overcoming obstacles and dissolving obstructions
Updated: Jan 4, 2019
The kleshas, the five causes of suffering, are often what bring us to yoga. We find some relief and feel better, freer, lighter, and stronger. Then we get busy and distracted and stop practicing. The sages knew and wrote about these obstacles and obstructions because humans have always experienced mental and physical disease. Pain is part of being alive. It can sound judgmental to name these blockages that keep us in avidya (ignorance, the primary cause of all suffering,) but yoga is real and does not shy away from the truth but faces it with compassion for all suffering and the distractions that keep us humans unstable.
The yogic litany of obstacles (chitta viksepa) contains universal knowledge and sounds very similar to one of my favorite literary delights, Pilgrim’s Progress: sickness which disturbs the physical equilibrium; languor or lack of mental disposition for work; doubt or indecision; indifference or insensibility; laziness (plain and simple!); sensuality as in when the rousing of desire for sensory objects possesses the mind; false or invalid knowledge also known as illusion; failure to attain continuity of thought or concentration so that reality cannot be seen; instability in holding on to concentration which has been attained after long practice. This last distraction should keep even the most experienced practitioner humble! No matter how much progress you make or how long you have been practicing, you can lose your integrity if you don’t maintain discipline, dedication, and devotion. I have heard rock star yoga teachers say that after you have been teaching yoga for decades, you don’t have to practice regularly anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are really practicing yoga, you know that you will always need to practice more, not less.
We also can be blocked by dukha, (Sanskrit for pain and misery,) despair, unsteadiness of the body, and unsteady respiration. As I have said before, all of these distractions from the steady, strong practice of yoga are aspects of poor mental or physical health. Remembering that eastern wisdom does not distinguish between physical and mental disease, the physical lack of ease reflects or creates mental instability.
Yoga offers many strategies and techniques to overcome these obstacles and dissolve these obstructions and blockages. The following is by no means a complete description but outlines the practices that have been most helpful to me, my clients and my students:
1) Practicing the ethics, the yamas and niyamas, establishes and maintains healthy boundaries with others and realistic expectations for yourself. Maintaining this energetic balance between your inner and outer worlds manifests in your behavior. You thus overcome obstacles both within and without and maintain the space that has been cleared.
2) Practicing pranayama (techniques which regulate your breath and energy) also dissolves internal obstructions and maintains a clear and strong container for your personal prana. Pranayama practice also supports you in coordinating and cooperating with the cosmic prana all around you
3) Yogins practice positive, nonmanipulative social skills. Being friendly, compassionate, and cheerful even when things are hard can seem challenging but, when we can muster this attitude, we will find ease in our effort. And this is balanced out by not engaging with actions that oppose your values. This does not necessarily mean ignoring or avoiding someone, although it may. But more likely focus on finding a way to engage with the person, not their actions, in a loving way. These yogic social skills are practical applications of the ethics of yoga (the yamas and niyamas mentioned above.) I say positive and nonmanipulative because it is very much in vogue these days to have brilliant social skills that are negative and manipulative as evidenced by our president and many others often via social media. Yogins go out of the way to be non harming and non violent when they socialize, ahimsa being the first and foremost of all the ethics.
4) Sadhana is probably the most effective behavior in terms of overcoming obstacles and dissolving obstructions. Consistent and regular personal practice of postures, energy regulation and meditation will result in a free flow of prana through the strong and clear container of your physical body. Energetically, you will know what to do and when to do it with easy effort and little mental activity. Sadhana connects you with your own internal wisdom and intuition as well as with the greater mind and cosmic consciousness so that you can act in concert with the bigger picture.
5) Participating in sangha, joining and committing to a community of like minded practitioners who seek heart and meaning in the living of life, will also assist in the overcoming of obstacles and the melting away of blockages. On the day of New Year’s Eve, I was in a deep funk. Feeling physically exhausted and emotionally sad, I attended the chanting of OM JAI SHREE JAI RAM JAI JAI RAM at the home of a friend and neighbor. Surrounded by the loving acceptance of my fellow travelers, immersed in the ancient music and words of this beautiful tradition, my depression and grief literally began to melt away. While the sadness persisted for a while longer, this touch on bliss moved me from being stuck in the daily drama to seeing the whole panorama of life, my own little life amidst the life of humanity and of this planet.
6) What is the difference between overcoming obstacles, and dissolving obstructions? Overcoming obstacles can be thought of as dealing with challenges. These challenges may be difficult people, unresolved conflicts, busy schedules or just crazy situations. However, all of these are likely at least partly the result of your own samskaras, the patterns, habits, coping strategies and defense mechanisms that you have developed and established over the course of your life. These obstructions are the more internal blocking and cluttering of your interior terrain. Yoga is in many ways the worship of the fire element, melting the obstructions in the fire of all the practices mentioned here but also giving you the ground and the strength to overcome the more external obstacles. Again, remember that the external obstacles are often a reflection or manifestation of internal work that needs to be done.
7) Working with your teacher(s) will also be very beneficial in overcoming obstacles and dissolving obstructions. They may not be who you think they are or will be! We tend to think of our yoga instructors, sages, and gurus as our teachers. And they certainly will help us see who we really are and what our lessons here in this life are. But often our most effective teachers are people who upset us and bring us face to face with our samskaras and the internal obstructions. Or our teachers may be people whose actions oppose our values and they are literally the external obstacles that will motivate us to access both inner reserves and outer supports in order to progress on the yogic path.
All of these strategies, skills, techniques, and practices are about staying in alignment with your core values. Perhaps, as you begin 2019, clarify what your core values are. Know what you are aligning with and what you are aligning for. This can be quite nuanced and don’t expect that it will always feel good. For example, when I was so blue on the last day of 2018, I was aligning with sadness for the process of grief and loss. By staying with my core values, such as sangha, chanting, and meditation, I was able to remember who I am: whole, innocent, and complete. And I was reminded that my brief life is resplendent with the ups and downs, losses and gains, births and deaths that reflect the infinite, eternal jewel of reality.