The other day a friend shared this:
Does that sound familiar to you?
It certainly does for me and I felt joyful about my friend’s feeling of victory.
However, why we are compelled to inaction? If we know that yoga will make us feel better, why not do it?
I think naming the obstacle is the first step towards taking action. My friend named it as anxiety.
The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali offer 9 possible reasons in sūtra 1.30:
Doubt about self-worth
Distraction and carelessness
Inability to engage because of a heavy feeling
Desires and cravings
Inability to reach, grasp, or comprehend the goal
Tendency to slide back away from inner stability
Physical Illness (Vyādhi)
Feeling physically unwell naturally leads to despondency and makes it difficult to practice. Illness prevents us from moving vigorously, practicing pranayama, or sitting for a meditation. But Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra are always available and deeply transformative ways to practice.
This strange emotionless emotion saps so much energy. It makes you feel unable to act and without any will do so. Passivity marks apathy. When you feel apathetic you just don’t care enough about anything. And even worse, you don’t care that you don’t care.
Doubt about Self-Worth (Samśaya)
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait suggests that our doubts about self-worth arise in times mindlessness. He writes it is a “tendency to grasp two extreme ends and its failure to grasp what lies between.”
Distraction and Carelessness (Pramādā)
We could just call this one the 21st century obstacle. There are more things vying for our attention than ever before. Being careful and attentive only happens with focus. When we are constantly distracted, carelessness is likely to follow.
Inability to engage because of a heavy feeling (Alasyā)
Sometimes translated as laziness, I think describing this obstacle as a heavy feeling is more accurate. It’s not laziness as a conscious choice not to engage with practice. This is more like a feeling of burnout. Constant stress leads us to feeling overwhelmed, emotionally depleted, and unable to meet constant demands. No wonder we can’t get to our practice.
Desires and cravings (Avirati)
Responding to our cravings for comfort or numbness only feels better short term. We seek quick fixes like late night snacks even when they make us sleep poorly. Or we self-medicate with drugs and alcohol as a way to escape our emotional state even when we know we’ll feel worse for it later.
Perhaps the most subtle but the most pervasive impediment is our attachment to a distorted sense of reality. Many a great philosopher has grappled with understanding how and why the the mind has the ability to create stories based on our experiences. It’s so often that these stories explain away and justify our self-damaging behavior.
Inability to reach, grasp, or comprehend the goal (Alabdhabhūmikatvā)
The goal oriented among us know this one instantly. It’s so difficult to engage in some activity if it’s not clear exactly why. Almost worse to know why and the goal but just not be able to attain it.
Tendency to slide back away from inner stability (Anavasthitatvā)
Habits are strong. Even when our habits are detrimental. The glimpse of inner stability and peace at the end of a practice loses its power to motivate us when we’ve gone back to our regular routine.
Of course, this is all about yoga practice and self-care.
But it’s about everything else in our lives from politics to housework to relationships.
There is work to be done to ease suffering.
First, name your obstacles.
Then, get to work.
I leave you with one final inspiration. It’s a quote from another beloved yoga text.