The Obstacles and Interruptions to Our Practice and the Remedies to Support by Nadine Watton
Dec 07, 2020
As the days become increasingly shorter it can sometimes be hard to find the motivation to practice. I have personally been finding it tricky this year to emerge from my cosy bed early on these dark mornings. Also - finding ourselves in the Zoom world, as amazing as it is, I can appreciate how it can be challenging to log on - we can get so wrapped up in things and we’re at risk of screen burnout. Some days can be a lot easier than others and that really is understanding that our yoga practice is just that…. It is PRACTICE, not performance. We need to give ourselves an internal break and not give ourselves a hard time when things feel obstructed or interrupted.
I have been including some concepts from the Yoga Sūtra in my classes this season - mainly around the Antarāya, their symptoms and the remedies to alleviate them. I thought it would be nice to write a little about it for you to consider and hopefully give some food for thought over the winter months. Here is an introduction to this subject that you can find in the Yoga Sutra Chapter 1.
Sūtra 1.30 presents the Antarāya. The word Antarāya translates as “obstacles” or “interruptions” and these are inner obstacles which we can think of as disturbances of the mind. The sanskrit word antara is translated as “internal” so the Antarāya are internal obstacles that get in between us and our goal. There are nine of them and Patanjali presents them as 3 triads
- Vyādhi: “illness” or “sickness”. Illness can move us away from our support or supports. So what do I mean by “support” - anything in our life that gives us a sense of continuity, stability or structure. This can expand further than our practice on our yoga mat.
- Styāna: “rigidity” “stiffness” - in our thinking. Clinging to viewpoints or ideas.
- Saṃśaya: "doubt" - Literally this means “standing in 2 places at once”. This doubt can consume its own support and undermines and confuses us.
This first triad could be considered as dealing with issues of confusion with our supports.
- Pramāda: obsession. Like running on adrenaline. This word comes from the root √mād which means intoxicated.
- Ālasya: sloth. This can also be considered as losing our shine - like burnout.
- Avirati: sensual indulgence. Not tempering our indulgences.
This second triad can be considered as concerned with misuse of our energy.
- Bhrāntidarśana: mistaken ideas. Our understanding is confused subconsciously. The word darśana means “perspective” so bhrāntidarśana is a confused perspective.
- Alabdhabhūmikatva: failure to progress. Not getting to the next step… almost bottling out of our full potential.
- Anavasthitatvāni citta vikṣepāḥ: regression. A sense of being scattered or thrown off course - the way the mind gets scattered, we make some progress but any progress slides away.
The third triad can be considered as a confusion of direction - we start from a confused place/we don’t attain/then we slip back.
So in Sūtra 31 the symptoms of these obstacles (Antarāya) are presented and these are:
- Disturbances of the breath
But it is not all bad news! Patanjali now suggests various means to alleviate the Antarāya and their symptoms. This is one of the things I love about the Yoga Sūtra once we begin deciphering it, it is a very practical guide on bringing stability to the mind. To reduce overwhelm I have taken the first 4 on the list and included the final one as I find it so cool that there is something so accessible and universal in this text.
The first suggestion is my favourite and something that I have been personally working on over the past months. I invite you to take one of these ideas, run with it over the festive season and observe how your mind is.
- Focus on a single essential principle (Yoga Sūtra Ch.1.32). So the remedy here is to concentrate on a single thing and stay with it for some time. I find that I spread myself a bit thin practice wise… I do my āsana, prāṇāyāma, chanting, meditation…. It can feel like a little here and there and nothing really solid. My thing recently has been to take a shorter āsana practice and spend a long time with meditation. And I’m going to stick with that for a good long while, whilst observing how my mind responds. I can come back to more chanting and prāṇāyāma, in time - we need to consider our practice in terms of decades rather than years/months.
- The next remedy is what is considered the noble attitudes and these are a method for cleansing and purifying the mind (Yoga Sūtra Ch1.33). Now this is more than a remedy - this is also an essential practice for purifying and cultivating a good state of mind. And what great concepts to carry in our hearts over the festive season and beyond!
The noble attitudes are:
- Cultivating friendliness towards those who are content and peaceful - filling our lives with people who are really good for us.
- Compassion towards those who are suffering - a means to stay open without losing something of ourselves.
- Feeling joyful for those doing good things. Sharing in the positivity - it can be easy to feel jealous of people doing things that warrant merit.
- Equanimity towards those who act unwisely - holding your boundaries. Finding a way where we can maintain our clarity of mind and then make a response. Wait before you send that email!
- Breathe out… I’ve been doing this a lot in my Yin classes lately - with careful exhalation of the breath and resting in the pause after the exhale. By doing this practice as outlined in YS 1.34 the mind is stabilised. It is through practicing the steady exhale and the little pause at the end of the exhale that we stabilise the mind.
- By focussing on sensory experiences, the mind can be bound to stability (Yoga Sūtra Ch1.35). The portal of presence is the current feeling and this is essentially mindfulness. By focussing on the object of the senses the mind is bound by stability so by having an object to focus on, the mind is stablised.
- There are 3 Sūtras that I am going to leave for now and fast track to the final remedy to the Antarāya which is YS 1.39…. “Or by meditating according to one’s interest”. In other words “Or do something of interest". I love this one as it is a practical and accessible suggestion. Do something we’re interested in - something agreeable, satisfying and absorbing. Why not walk, garden, run, craft? The more absorbing it is the better it is.
So when times are challenging and you’re finding things are getting in the way of your support or goals take some time to observe. Consider the disturbances of the mind and then look to the remedies. Take one thing and really stay with it for some time, it could be physical practice, breath work (possibly working with the exhale and pause after exhale), meditation or chanting.
Consider the noble attitudes and how you and your family could embrace them this season - even if you’re doing the festive thing whilst apart.
Or just do something that you really love.
I wish you all a beautiful festive season and good physical and mental health. I wish to thank you for your commitment and loyalty not just to my classes but to Meadowlark and our online offerings.
With love and light (and if you know Yin Monkey… he sends Yin Monkey love).
You can find Nadine teaching the following events at Meadowlark Yoga:
100 hour Yin & Restorative Training 2021