The Bhagavad Gita begins with Arjuna on the battlefield with Lord Krishna. He is faced with his friends and relatives and is told to kill them. It is a symbol of the inner fight we face in meditation – those who are closest to us are our sense organs.
The inner battle creates many obstacles when we meditate. Patanjali also mentions nine obstacles on the yoga path which are like rocks lying on the path in the Yoga Sutras.* They do not appear in any particular order.
The first obstacle is vyadi, or illness. Pain and sickness create a disturbance in the mind and we need to do something to improve our health in order to go on.
The second obstacle is a heavy state of mind – styana, lethargy, or mental stagnation. The mind feels stuck and we don’t want to move. We are affected by our moods. It can have several causes from the weather to a poor diet.
The third is samsaya, or doubt. We start to question everything we are doing in our yoga practice, whether it is good or bad, and whether we should change direction. We might start to question our teacher. This kind of doubt is not to be confused with svadhayaya which is positive self-examination and analysis of mind that is an important part of the path.
The next obstacle is haste, pramada. If we are impatient, and in a hurry to reach our destination, we can lose our footing and slip. We need time on the path to think about what we are doing: to study and reflect.
The fifth obstacle is alasya, a fatigue and lack of motivation. It is when we are stopped by thoughts such as, “Why should I do practice? Why me?” We lack enthusiasm and there is no energy. Enthusiasm is very important – so if we are faced with this obstacle we need to act to find the reason why we are walking the yoga path again.
Then there is avirati, sensuality, or distraction of the five senses, which try to take over our mind, and bhrantidarsana, when we think that we have reached our goal when we have only had an experience that shows that we are going in the right direction. Mind is very tricky, and changes its subject all the time. Ego has a big kingdom. It says, I am great, I know everything. But it is only an illusion. Like a mirage in the desert, or a piece of rope in a dark room and we imagine it’s a snake.
The eighth obstacle which Patanjali mentions is alabdhabhumikatva. It means that we can make some progress and then get mentally stuck because we realise how far we have to go, and we just want to give up, when we need to simply carry on, carry on.
The last is anavasthitatvani, when mental distractions cause us to lose confidence and fall back because we reach a certain point and do not have the mental strength to stay there. We always have to make ourselves as strong as a warrior, or a soldier.
We can easily notice mental distractions on the path. Sometimes, when good is defeating bad, we say that our meditation was good today. And when bad is defeating good, we say that our meditation was not good. One week we enjoy our meditation, and the next week meditation seems to be a big effort. When we do good meditation and some nice experiences in practice, we get attached and have some expectation that the same thing will happen. Because where there are two, there is enjoyment. Restless mind creates ignorance and impurities in mind, which influences the mind. We have to analyse why we are not meditating properly; to ask ourselves, how can we do even better practice.
There is no need to make any pressure in your mind, because with pressure you cannot get success in your meditation. We all have different habits that we need to overcome. By doing more Kriya Yoga, the bad will come out. In the same way that an empty glass is full of air, if we fill it with water then the air will come out.
But the meditation practitioner always has to follow this path. We never know when death will come. To abandon your practice, sadhana will never be the solution. If we are cooking food for ourselves, we can never forget to eat it. If we can always remind ourselves and think about what I really want, and also analyse what actually I am doing, this will be helpful in overcoming the obstacles.
If we can always remind ourselves and think about what I really want, and also analyse what actually I am doing, this will be helpful in overcoming the obstacles.
We know the purpose; we know why we are practising. We are searching for ecstasy. We are searching for peace. We want to find happiness.
*Patanjali Yoga Sutras, 1.30