubt. Perhaps I am not right person to be doing this, we say to ourselves and we lose passion and enthusiasm and give up. When this happens we must do something to regain our motivation to inspire ourselves to go on by thinking of good examples of people who were driven by their passions for something to achieve the impossible. Visualization can be a great help to overcome this obstacle.

Avirati, or distraction, is another challenging obstacle to overcome. It occurs when we lose control of our senses and become their slaves. Sometimes it happens without our even noticing it. It is not surprising since from our birth we were trained to look here, see this, listen to that, taste this and touch that. The senses can take over out of habit and by following them we might be lead in the wrong direction. To overcome this various meditation methods may be used to develop more awareness of our senses and our reactions to them. When we actually start noticing this we use our will power and motivation to stay on the yogic path, transcending our desires for impermanent pleasures for the sake of higher and more rewarding spiritual goals.

One of the most dangerous obstacles is Bharantidurshavana which is ignorance and arrogance it is when we start believing that we have experienced the truth and have reached realisation. Usually this feeling of having reached the top rung of the ladder is nothing but an illusion. During meditation one may experience the moments of what they think is an awakening of the kundalini, or complete peace and calm, or some hallucinations. In this case one shall seek the help of a guru or experienced practitioner and interpret one's experiences thoughtfully and reasonably, remembering that such manifestations are usually triggered by a strong ego attack.

The eighth great obstacle is Alabdhbhumikatva. It occurs when we start thinking that we made some progress and then suddenly realise how much there's still for us to do. Then we got disheartened. We start losing the interest in trying again, in finding another way to begin, in taking the next step. When this happens it is important to realise that the duration of the practice and experience of the result is different for each practitioner. The patience and perseverance of the path can perform magic. One should never compare oneself to others and should instead try to focus on the journey itself and not the destination.

The last obstacle is extremely important to be aware of. It is Anavasthitatvani or the inability to maintain the achieved results of the practice. We may reach a point of our practice that we have never reached before but we lack the power to stay there and fall back, losing what we have gained. When we look the reality in the face it is unfortunately too easy to view ourselves as small and unimportant, and this leads to loss of confidence and giving up. One must constantly remind oneself of all of the benefits of the practice and all the joy and wellbeing that comes with it.

Therefore, these are the obstacles identified by yoga which we encounter along the way not all of us encounter all of these obstacles but all of us deal at least with a couple of them. The balanced and equanimous perspective and attitude should be taken in dealing with these obstacles. We should not become too arrogant or disheartened. We must try to focus on the feeling of being a little better today than we were yesterday. As a Chinese proverb says, 'every 1000 mile journey begins with the first step'. It is a great help to work with someone who can show us how to stick with the discipline of yoga that we have chosen. And once we have chosen a teacher it is important to be able to trust them and maintain the relationship with them in order to achieve a better understanding. Following one teacher and one direction helps to discover the means and the ways to overcome the obstacles and to avoid them. Another good technique for overcoming these obstacles is Pranayama and investigation of the senses in order to quiet the mind and understand ourselves better.

Another way is by talking or reading books written by people who have experienced much suffering throughout their life and managed to overcome it. We may use their ways and techniques to solve and overcome difficulties. Also we can investigate and contemplate on the meaning of sacred texts, symbols and works of art and the people who created them. In doing that we discover some moving stories, gradually gaining wisdom and understanding and purifying the mind.

When we are confused or agitated it is helpful to look for the cause within ourselves instead of blaming other people or circumstances. Meditation and quiet investigation of our own nature and the world around us makes the mind more still. Visualizations of meaningful personal symbols and meditation and contemplation on the concept of the divine reduces the agitation in the mind and develops a more peaceful and equanimous attitude.

But most important is the all pervading and powerful desire to change, to become a better human being to connect better with the world and to reduce suffering and if we manage to awaken this desire within our very being the rest will come along with it, and the way to conquer all of the obstacles and live a peaceful and harmonious life.

The views expressed are solely those of the author. may or may not agree with all statements.

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Village Talwade, Trimbak, Nasik

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