Antarayas: The 13 Obstacles of Yoga

obstacles in yoga

The path of yoga can be long and hard, filled with obstacles, pitfalls, and detours. Luckily, yogic philosophy provides a roadside assistance program to aid you when you become stuck. The yogis who have traveled the path before us have left us a troubleshooting guide called Antarayas, or the 13 obstacles of yoga. Knowing and studying these Antarayas will give you more skill, compassion, and understanding as you progress in your yoga practice.

The 13 Obstacles of Yoga

Patanjali describes the 13 obstacles of yoga by breaking them down into two sets. The first set of Antarayas are the primary and most common obstacles one will encounter in yoga. The second set contains four minor obstacles, several of which are very uncommon.

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The nine main obstacles of yoga are:

  1. Vyadhi – Illness, disease, physical or mental. It is difficult to do yoga if you are physically sick. Thus it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle for the prevention of illness and promotion of optimal health.
  2. Styana – Apathy, disinclination towards performing one’s kartavya or duty. By procrastinating, we avoid our practice and create excuses for not being on the path and doing the work.
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  4. Sanshaya – doubting one’s capability or the result of yoga. We can only come to know Reality, declares the Brihad-Âranyaka-Upanishad (4.4.23), when we are free from doubt. It is important to cultivate faith in oneself as well as the yogic path.
  5. Pramada – Heedlessness, carelessness, a lack of persistence. Yoga is both a science and art and approaching it without skill, care, respect, and devotion will create erratic and possible negative results.
  6. Alasya – Sloth, inertia of mind or body due to dominance of the tamasic element. Yoga requires discipline, zeal, and tapas (will-power) to succeed on its path. Laziness will prevent you from attaining your highest potential.
  7. Avirati – Overindulgence, attachment to pleasurable things. We must learn to “let go” of our attachments to desire and physical objects if we are to make progress in yoga.
  8. Bhrantidarshan – False vision, a premature sense of certainty. The development of a false notion about the practice of yoga and its outcome can not only lead one off the path of yoga, but also create harm and disappointment.
  9. Alabdha-bhumikatva – Non-attainment of the next yogic stage or accomplishment. This happens due to faulty or poor practice and creates a feeling of being “stuck” and leads to discouragement.
  10. Anawasthitatwa – Instability, non-permanence of a yogic accomplishment or stage. Not able to maintain an attained stage can be a real drag. This again can be a result of faulty or poor practice.

When any of these primary obstacles are encountered, four minor obstacles may appear according to specific circumstances.

The four minor obstacles are:

  1. Duhkha – Pain or sorrow.
  2. Daurmanasya – depression, pain caused by non-fulfillment of desires.
  3. Angamejayatwa – the shivering of parts of the body.
  4. Shvâsa-prashvâsa – disturbances in kumbhaka or breath retention causing the irregular breathing pattern that comes with mental agitation.

Overcoming the obstacles of Yoga

You will need to be able to remove or overcome all of these obstacles at will to be successful in yoga. They may appear at any time, and if not conquered during their first appearance, they are most likely to return until you learn how to overcome them.

The key to the removal of any and all of the above obstacles is the cultivation of the one-pointedness of mind. These obstacles will naturally pass with time unless we allow ourselves to become entangled and bogged down in them. By focusing all of your attention on a single object the obstacles dissolve and begin to lose their importance and power.

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