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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Antarayas - Life's Obstacles According to the Yoga Sutras



Antaryas are a concept from the Yoga Sutras that many people would be familiar with whether they have studied yoga or not. The Antaryas (obstacles) that Patanjali talks about are issues that people of all walks of life face. Illness, doubt, impatience, distractions and loss of confidence are obstacles that we all face throughout our lives. We seek help in therapy, long discussions with friends and self help books or try to block it all out with shopping, drinking or other feel good activities. But we rarely find the true nature of the issues or even more rarely do we find peace. 

The Yoga Sutras are a way of trying to find the answers, trying to find a way to understand and work with these obstacles. Patanjali states that there are eight Antarayas that we will encounter as we work towards obtaining clarity and stability of the mind. They are:
  1. Vyadhi - illness
  2. Samsaya - doubt 
  3. Pramada - haste or impatience
  4. Alasya - resignation or Styana Tamas - fatigue
  5. Avirati - distraction
  6. Bhrantidarsana - ignorance or arrogance 
  7. Alabdhumikatva - the inability to take a new step 
  8. Anavasthitatvani - loss of confidence.
As you can see nothing has really changed in the thousands of years since the Sutras were written. Even more surprising is that we still have not mastered our thoughts, emotions and are still striving to find peace in our lives. 

Patanjali also describes the symptoms of these states which are again symptoms that most people face throughout their lives; feeling sorry for oneself, having a negative attitude, physical problems and breathing difficulties. He then gives us suggestions as to how we can overcome these obstacles and this is were the differences between the Mind of those living in India many Millennia ago and that of the modern Western Mind become apparent.  
Pranayama, for example, is not a practice that many people in today’s modern world would practice let alone are aware of. Watching the breath and working with extending the exhalation is something that yogis do on a regular basis. Sitting and working with the breath has many benefits, it is calming, cleansing, helps to maintain focus and can even be uplifting. Done regularly it can help to remove the obstacles Patanjlai refers to and help in the attainment of clarity and peace. It's  a great way to still the mind and to prepare for meditation or to take your mind of your problems.  

Our senses are often responsible for sending us off track as we flitter from on experience to another but Patanjali says that we can use our senses to overcome our distractions and to maintain the focus that we need. By investigating our senses instead of letting them control us we can find peace with ourselves and our world.  We become more in tune with how what we see, hear, taste and touch effects our physical and mental reality. Sit with what you are feeling, see how you react to certain images, explore your feelings. So often we overlook the messages that our senses are sending us or disregard how what we see or hear effects us. We have  become so desensitised, our movies are ful of violence, TV has become so graphic. Yet how ofter do we sit and feel our reactions to the sensory overload that is part of our everyday life? How often do we detox our sight or sound? Try a month without any violent images or lyrics and see how different you life becomes. 
Contemplation of life is Patanjali’s next suggestion for overcoming the obstacles.  Asking questions such as, why are we here? what is life all about? and other such philosophical ponderings can help us to focus on the greater picture and move beyond the everyday activities and thoughts that usually fill our minds. By contemplating life's mysteries we are less inclined to be as bothered by the little details of life. As we are able to see the bigger picture we start to see how insignificant a lot of our daily stressors are. 

Patanjali does not expect us to do this all alone. He encourages us to find people who have experienced the same problems that we are struggling with and let them guide us.  A teacher or mentor is another person who can help you. They may not have had the same experiences as you but can help you to recognise when you are struggling with one of the obstacles and give you tools and encouragement needed to overcome them. They are there to support you so that you don't let yourself become defeated and give up. Nowadays other methods of guidance are available such as books, workshops, self help programs and online education.  

The next suggestion asks us to look into our subconscious for answers.  Just like Freud, Patanjali instructs us to consider the messages of our dreams and see if through their interpretation we can find some way of overcoming our problems. He does not give any suggestions as to what the images or situations we encounter in our sleep mean but he does suggest that a lot of clarity can be obtained by taking the time to think about what our dreams are trying to tell us. 

Meditation is another way that Patanjali suggests we use our subconscious to gain relief from Antaryas. He says that by focusing our minds on something we can become more peaceful.  A lot of people think that meditation requires sitting in an absolute state of silence like the Zen Masters practice but that is not the only way to focus the mind and reach a state of meditation, using a mantra, visulisation or guided technique works just as well and is for most people a whole lot easier. When the mind is quiet and the chatter of our thoughts subsides clarity is given a chance to be heard. This is especially helpful when we are stressed, overwhelmed or feel like we can’t go on.

We do not need to be studying philosophy or following a spiritual path to see how these obstacles effect or physical and mental wellbeing. And we don't have to be a Zen monk or cave dwelling yogi to be able to implement the suggestions Patanjali suggests in the Sutras. Life is full of tests and challenges and it is up to us how we handle them. By becoming more aware of who we are, by taking time out to become more in touch with ourselves and our place in the world and getting help when we need it life can be a lot easier. Take time out for you, make yourself a priority, take control of your life instead of letting life control you. Once you start implementing these practices in your life you will still have obstacles to overcome but they will seem far less ominous and far more manageable. 

What strategies have worked for you? Share you story and comments xx