Maintaining a regular yoga practice is not an easy feat as many obstacles have to be faced. It can be somewhat reassuring to know that the sages had to confront these obstacles, and considered them to be part of the yoga process. The Yoga Sutras, considered the bible of yoga, lists nine obstacles that practitioners must face.
1.Vyadhi: This is translated as sickness, illness or disease. Some sicknesses can be countered by leading a healthy lifestyle and some diseases can be managed through a considered and intelligent yoga practice. Indeed Mr Iyengar spent most of the last few decades of his life showing how yoga can be used therapeutically to treat many ailments, and many of his teachers are well informed in this aspect. He is known to have famously remarked ‘Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured’.
2.Styana: This is translated as an inertia or mental laziness. We can all relate to this obstacle and need to be disciplined to overcome it. Often times if we are able to get ourselves onto our mat and start a practice we find the physicality of it starts to lift our mental fug and the grip of this obstacle lessens.
3. Samsaya: This is translated as indecision or doubt. When our practice becomes difficult or inconvenient it is easy to start to question the benefits we are getting from our practice and whether the efforts required are worthwhile. The Yoga Sutras also speak of a quality called sraddha, trust or faith, and this is an important ingredient that needs to be cultivated in order for our practice to become a long term pursuit. This, in turn, requires one to listen to the intelligence of the heart and not be ruled by the intellect of the brain.
4. Pramada: This is translated as a lack of persistence or carelessness. If we are not attentive to our practice we can actually ingrain negative habits or tendencies, or cause injury. It is necessary to be vigilant and not become habitual so that our practice maintains a vitality and freshness, and so we do not harm ourselves.
5. Alasya: This is translated as a sloth or inertia, a physical laziness. The Yoga Sutras speak of another quality called tapas, or will power. The burning desire to cleanse ourselves both physically and spiritually through our practice needs to developed in order to overcome this obstacle.
6. Avirati: This is translated as an overindulgence, an attachment to pleasurable things, or sense gratification. This obstacle can be found both outside and within the practice. We can be tempted to go to a social event and miss our class or practice time. It is effortless to allow our senses to go outward and be attracted to external objects. It requires a disciplined countenance to go inwards and be with ourselves. And yet when this is practised it can become a more inviting and attractive place to go. Within our practice, too, we can become attracted to the asanas which we find comes easily or make us feel good and neglect the asanas which are our weak points or need to be attended to.
7. Bhrantidarsana: This is translated as a false perception or living in a world of delusion. It is not difficult to talk about the practice, and how much we do or appreciate it. It is another thing to actually do the practice and really penetrate when we are doing it. If we only talk, or only skim the surface, the effects of our practice will be minimal and we set ourselves up for disappointment and more doubt.
8. Alabdhabhumikatva: This is translated as an inability to hold on to what has been undertaken or a lack of perseverance. When we first start to practice the results are very apparent and we are motivated to keep going. As we become consistent and regular these results are not as recognisable and we are prone to becoming more lackadaisical in our efforts. This can be a slippery slope.
9. Anavasthitatvani: This is translated as an inability to maintain the progress attained due to pride or stagnation in practices, or backsliding. Those who have achieved results due to consistent effort and practice can become stale due to pride or an inability to maintain progress. It is critical to keep our practice fresh and vital in order to sustain growth.
There may be a propensity to feel at times that we are not up to the task, that yoga is too difficult to maintain as a long term pursuit. It is encouraging to realise that we all face these obstacles and that indeed they are part of our yoga journey. Once you start on the yogic path it is impossible to leave. It requires focus and discipline, but as one famous person pointed out: ‘Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.’