Patanjali says “Vyadhi styana samsaya pramadalasya virati bhranti darsanalabdhabhumi katvanavasthitatvani citta viksepas te n’tarayah” – which is translated as – “disease, langour, doubt, carelessness, laziness, worldly-mindedness, delusion, non-achievement of a stage and instability”. These nine experiences cause the mind to be distracted, and as a consequence, they are obstacles on the path of practice.
What do they mean?
‘Disease’ is pretty straightforward – you need to be in good health – if you aren’t the consequences of disease – pain, tiredness, frustration etc can keep one’s mind distracted, and practice hard to sustain. Always consult your doctor and practice good self-care if you suffer from a chronic condition. Having a long term condition requires discipline in it’s own right – and with good medical care, and by looking after yourself – yoga included – it may not be an obstacle. But Patanjali says here, ‘dont beat yourself up’ – recognise it for the obstacle it could be and work around it!
‘Langour’ – is a sense of tiredness or inertia. Lancashire Yogi’s mum called this listlessness. Her favourite tip was to tell the teenage Lancashire Yogi – to go out for for a walk and some fresh air – later Lancashire Yogi would continue with this tip and repeat a mantra as he walked. Picking up the urge to declutter or clean the house is another way to crack the langoured feeling! Remember too – the Persian saying “this too will pass”.
‘Doubt’ – it is said that one needs an unshakeable faith or belief in the efficacy and benefits of yoga. Once one starts to doubt one’s practices – it can drive a wedge into one’s mind and all of a sudden Lancashire Yogi finds himself easing off the pedal, relaxing and then lazing – and becoming side tracked! Without becoming a yoga bore or yoga obsessive Lancashire Yogi thinks that its important to remain faithful to the practice and the disciplines of the eight limbs of yoga.
‘Carelessness’ – Lancashire Yogi, in his enthusiasm and ascetic approach tends to push his body beyond the edge his boundaries. He can often hear Kit Hartley his brilliant teacher saying “back off – dont strain”, which is good advice and he does follow it, but because he is enthusiastic or hard on himself, he pushes and more often than not he ends up pulling a muscle and in Lancashire Yogi’s book – that’s carelessness. But like all of these things – this obstacle is a life obstacle – take care, more care, less haste….all good advice. And worthy of attention.
‘Laziness’ – just when you think you cant be bothered and would rather slump infront of that cathode ray tube…you need to shift perspectives and jump in the pool, or go for a walk or a run…or do some yoga. Lancashire Yogi finds his mind gives him millions of justifiable excuses to be lazy. ‘Internet research’ is a great excuse for laziness. A regular, and disciplined practice is probably the best cure for laziness!
‘Worldly-mindedness’ – for Lancashire Yogi – William Wordsworth said it as well as any – and he’s a poet so that’s even better – “The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers: Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”. The world could be said to be illusory, certainly it and all of its tricks and tips can hook us like a fish on a line. Best not be dazzled or fooled by the wiggling worm or other tasty morsels on the hook! Maybe this was why Matsyendra was stuck practising in the big fish for twelve years – pratyahara – to avoid being hooked by all that is so tantilising about life!
‘Delusion’ – which although we tend to think of as a psychiatric term – it actually means taking a thing for what it is not. This is due to a lack of critical reasoning, intelligence and discrimination. By taking an object, experience or other aspect of life, as something that it is not – it is easy to be fooled into an entaglement in the weft and warp of that rich tapestry of life – and lose one’s way in that entanglement. Sometimes Lancashire Yogi thinks that with life and like Theseus in the Minotaurs labyrinth, we all need a length of Ariadne’s golden thread to help us through lives mazes and labyrinths. Interestingly that golden thread is often regarded as logic or critical reasoning – the very thing to cut through the delusions that we can be fooled by.
‘Non-achievement of a state’ – this refers to the stages of establishing the mind in the states and stages of Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi and beyond. To Lancashire Yogi this is about taking two steps forward, and then finding that you are three steps back. You progress well, only to falter and fail when you think you are progressing well. It can be a bit of a shuffle forwards, shuffle back, kind of life but knowing that this happens is enough – as is remaining patient and giving yourself to your practice.
‘Instability’ – like the ‘non-achievement of a state’ – you can get a strong footing in your practice, or into a rythm of practice and then find that your grip or your pace can be lost. Losing your hold at a particular stage of practice can be disheartening, but similar to, for example climbing – if you have laid good foundations – and supports – you wont find yourself falling back too far.
These are such common obstacles to practice that anyone practising yoga or related disciplines will recognise them. Lancashire Yogi certainly does. The first step is to ‘surface them’ – to be aware of them, and like a soldier knows his enemy – know them – to deal with them.