Facing the 9 antarayas

Patanjali refers to the nine antarayas – disturbances or obstacles which commonly hinder us on our path towards progressing in yoga / our inner work. They are:

  1. Vyadhi: physical illness (either actual, in the form of frequent injury, or perceived, in the form of hypochondria).
  2. Styana: lack of interest or motivation, boredom (Master Shree says that this is simply nature reminding us that we are fundamentally alone).
  3. Samshaya: doubt or indecision (which can often show up as a lack of belief in ones own power, potential, or path).
  4. Pramada: carelessness, distraction, or unclear thinking (due to intoxication of some kind, exhaustion, or laziness usually).
  5. Alasya: fatigue and laziness (the kind of physical and mental lethargy that can often accompany depression).
  6. Avirati: indulgence in / desire for sense objects (desire for things that are beyond bodily needs, leaning into cravings / aversions).
  7. Bhrantidarshana: living in delusion / wrong understanding (the oft-dangerous stories that we tell ourselves about how things / people are which may misinform our thoughts or actions).
  8. Alabdhabhumikatva: not recognising progress that has been made, focusing on all that is still ahead (this is common when you have not fulfilled your expectations of yourself, and cannot focus on all that you have achieved because you’re in a ‘lack-focused’ mindset).
  9. Anavasthitatva: inability to maintain / grow your achieved progress (this may be due to a lack of Bhakti – devotion – or partly influenced by one of the other antarayas, but meditation can help in terms of keeping the self focused on achieving a specific goal).

I was thinking that this could be a very useful framework to understand challenges in our lives in general, not simply in Yoga. If we were able to apply this framework in diagnosing ourselves, I think we could discover a whole host of interesting insights in terms our patterns of self-sabotage that lead to us not achieving our goals.

This, along with the reminder of Johari’s Window (the mis/alignment of a) how you define yourself vs. b) how others define you vs. c) how you want others to define you vs. d) what you think about the world) could be very applicable tools to many different fields – empowering people to think more carefully and critically about the patterns of thought / action that make up who they are, and how they might want to change these patterns moving forward.

Pain and Perfectionism

I have recently been dealing with a back problem that was dormant at the start of Teacher Training, but seems to have become more and more severe and prominent in recent days.

Besides making me unable to do certain forward-bending and twisting poses, this pain has also made me keenly aware of the need for continuous perfectionism in Yoga. As Master Shree says, each yoga asana can be adjusted for any student (no matter their level). This is due to the spirit of continuous perfectionism.

Take adho mukha suwasana, for example, the well-loved downward facing dog. For a beginner, we may simply ask the student to get into the pose, lifting their hips up and trying to straighten their legs while bringing their feet to the ground. We might ask them to breathe 5 rounds in the pose, and then relax in child’s pose.

An intermediate student would be asked to consider more details of the posture – suck in the belly, breathe with the throat, hips back, arms flat on the floor, shoulder blades rolled back and scapulae relaxed on the back.

For an advanced student, it would go even deeper into detail – touching upon the direction of muscle rotations, the exact angle of the gaze, the even-distribution of weight throughout the front and back of the posture…

It is this rigour, and commitment to continuous perfectionism that draws me to yoga. There is always more to learn, to perfect, to strengthen, to stretch. By doing the practice, we are both improving and also identifying always ways to do things more perfectly.

Stones and Flowers

Today in class, Master Shree shared a small story of a resilient seed whose stem – despite a journey through rocky and stiff dirt – somehow managed to push through to the surface of the earth in order to find sunlight and grow into a beautiful flower. “If I go and touch the flower now,” Master Shree said, “it will wilt and break immediately.”

He used this as an illustration for the charge to ‘be like a stone for yourself, and a flower for others.’ This is something that resonated deeply for me as I realise that, for many years, I have been oscillating between ‘stone’ and ‘flower’ for both myself and others.

When it comes to ‘inner work’, it’s hard to know how to keep yourself accountable. This is where stone-like discipline comes in. When one can stand firm in their resolve that yoga is a source of strength, calm, presence, wholeness, and health in their life, one will continue to practice.

But the truth is, this will come with sacrifices. Most people do not spend most of their time thinking about their breath, or listening to their body. Most people do not meditate for hours a day on the nature of their self, or how the principle of ahimsa applies to their lives. As such, if one is trying to live a strict life of yoga, one may find themselves alienated, excluded, misunderstood. In the midst of this, it is easy to lose strength; to slow or stop the practice; to postpone what you know you need to do… indefinitely.

As such, it is important that we be a stone for ourselves, ever steady, solid, inching towards the sunlight no matter the number of stones and roots and hardened clay-like pieces of soil in our way.

But (and crucially), the second part of the idiom is still unexplored. ‘Be like a stone for yourself, and a flower for others’, moreover, a flower that is delicate enough to wilt at the gentlest intervention…

Rather than applying the same high standards, the same unwavering resolve, the same harsh honesty, the same disciplined structure… to others, what if we were to maintain our sense of compassion? What if we were to be vulnerable, fragile, delicate?

This might put others at ease, make them feel unconditionally accepted and loved, while also inspiring them to inquire into why – this now wilting flower at the slightest touch – continues to sprout blossom after blossom, from a seed deep deep under the rough, rocky soil.

Sadhana and Daily Rhythms

In yoga, we are told to do sadhana (dedicated practice) for 15 minutes every morning. This sadhana should involve pranayama, asanas, and meditation and should ideally be the way that we welcome our bodies into the day. 

When I first discovered Vipassana meditation 8 years ago, I thought to myself ‘If I were to do this practice every day, my life would change drastically.’ I kept at the practice with dedication and resolve for many months, straying away at times, and then returning, over the past 8 years. Sure enough, the benefits of meditation ended up being very self-evident.

Unfortunately, however, life can be turbulent and rhythms can be disrupted. My daily practice of mediation has waxed and waned, and is currently almost non-existent. 

I sincerely hope that – thanks to this nudge from this yoga teacher training – I might develop a new daily rhythm that incorporates both physical and meditative practice. 

Having a daily ritual to ground the attention in the body can make such a difference. I find myself being more aware, more present, and more grateful throughout the day. As I move about and interact with others, I hope to be responsible for the kind of energy I am carrying, spreading, and inviting.