The obstacles (antarayas) that lead to lack of mental clarity (citta-viksepah) and therefore bring suffering are: physical disease (vyadhi); mental heaviness (styana); doubt (samsaya); carelessness (pramada); lack of vigor (alasya); excess desire (avirati); extreme perspective (bhrantidarsana); inability to move to the next stage (alabdhabhumikatva); and regression (anavasthitatvani).
PRACTICAL LIVING There are 9 obstacles, or triggers for mental agitation, that we encounter as human beings. These obstacles create mental disturbances and encourage distractions. The more vulnerable we are to these interruptions, the more difficult it is to reach a state of Yoga (mental clarity and inner peace).
The 9 obstacles and how they manifest are the following:
1. vyadhi – illness or physical disease creates pain and discomfort of sickness, draining our physical energy and preventing us from feeling alive. We have all experienced physical pain in some way or another and know the feeling of becoming self-obsessed with that discomfort and the power it has over our minds. Illness often triggers some of the other obstacles as well.
2. styana – mental fatigue/heaviness or psychological strain, prevents us from thinking and acting properly. This obstacle can be a result of many things, but regardless of the cause, mental heaviness pulls us down, often leading us to a destructive outlook on ourselves, others and life in general. In this state of lack of foresight it is frequently difficult to take action and engage in life in a wonderful way.
3. samsaya – includes both confusion and doubt. Frequently in need to know everything and control every single detail of our lives (and of others), we over-analyze situations and opinions, ignoring our intuition, or inner trust. In a world that presents us with numerous options from career to partners to travel destinations and dining, we forget to just feel and do, and we instead over intellectualize, which results in doubt and confusion. Faith and trust – sraddha – (Sutra I.20) are essential ingredients in the path of Yoga.
4. pramada – haste, blindness. An agitated mind results in negligence, lack of discipline and clarity. Unable to pause and reflect – atha – Sutra 1.I, we desire things to change now, this very minute, and act impulsively. Lack of patience and the inability to see things clearly results in suffering for ourselves and often of those around us too.
5. alasya – a physical sluggishness manifesting as sloth or laziness. This state can be associated to physical illness or doubt, and typically is related to conditions like depression. Excess sleep, television, video games are good examples of today’s alasya. This is a state of physical paralysis and prevents us from living the vibrant lives we want to live.
6. avirati (a = non, vi = dis, virati = attachment) – two negatives emphasize the positive – when the senses are extremely greedy for stimulation (overindulgence) we grab onto objects, people or ideas in order to ‘feel better’. Avirati is closely linked to various degrees of addiction, where one will use external stimulus to avoid emotions that have not properly dealt with. This over attachment provokes extravagance, intemperance, and an excessive desire for superficial pleasures.
7. bhrantidarsana – an illusion, an ill-grounded opinion or a narrow-minded perspective. Frequently related to the previous obstacle, this illusion causes us to grab onto some idea that makes us feel good, causing us to consider things exclusively from one angle. Fanaticism is caused by this obstacle, whether it’s an opinion on politics, education, pregnancy or Yoga.
8. alabdhabhumikatva – inability to progress or to reach the goal we have visualized. Factors such as a lack of patience or perseverance may paralyze our progress and distract us from goals which require energy, effort and persistence. This failure leads to irritation and anger with oneself. This obstacle can be related to many of the previous ones.
9. anavasthitatva – regression, or the inability to maintain the state we worked hard to attain. We may have worked hard for a job, a certain state of mind through Yoga, a peaceful state in a relationship, but are unable to keep it up. Like my wise mother says, any relationship requires a daily “watering of the plant” to maintain its health.
In summary, these antarayas are all connected and often work in unison. Physical illness causes heaviness. A heavy mind is one in permanent confusion because it doesn’t have the ability for comprehension. With lack of clarity comes carelessness and lethargy. In a state of disconnect with our inner light, we lose connection toward a higher goal, causing us to seek for sensual pleasures to ‘fulfill’ us. The last 2 obstacles refer to the inability to reach a goal, or reaching it and then losing it. This happens in life, and if we accept that, move on and start all over again the first 6 obstacles don’t agonize us.
IN THE YOGA WORLD These 9 obstacles can be related to another concept Yoga presents us with when describing the material world (body, thoughts, emotions and nature, in general). Nature can be described as changing in three different ways: rajas (fast, like fire); tamas (slow, like a rock); or sattva (balanced, in the appropriate way). The obstacles show that we tend to be either in a state of extreme rajas (desiring, attaching, anxious to get something or somewhere) or in a state of tamas (heavy, lethargic, dull, unable to act or change). Sattva is clarity, it’s the state we are aiming to cultivate more and more through reflection, action and letting go (an important model we will study later in Chapter 2).
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Chikaroo is the person that comes to mind when I write this sutra. Our friendship has been bathed with numerous enriching conversations about life and the obstacles we encounter. Through these conversations I grow. She triggers my reflective side to pop up. Her thirst for change, for inner peace, for a great life makes me smile even as I write this. Her sattva (balance) comes out clearly in her generosity, her playfulness, her curiosity for life and how it’s different on all corners of the world. My first LA friend, I thank you for all your love, your time, your awesome dance moves and spontaneous times together! Love you so much Chik!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will look at how we can become aware that these obstacles are taking root!