THE 9 OBSTACLES TO YOGA PRACTICE

Yoga often talks about living by design rather than by default and learning to distinguish between what we can change and what we cannot and to explore the former and surrender to the latter.  So when I was asked recently if I had any new year resolutions, my mind was blank for a response but it got me thinking. A few days later I stumbled on an article that took the thoughts from a collection of writers, poets, philosophers and turned them into potential new year resolutions. I also came across Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.30 – 1.32 which helped provide direction on how to maintain a regular uninterrupted yoga practice. Both of which provided food for thought.

So to start with the thoughts of the poets and philosophers:

  • Celebrate enoughness (Kurt Vonnegut)
  • Master the art of loving (Erich Fromm)
  • Choose Understanding Over Judgement (Anne Truitt)
  • Refuse to Play the Perfection Game (Ursula Le Guin)
  • Live the Questions (Rainer Maria Rilke)
  • Walk your own path (Fredrich Neitzche)
  • Master the art of growing older (Grace Paley)
  • Heed the intelligence of the emotions (Martha Nussbaum)
  • Use discipline to catalyze creative magic (John Steinbeck)
  • Make use of your suffering (Simone Weil)
  • Tell the world how to treat you (James Baldwin)

Many of the above accord with the type of things you read in the yoga sutras. There are 196 of these and they form the basis of yoga philosophy. The yoga sutras 1.30 – 1.32 talk about the obstacles that prevent us from conducting a yoga practice as a long uninterrupted enquiry that will in turn help us with the attitudes listed above.  A regular yoga practice is definitely a challenge when yoga is one of the many things in our life. So maybe a good resolution is to learn to identify and deal with these obstacles. The 9 obstacles are:

  1. Illness or disease. This can be mental, emotional or physical. When feeling run down I I look to a practice that provides nurturing and rest, rather than any physical challenge.
  2. Inertia/ apathy: There are certainly times when I question why I am doing yoga and what does it all mean. I get numb to the amazing effects it has on me because the effects just become the norm. But a short break and a revisit to my practice and experience of the profound effect it has on me helps to dispel this apathy. Taking action despite feelings of ambivalence is key to continuing the momentum of my practice
  3. Doubt: this can result from a lack of self-confidence or belief and from comparing myself with others. There are times when I do a class with a lifetime yogi who has studied with all the celebrated yogis and who can do extraordinary things with their body and it can make me feel like a fake. At these times I remember that everyone’s yoga practice is personal and individual and happens at its own pace, everyone has their own unique thing to offer, and it is important to “celebrate enough-ness” and “to refuse to play the game of perfection” and “walk your own path”
  1. Carelessness, negligence or a lack of mindfulness These things can easily take me off track when I am practicing yoga, especially if I am practicing at home and I start to notice small things like the dog hair on the carpet, the picture that is hanging crooked, a shoe under the couch, my nails need cutting and I move away from a mindful practice to one of continual distraction and interruption. At these times I have to make a mental shift to commit to and focus on my practice.
  1. Laziness or fatigue. This can result from trying to do too much or thinking yoga will just make me feel more tired. Ironically when I push through this fatigue and do a yoga practice I feel a lot more energised than I did at the start. I once had a teacher that suggested challenging your feelings of fatigue by doing a few salutes to the sun (surya namaskar) and then see how you feel. Most of the time it makes the fatigue go away. If it doesn’t then I am truly tierd and it is probably more related to number 1 above.
  1. Indiscipline of the senses. Mmmm needed to think about what this one means. I think it is about over or under loading our senses through too much stimuli or by numbing the stimuli and letting our senses control us, rather than us controlling these sensations. So this could go to learning to respond to things, rather than to react to them. In this sense it is about identifying our reactions to stimuli and choosing new ways to react. This can help overcome the tendency to only do the poses “you like”.
  1. Erroneous views/Ignorance: This can feed into the doubt obstacle above but it can also lead to conceit or arrogance both of which get in the way of an effective yoga practice.
  1. Lack of perseverance: this can result from feelings that I am not making progress or progressing fast enough and can get frustrated or disappointed and feel like giving up. Just keep on keeping on when faced with this challenge is important part of maintaining the momentum of my practice
  1. Feelings of moving backwards. This is like the one step forward two steps back feeling. In times like these I need a single pointed focus to maintain my direction or, as I saw on facebook, adopt the attitude of the optimist and see the one step forward, 2 steps back rhythm as a type of cha cha. It is only through continuing on practising that I can maintain the effects of yoga and feel the dance.

Personally I would also add a 10th: relationships and the demands of parenting and I try to manage this by doing yoga when my loved ones are all asleep.

Here’s to trying to successfully manage all of these.

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