Obstacles / Antaraya

The question is:  “What is the most common weakness or obstacle that hinders your clientele in pursuing and obtaining their fitness goals and how do you fix it?”

When we start any fitness approach, it’s with enthusiasm, which, more often than note, fizzles out.  One shouldn’t feel bad about this because, first, it’s quite common, and second, quite surmountable.

Yoga, being a practice developed in ancient times, has literally thousands of years of advantage over all other workout routines.  In the case of “common weaknesses” and “obstacles” generally encountered in pursuing / obtaining an fitness goal .. Yoga not only has a name for it: Antaraya (“to come between; obstacles”), but has it codified.

The inner obstacles that disperse the mind are

complaint, self-defeat, self-doubt,

lack of persistence, non-commitment,

misunderstanding, lack of self-confidence,

self-depreciation, and instability.

Rajayoga sutra 1.30-31

The first is Vyadhi, which is physical health and mental preparedness.  For example, one should never start a fitness routine when unhealthy.  This is why there are warnings attached to starting a new exercise; and we’ve all seen them, “Before starting this exercise routine please consult your physician.”  Does this pertain to you?  Well, if you have several existing medical conditions, and/or if you are obese, then yes, this is certainly an example of Vyadhi.

Regarding the ‘mental preparedness’ of Vyadhi, this is simply preparing psychologically.  Often, the initial enthusiasm wanes before the practice is begun, making positive thinking very important.  I suggest to my students that they visualize seeing themselves doing Yoga – without strain or effort, with deep, smooth and rhythmic breathing, with ease, strength and grace.  Such a mental exercise bolsters and prepares the body for the actual practice.

Second is Styana, which is apathy, or defeating one’s self before even beginning.  For example, people tell me, “I can’t do Yoga because I’m not flexible”; which is silly, because the best way to become flexible is to come to Yoga.  Eitherway, my standard comeback is always, “Flexibility is a state of mind”, meaning, we must be rid of Styana – or that reluctance to commit, that idea of defeat before we begin, or of procrastination – or else all attempts will fail.  And if one looks honestly at their life, they have probably experienced Styana time enough to strengthen their lack of commitment so find themselves in a “rut”, or “spinning their wheels”.  The cycle of self-defeatism, though not easy to be rid of, must stop; or else always be the ass that pursues the carrot.

Third is Sanshaya, which is self-doubt.  When we lose faith in our capabilities, when we have lost sight of what we have already accomplished in our life, then our own blindness of our ever present potential interferes with our Yoga practice.  Sanshaya leads to deviation from our goal, from what we most desire.

Fourth is Pramada, which is the lack of persistence, commonly known today as ‘boredom’.  The bodymind has become adept at creating excuses for not continuing with a fitness practice, so that for every good reason one has for exercising, the bodymind has three reasons why not.  Pramada then is a major obstacle.

Fifth is Alasya, which is laziness – in both the body and mind.  This one relates back to Styana (apathy) because it’s the idea that one must be in shape first, before starting a fitness program.  This pretzel logic is further related to Pramada (lack of persistence, making excuses).  Yoga trains both the body and mind, so it’s not just a fitness routine, but mental stimulation as well.

Sixth is Avirati, which is non-commitment, or an absence of vows / resolutions.  The idea of a ‘couch potato’ is that of someone committed to sitting on the couch, stuffing their face, watching TV, and eventually creating a permanent indentation there.  Avirati is a lack of determination, a lack of respect for one’s body and mind.  If sick, the appropriate action is to get better, by whatever means.  The same is true for fitness.

Eighth is Bhrantidarshan, which is misunderstanding, or exercising for the wrong reasons.  This is very common today; for example, I will have new students tell me they want to do Yoga “because Madonna does”, or they want “to get a Yoga butt”, or they heard it was a “great way to lose weight fast”.  Because Yoga is more than a physical routine, this perspective is not balanced.  Now .. if a new student says, “I want to be fit, with a tight body and a balanced mind”, then they will do well.

Ninth is Alabdha-bhumikatva, which is self-depreciation or low optimism.  This relates back to the defeatism found in Sanshaya (self-doubt), but manifests on a much deeper level.  Alabdha-bhumikatva is true low self-esteem or the idea that one is not worthy.  This Antaraya (obstacle) is rooted in our subconscious mind; meaning, perhaps one has been told they are ‘fat’ or ‘stupid’, ‘lazy’ or ‘incompetent’, or otherwise not able to accomplish anything.  Because Yoga is both a body and mind practice, it works very well in healing the self of such a dark obstacle; remember, Yoga is a healing practice .. period.

Tenth is Anawasthitatwa, which is instability, or beginning a Yoga practice with a poor / weak foundation.  This is one of the reasons why I rant about ‘gym yoga’ or ‘DVD yoga’, and lately, ‘Wii yoga’, these are strictly physical practices that exist without a true Yoga foundation, without the keen eye of a true Yogi, and exist strictly for commercial purposes (respectively).  At their most innocent, they create bad habits that must be unlearned; at their worst they create injury, and physical and mental imbalance.  Anawasthitatwa is true body and mind instability, and is seen not just in Yoga but in many aspects of daily living.

Where any of these Antaraya exist, they create a ‘reason’ for one to either:

-walk away from Yoga,

-to ignore the obstacle and push through it,

-or to confront the Antaraya headon and so incorporate struggle.

All three approaches are wrong, for all three contribute to and add onto the obstacle(s).

A common expression heard in many Yoga classes is, Do the practice and all else will come. Over the years I have heard many parrot this without understanding it; in fact, taking one of the three courses of action above.  It does not mean, ‘fake it until you make it’, because that has never been an effective means of overcoming an obstacle.

The maxim is about DOing the practice, rather than just going through the motions, or not being truly present in the body during the practice.  You see, once you shift your awareness inwards then you begin to literally feel things you never felt before (physical and mentally ‘feel’), to hear sounds you never noticed before, to think on things not thought of in many years, or to have a thought that ‘comes out of the blue’ and surprises you that it was even in your head.

This is Yoga.  And this is the “all else” that does indeed come with the DOing.

So the way ..

To remove all these obstacles,

there is but one practice.

Clarity of bodymind is found

in friendliness and happiness,

in compassion where there is misery,

joy towards the upright,

and indifference to the mean-spirited.

All is attained through inhalation,

exhalation, and the retention of Prana.

-Rajayog sutras 1.32-34

Or, as I always teach, Breathe Well.  Smile Often.

Yoga is not a quick fix, but then, nothing truly worth having is.  Quality takes diligence and patience, determination and discipline ..lol.. words many of us don’t like to hear yet innately know to be the true, while realizing this to be the only way of accomplishment and attainment.

Namaste and Peace Out!



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Vishwanath, Pune, India
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 23:20:35

    Great post. Very lucidly stated. Liked it.


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