Yoga philosophy is based on the idea of evolution toward mental clarity and reduced suffering. Patanjali described in the Yoga Sutras methods for achieving this goal. Three consecutive sutras (1.30-1.32) describe potential obstacles along the path and how to overcome them.
1.30 vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti-darshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah
Distractions arise (disease; dullness; doubt; carelessness; laziness; craving; distorted perspective; inability to know the true meaning and purpose of one’s practice; and inability to remain grounded) as obstacles naturally encountered on the path of evolution and self-awareness.
1.31 duhkha daurmanasya angam-ejayatva shvasa prashvasah vikshepa sahabhuva
As a result of encountering the obstacles listed in the previous sutra, four consequences arise: 1) duhkha = mental or physical pain, 2) daumanasya = sadness or dejection, 3) angam-ejayatva = shakiness or restlessness, and 4) shvasa/prashvasah = irregularities in the inhalation/exhalation.
1.32 tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasah
To prevent or deal with these nine obstacles and their four consequences, the recommendation is to practice meditation – training the mind to recognize when obstacles arise and to focus/refocus on a single principle or object.
Expect Obstacles! Distractions of the mind are natural. Our minds are designed to seek new information (Hallowell, 2011; Makris, Biederman, Monutaeux, & Seidman, 2009; Rock, 2009). The negative effects come when distractions arise (chitta-vikshepa) and attention follows the ideas away from mental clarity resulting in suffering – just like a dog catching sight of a squirrel and chasing after it. The suffering comes when we remain distracted, unclear.
The solution to getting caught in the suffering of a distracted mind is to first notice the distraction. Distractions can take us off course subtly. It may be you only recognize them through consequences of the distractions – when you’re experiencing physical or mental pain, sadness, shakiness, or irregular breath.
Once you are aware of the distraction, recognize that this is the natural habit of the mind and give yourself a break. Let go of attachment to the distraction (vairagya) and any judgement about the strength of your mind. Use your energy to redirect the mind to the one point of focus. With the example of the dog on a leash, when the dog jerks away to chase the squirrel you must pull back and make the command to heel as many times as needed.
To build the strength of one-pointed attention you must practice! Regular practice (abhyasa) is required to strengthen the mind and the body. Repeated practice of focusing your attention builds neuropathways (Congleton, Holzel, & Lazar, 2015; Fox et al., 2014; Ludwig & Kabat-Zinn, 2008). This practice requires thoughtful attention or mindfulness rather than sinking deeper into a distraction (like work, TV, internet, etc.). The next Sutras (1.33-1.39) describe specific methods for practicing one-pointed attention including; breath awareness, sensation, inner luminosity, contemplation on a stable mind, and focusing on the stream of the mind.
Come explore your distractions and consequences with guided practice of movement (asana), breathing (pranayama), and meditation on Fridays in October at 11:30-12:45pm classes at Dragonfly 360 studio in Nora.
Kim Allen has been a student of yoga since 1993 and her training has focused on using movement, breath, and meditation to best meet the needs of the practitioner. Kim is a certified 500-hr yoga instructor and 500-hr yoga therapist.