We’ve all been there. There you are, plugging along and making progress on the job, at home or in love, and bam. Sometimes out of nowhere, you hit a roadblock that stops you dead in your tracks.
Occasionally these hurdles are external in nature, but more often than not, the obstacles in our lives are (at least partially) of our own making.
As they say, awareness is half the battle, and in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali throws all of us truth-seekers a bone in astutely outlining nine antarayas, or common impediments to watch for during our personal practice and inner journey. The term “practice” can be applied in a broader context here, as I’ve seen these same obstacles manifest both on the mat in my body and mind, and off the mat in my relationships and work.
- Vyadhi: This first obstacle is often defined as illness or disease. Although vyadhi may show up most obviously in the form of a physical pain or sickness that is beyond our control, a more subtle source can derive from a consistent negativity or other unproductive mental imbalance. A lack of self-care, whether mental, emotional or physical, can lead to or perpetuate this dis-ease.
- Styana: When we find ourselves face to face with an apathetic approach or feeling of mental stagnation, styana is often on hand. This “so what, who cares” attitude can prevent us from taking the right and necessary action for growth, thwarting our progress and delivering a hit to productivity. Taking action despite feelings of ambivalence is key to continuing the momentum in our practice.
- Samshaya: This is a big one for many of us who spend entirely too much mental energy doubting ourselves and questioning our self-worth. Samshaya shows up as self-doubt or a lack of confidence in our own power and potential. Reaffirming faith in ourselves is essential to counteract this block.
- Pramada: This carelessness, negligence or lack of foresight inadvertently detours us from our our desired destination. Whatever the cause for unclear thinking—whether drunkenness, distraction or other diversion—a lack of mindfulness leads to pramada, taking us off track from where we intend to go.
- Alasya: Translated disparately as both fatigue and laziness, alasya often shows up in my life as burnout. When we burn the candle at both ends and fail to take appropriate care of ourselves, it can be difficult to even get out of bed in the morning, let alone tackle the day with the gusto needed to make magic happen. Even one simple measure of self-care, whether that be taking a few minutes to meditate, indulge in a bath or go to bed a half hour earlier, can be enough to recharge our batteries.
- Avirati: This obstacle presents itself when we’re overindulging or non-abstaining, often as a result of being driven by cravings or otherwise overpowered by senses and feelings. I find some of the most intense cravings in my life appear as an impulse to self-medicate, numb out or avoid an undesirable thought or feeling I’m having. At the end of the day, it helps to remember, we are not defined by our thoughts, experiences or feelings. In seeing them as passing phases and distinctly separate from our true selves, we take away their power to overwhelm us and drive our actions to excess.
- Bhrantidarshana: This often shows up for me as the stories I tell myself in my head. There are plenty of stories or perceptions we all have in our head about the way things are, who people are, and what we are or are not capable of. Bhrantidarshana refers to these erroneous views. Imagine traveling with an outdated GPS. By letting this misinformation and illusion guide our path, we won’t be taking the most efficient route along our path and may very likely be led significantly off course.
- Alabdhabhumikatva: In working toward our goals, we inevitably face situations where we feel like we’re failing, not progressing fast enough or inclined to give up altogether. Alabdhabhumikatva can rear its ugly head in these moments by showing up as a lack of perseverance or grounding. The things we want aren’t always easily obtainable, and without fortitude in the face of challenge, it can be tempting to lose our resolve and change directions as soon as the going gets tough.
- Anavasthitatva: For all of the in-roads we’ve made with any practice, project or person in our life, all of that can be cut short when we’re incapable of maintaining these gains. We can fall prey to anavasthitatva when instability results in regression and backward movement. Meditation can help us create space and stability and practice the single-pointed focus needed to maintain solid footing.
When I hit a hurdle in life—whether it’s battling writer’s block at my computer, dragging my feet to get on my yoga mat or meditation cushion, or stagnating in my relationships with my self or others—I can often trace the source of said stumble back to one or more of the antarayas outlined by Patanjali in sutras 1.30 to 1.32.
By better understanding the problems that plague us, we can cultivate awareness to anticipate their onset in advance and greater dexterity in circumventing them before they sidetrack us. In identifying these obstacles more clearly, we can remain resolute and persevere in the direction we’re heading in spite of distractions.
Cari Barcas is a Chicago-based yoga teacher and freelance writer. When she’s not practicing, teaching or writing, she can usually be found on a road trip or other outdoor excursion with her husband and their gentle pit bull Lucy. Cari is leading a workshop on ways to overcome obstacles in your practice in the Chicago suburbs Saturday, June 7. For more information about Cari and other upcoming events, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.