Distractions & Obstacles

We are just passing the halfway mark of the first book of the Yoga Sutras. What a journey it has been so far! The definition of yoga is presented – that when the vrittis, the activities of the mind, are controlled we stand in, purusha, our true nature – but there are five kinds of thoughts that can trouble the mind and keep us in our thoughts instead. Through practice and detachment, the super consciousness state of samadhi arises and we stand in our highest Self.

We learned that there are five prerequisites to samadhi but that there is also a direct route – via devotion to Ishvara. By chanting AUM, we not only attain samadhi but we also realize that nature of Ishvara, which is the same as spiritual consciousness, which is the same as purusha.

See that? Yoga = Purusha = Samadhi = Ishvara = Purusha = Yoga  

Let’s see that again. Self-realization = Peace = Happiness = Freedom

These are the moments when the mind is so focused that there are no distractions and all obstacles to yoga are gone. But, that calm and even state of mind becomes disquieted. How and why does this happen? Where do these thoughts come from? Patanjali says that the field of the mind produces distractions, called the citta vikshepa, which in turn create obstacles, called antarayas.

This can happen to any of us at any given moment. From somewhere deep in the field of the mind, a vritti, bubbles up. It could be an idea, a theory, a solution, a compulsion, a revulsion, a delight, an inspiration, a revelation. The mind becomes fixed on that thought, whatever it is, and distracts us from standing in our true Self. We become captivated, preoccupied, obsessed even. The mind is simply out of our control.

Patanjali suggests that if we know what the antarayas are, we can learn how to deal with them and ipso facto their removal leads back to the steady state of mind. This concept makes as much sense today as it did when the Yoga Sutras were compiled all those years ago. The human condition has not changed all that much!

There are nine antayaras:

  • Vyadhi is disease. When the body is sick, the mind becomes distracted as the focus turns to the illness. It is difficult to sit for meditation practice when we are in pain and feel grumpy and irritable.
  • Sthyana is dullness or mental paralysis. Let’s call this what it is:  procrastination. Nothing is going to happen if we don’t try.
  • Samshaya is doubt and indecision. It’s wondering if decisions already made were the right decisions. On the path of yoga, there should be no doubt. Zero.
  • Pramada is absence of mindfulness or carelessness. This is a problem for someone who is looking to control the mind!
  • Alaysa is inertia or lack of effort. Laziness is the enemy of Self-realization.
  • Avirati is thirst, temptation, or craving for worldly pleasures via the five senses. This is what life is for most people – attachment to that which is external.
  • Bhranti-darshana is false perception, mistaking one thing for another. The best way to define this obstacle is delusion. A deluded mind is not fit for yoga.
  • Alabdha-bhumikatva is the absence of progress on the path. It is the failure to attain the stages of meditative absorption that lead to samadhi.
  • Anavasthitatva is instability, the inability to stay put or stay in the attained state. Practice must be continuous or instability arises.

Then Patanjali says that there are four more vikshepas that correlate with the antarayas and arise as a consequence of the nine. They indicate that something is happening on a deeper, subtler level. These distractions are somewhat less complicated to understand and more easily identifiable. In modern terms, these would be indicative of stress or anxiety.

There are four vikshepas:

  • Dukha is pain, suffering or unhappiness. This manifests both mentally and physically.
  • Daurmanasya is sadness, frustration or mental agitation. Or simply, depression.
  • Angam jayatva is trembling of the limbs. The body is unsteady.
  • Svasa prashvasa is irregular breathing, both inhalation and exhalation.

Patanjali says that the means to preventing and eliminating the nine obstacles and the four associated symptoms is the practice of eka tattva – one principle. If we practice fixing the mind on one object, we will always be ready to counter distractions and obstacles when they arise, cultivating the habit of a steady mind. Ishvara pranidhanais eka tattva. The next group of sutras offers seven more.