In my studies of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, I recently read Chapter 1, Verse 30. It outlines the obstacles on the path to Self-Realization. I find the verse to be incredible helpful and enlightening. Below is the verse and my commentary on it. (It also can be found in the Yoga Sutra section of this website.)
Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path,
and are 1) physical illness, 2) tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, 3) doubt or indecision,
4) lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, 5) laziness in mind and body,
6) failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, 7) incorrect assumptions or thinking,
8) failing to attain stages of the practice, and 9) instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
1) Physical Illness - We always say "at least you have your health," because without physical health, we are unable to focus our attentions on anything other than our misery and disease. This is why Asana/Postures are so prevalent in the early yoga practice. They heal and strengthen the body, enabling us to move further down the path of self-realization. A good diet also plays an important role in physical health.
2) Tendency of the mind to not work efficiently - We know this by another name: distraction. Our thoughts can become diluted, unclear, wandering. Distraction leads to an overactive mind, one that has trouble accomplishing tasks and achieving goals.
3) Doubt or indecision - Each choice we make has many alternate possibilities. When we choose, it is important to be considerate without being indecisive. It is the nature of decisions, especially difficult ones, that we can choose many paths. When we choose, we should do so clearly and without delay, moving forward without looking back or trying to make the same decision over and over again.
4) Lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi - Even if we are healthy, focused and decisive, we will make limited progress toward self-realization unless we put effort specifically into its pursuit.
5) Laziness in mind and body - We all know this one. No matter how good it feels when we practice, make progress, read and learn, it is so easy to choose rest, apathy and laziness. Avoiding laziness is a discipline that we must demand of ourselves, both physically and mentally.
6) Failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects - Our culture idolizes those with money, big houses, vacations, power, beauty and attention. So the desire for these worldly things is almost bred into us. But these things do not change who we are. Worse, they clutter, distract and confuse us, keeping us from making spiritual progress. Worldly objects and focus actually prevent us from self-realization. With this realization, freedom from worldly desires becomes easier.
7) Incorrect assumptions or thinking - This is easy enough to understand in theory. When we believe things that aren't true, our actions and progress will be limited or in the wrong direction. The difficult part is finding where our thinking is incorrect. The only way that I know to do that is constant learning and exploration. We must always be ready to revise or change our views as we learn new things. We should seek the best information possible, and be very critical in what we choose to assimilate into our personal systems of belief.
8) Failing to attain stages of the practice - We must always be growing and progressing toward self-realization. We shouldn't let ourselves become stagnant in our habits or practices, because even good practices can turn into barriers with too much mindless repetition. We should also seek teachers who can guide us further on the path.
9) Instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained - Through laziness or simple inconsistency, it isn't difficult to backslide once we have achieved a certain level of practice. We should strive to maintain our practice and also to grow beyond it.
This journal honors my ongoing experience with the practice, study and teaching of yoga.
1) Sridaiva Yoga: Good Intention But Imbalanced
2) Understanding Chair Posture
2) Why I Don't Use Sanskrit or Say Namaste
3) The Meaningless Drudgery of Physical Yoga
5) Beyond Bikram: Why This Is a Great Time For Ghosh Yoga