Yoga Sutra study – Obstacles we face in our yoga journey

8limbsofyoga-treeWhen the dogs come for the day, I spend the morning in bed with them. Perfect setting to study yoga. It feels so calm and peaceful, and my pratyahara [withdraw senses from outside distractions] earplugs serve to blot out the sounds of traffic.  This study is an ongoing one, little bits at a time – ethics and practices, asana and pranayama.. and within those so many avenue of exploration.

Today I started reading Mark Stephen’s book ‘Sequencing Yoga’sequencing-yoga-stephens which is another treasure trove that I know will come in useful as I progess towards teaching. Discovering how much you have to know and have experienced and how thoroughly we have to integrate before we teach is a helpful lesson to learn at the beginning of the journey… I also found a heap of really cool sequences for specific purposes, chakra balancing, relaxation, energising, balancing the Ayurvedic doshas.  As I develop further my own practice I sense that this is gonna be a much thumbed and pored over book!

Something in this book led me to pick up Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga. I found myself reading about a couple of Patanjali’s points in the Yoga Sutras .

antaryaObstacles [antaraya] or ‘what stops us?’ and Avidya [incorrect understanding] which in this construct is categorised as the roots of our obstacles.

Worth remembering that these categorisations are semantic structures, models to help explain the human condition and may be replicated in many other fields of personal growth. i.e. Yoga is NOT the only viable journey to Be-coming.


Ayurvedic doshas – constitutions – one small part of Ayureveda

That said, it offers so much healing in all areas of our life. It is very complete especially when embraced alongside Ayurveda. Ayurveda which focuses on healing and wellness via food, herbs and various ancient medicine practices is linked to yogic principles.. and also focuses on strengthening and balancing our ‘energy flow’

This is beneficial stuff for anyone, not just people into yoga.. As I read about each antaraya, I paused to examine my own behaviour, noticing which of the pesky blighters have gotten, or still get, in my way at one time or another. Wow! So revealing.

As we become more aware of what blocks our spiritual growth, we will begin to notice it consciously as opposed to it just happening and disturbing us. Once we start to notice it we can can work at catching ourselves doing what isn’t working before it goes too far , taking a moment to let go and focusing on doing something different – something that works!

AT various times I have experienced and still do all of the obstacles, not just in my yoga practice but also in my everyday living.

The first one is Illness [vyadhi]. As I get older I find myself looking for natural ways to heal myself. There are still some actions that I take which contribute to illness and I want to stop. Sometimes Lethargy [styana] stops me.

Been there felt that – depression, not wanting to do anything but sleep or engage in comfort eating, tobacco. The good news is that yoga practice, eating healthier food, getting outdoors and exercising all help to alleviate it but it’s a bummer to take that first step when you’re mired in all that crapola.

doubt-samsayaI’ve had moments of Doubt [samsaya] but it is probably one of the least prevalent antaraya for me and I definitely have to watch [pramada] Haste.. wanting to jump, finish.. get on to the next.. oops! Yesterday I was hasty to suggest something without the facts, as I did to someone in our cookery group sigh!

Arrogance which comes from ignorance [bhrantidarsana], thinking we’re done, got it, reached our goal is a big stopper but not so much for me any more because of many years of working with a mentor, studying and working with clients, learning more more.. the only thing I get is that there is a universe more of learning out there, and I still fall prey to it… This is not to say we can’r recognize and celebrate our small successes and value our experience, knowledge and skills

panchakarmaThat Frozen, [alabdhabhumikatva]  deer in the headlights feeling is something I’m experiencing a little of right now. I want to book onto a 14 day Ayurvedic Panchakarma healing retreat.  I have to find a shortest time flight without long layovers in an airport AND I have to get a visa.

I’m never sure I’ll be granted a visa[ doubt] now that it’s all online and after my experiences in the US.. I came to the computer today to book it, go for it and then I realised, I haven’t got the photo and if I get it wrong, I’ll lose the money.. and so on and so on until I couldn’t act. The key of course is ‘just do it’.. just get that photo right, get the visa form filled in, pay the money and see what comes back. Won’t know till I try.

Fatigue or alasya can also be an obstacle, something I’d class as part of illness but Desikachar sees it as a separate antaraya.

I have also been known to lack Staying Power [anavasthitatvani]. I start something and don’t see it through because I’m plagued by Distraction [avirati] – so much out there to get excited about.

hasteHaste [pramadha] in our yoga practice is prevalent in our asana work and often arises from not being present, wanting to get through something, not letting it unfold. I find that yoga helps me overcome this as I really revel in the journey of asana rather than the goal.. But in other areas of my life, I need to watch it.  Slowly slowly it blends together..

Linked to the concept of antaraya is what Patanjali describes as the root of these behaviours or emotions – Incorrect Understanding[Avidya]. Not a great translation when you consider the roots.. and can probably make your own connections… I see it as basing our actions on illusions, not the deep truth

There are 4 of these incorrect understandings – Ego [asmita], Fear [abhinivesa] Avoidance [dvesa] and Desire [raga].

desikaschar-heart-of-yogaPatanjali and subsequently Desikachar suggest some remedies for overcoming these obstacles and that’s where we have to be careful not to get stuck in the ‘Yoga is the only way’ model. There are many fine and powerful practices and models which do much to dissolve our challenges.

He advises Pranayama [working with the breath to balance energy] and when we understand the specific benefits of different types of breathing, it can be an effective banisher of the obstacle [which is either a construct in our mind or a physical imbalance].

His third remedy is to study the concept of purusa [the god within us] which the Upanishads described as the lotus flower shaped centre of our heart.. I call that the ‘jewel within’. Mostly the yoga approach is based on ‘stilling the mind’ letting to the incessant chatter that generates the obstacles.

yoga-sequence-1-desikacharAfter all that, I was drawn to a yoga flow sequence visually depicted in The Heart of Yoga, so I took to my mat, accompanied by Bob the Bichon, and went through it.. doing the final alternate nostril pranayama bit sitting on my meditation stool [this has been a huge kicker for me to meditate as I am so comfortable whilst maintaining a straight spine]

I had my breakfast, a Vitamix smooth blend of eggs, cavolo nero and mustard leaf [grown by me] cooked in butter to become a bright green scrambled dish after which I sat down to write this out with Fred the Jack laid out at my feet in a ray of sunshine.. sounds idyllic? Ha!

Sitting here I’m accompanied by another obstacle, a fag and a cup of coffee – which is one of the reasons why I want to go on an Ayurvedic Panchakarma healing retreat before I start my yoga teacher training in February 2017.


#yoga #sutras #patanjali #desikachar #pranayama


About sunnysoleil

I am a child of the earth. I graduated in the mountains of North Georgia where I learned to love the land. I studied permaculture and natural building and grew lots of food. I have now been sent back to the UK to Eastbourne where I am sharing what I learned to encourage people to grow more food, cook and preserve fresh food, live lightly on the land and share with and care for each other. My dream is to return to earth to live in community.
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