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'Antarayas' or 'Obstacles' that stand in the way of spiritual progress - Part 1

Patanjali lists 9 'Antarayas' or impediments/obstacles in the path of spiritual progress. Like a guide, he draws our attention to them, so that they don't distract, demotivate or break us. With every obstacle, he also reminds us of all the help and support available within and without. After all, our sadhana is a continuous journey and like life, all hindrances are mere speed bumps.

The first Antaraya as per Yogasutra 1.30 is 'Vyadhi', loosely translated to 'Sickness'. Since the body and the mind are an integral whole, this may indicate imbalance and disease in the 'whole' body. It is important to remember that any sickness in the physical body affects the mental and emotional bodies and vice versa.

It is necessary to pay attention to self-care. The emphasis here is on overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, be compassionate towards yourself. During sadhana, moderation and rest are also important. Be kind to yourself, be mindful in your practice and extend your whole-hearted acceptance to yourself.

The second significant Antaraya on the yoga journey is 'Styana' - langour or apathy. Has reluctance ever crept in to your practice? Have you ever felt dull about the progress you are making in your sadhana? Have you neglected your yoga practice because you are too busy or too tired or the perfect conditions aren't available? If you have answered yes to any of these, you know what Patanjali is talking about when he points us to 'Styana'. In extreme cases, it may also mean pain and distress.

We may be victims of our own discouragement, self-deprecation and pessimism. Strong will power supports us anytime inertia is setting in. But even more importantly, separating the process from the outcome can greatly relieve us from pressures we create on ourselves, that can eventually lead to a sort of 'giving up'. Yoga sadhana is like brushing your teeth or taking a shower everyday - it is meant to be regular and uninterrupted. It is about always 'showing up'.

'Sanshaya' or Doubt is the third obstacle that Patanjali refers to as lying in the path of someone who has set off on a yoga journey. As with yoga, we start many things with enthusiasm and effort. And then, something happens - first encounter with a problem/challenge, an injury, perceived lack of progress, practical questions or a complete loss of faith in the practice. It may eventually lead us to abandon our Yoga Sadhana.

Here, the contradictory theme of Abhyasa (effort) and Vairagya (letting go) can go a long way to quieten the mind’s continual “chit-chat" and hesitation. Abhyasa implies action without interruption—action that's not easily distracted, discouraged, or bored. Abhyasa builds on itself; the more we practice, the more we want to practice, and the faster we reach our destination. Vairagya, on the other hand, is surrendering the effort, recognising its transitory nature and not attaching our self-identity to it. Without one, the other is useless.

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