Obstacles in meditation as per Patanjali Yog Sutra

As the lines from one of the main upnishads- Shwetashwar propound the fact that when a yogi meditates upon earth, fire, water air and ether, the 5 fold perception awakens. These in turns makes a yogi free to disease, old age and fear of death. Countless such description can be found across ancient texts of various traditions and thoughts. Each glorifying and elaborating the great physical, mental and spiritual benefits of yogic practices. But Patanjali’s Yog Sutra are the first treatise to list the obstacles in the path of a yogi.

These obstacles are called ANTARAYA in Yog sutra. Please note that these are different from factors that cause mind taking various forms – VRITTI and also from obstructions in attaining ultimate consciousness- KLESHA.

ANTARAYA can be clearly listed below:

  1. Disease: Just like a boat that will take you to shore cannot be with holes, similarly a disease prone person will not have enough energy to practice the discipline of yoga. Healthy body and mind is a prerequisite for a person to get in a calm and stable state. This stability in comes after initial YAMA and NIYAMA steps are done.
  2. STYAN- Mental Lethargy is one of the most worrisome issue to deal with. Over thinking, over confidence, delay and jumping to conclusions are certain traits that leads to diminishing of interest and dwindling of will power.
  3. SANSHAY- Doubt. A doubtful person will perform to his full potential. Strong conviction is the drive that helps people fight out this challenge. It is more of an inner battle than trying to get into some posture.
  4. Pramaad:  carelessness. When the attention is diverted and focus is elsewhere, practitioner misses out on important and finer points which lead to unwanted results in journey. For example while reciting Vedic mantras, right tone and pitch is of utmost importance or else the effect of the mantra can be exactly opposite.
  5. AALASYA: Sloth. Shying away from exertion and going back to the comfort zone is one challenge that every new seeker has to tackle. Initial enthusiasm takes a back seat when actual practice starts. Even at the Yama level, speaking truth and earning only what is necessary is a tough practice for any worldly person.
  6. Avirati- Non-Abstinence. Maya or world around us is buzzing with consumerism. Companies are bombarding advertisement across all media channels to attract consumers. The senses tend to be pulled towards these attractions by our conditioning over the years. Inability to control this pull affects the balance that is required to move ahead in Yoga journey.
  7. BHRANTI DARSHAN: Delusion. Wrong understanding of the technique or methodology leads to uncomfortable situation. Very important to understand that self-introspection and seeking knowledge from a GURU, both are equally important to get correct judgment or self assessment.
  8. ALABHADBHUMIKATVA: Inability to gain ground. Even after regular practice it becomes difficult to get a firm hold. It is easy to get distracted by small failures and hold back. It requires grace and guidance of a GURU to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with double the willingness and energy.
  9. Anavasthit: Instability. Without gaining good firm ground it is not possible to stay at a particular stage for long. Constant practice, devotion and unflinching determination is what a seeker needs to get over such a situation. It is not that a person faces such issue only at initial stages of yoga practice, the situation becomes more serious as one moves up the ladder. A single inclination towards the matter of the world might lead to another round of birth and death for the seeker.

As you see it is a matter of inner strength more than physical. While Hath Yog starts the journey from body towards Soul, Yog Sutra fine tune the mental faculties and moral values that are root cause of physical action of any kind.

As  a result of above mentioned obstacle, there are certain problems that bound to happen. These problems again bring diffidence and low esteem to a seeker. Yog Sutras states issues that appear due t ANTARAYA are:

  1. Dukh: Sadness. Not taking failure and criticism constructively and bogging down under the pressure of performance leads to sorrow.
  2. Daurmanasya: Distress. Being too strict with oneself for not able to continue or hold ground causes lot of anguish. Self doubt and shame makes the road ahead even worse.
  3. Angmejayatva: Nervous energy and tremors in body. Every time prana starts flowing in parts where its flow was restricted earlier, it causes tremors. It is a part of good practice and wrong practice as well. Without the careful and insightful guidance the nervousness arising from such a situation can worsen the condition manifolds.
  4. Svas-Prasvas Vikshep: Irregular breathing. Disease and over thinking, take away lot of power that can otherwise be  used for spiritual growth. Nervous movements, panic attacks and anxiety alter breathing patterns to great extent. Our breathing defines our state of mind and body better than any medical scanner. This too can be solved  by correct practice and positive attitude under tutelage of a learned teacher.

After listing out the obstacles and mental challenges that a seeker confronts, the Yog Sutra says that all these can be solved by focusing attention of one subject. This one subject can differ from person to person as later Sutras define options one after another.

Yog Sutras by Sage Patanjali are coherent, concise yet comprehensive work on human psychology, which is difficult to find even in modern times. The accuracy in which each problem and solution is given stands true even after thousands of years. In fact in an age of psycho-somatic diseases, Yog Sutras holds more relevance and should become integral part of studies from an early age.

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