1.30 – The obstacles or distractions which disturb the field of consciousness are: illness, mental dullness, doubt, negligence, laziness, excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure, philosophical confusion, failure to progress to higher states, and inability to stabilize higher states.

व्याधिस्त्यानसंशयप्रमादालस्याविरतिभ्रान्तिदर्शनालब्धभूमिकत्वानवस्थितत्वानि चित्तविक्षेपास्तेऽन्तरायाः ॥३०॥

vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhranti darshana alabdha bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah

  • vyadhi – illness; ailment; disease
  • styana – mental dullness; density; thickness; mental sloth
  • samshaya – doubt; hesitation
  • pramada – negligence; carelessness
  • alasya – laziness; idleness; slothful
  • avirati – excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure; lack of moderation or restraint
  • bhranti-darshana – philosophical confusion
  • alabdha-bhumikatva – inability to obtain any degree of deep meditation; not being able to progress to higher states of consciousness
  • anavasthitatva – instability; unsteadiness
  • chitta – consciousness; field of consciousness; reflecting; mind; thought
  • vikshepa – distractions; scattering; disruptions; disturbances
  • te – these; they
  • antarayah – obstruction; hindrance; impediment

On the path to illumination, we will confront many obstacles. By categorizing them here, Patanjali reveals their universal nature.

This helps us see we’re not alone in our struggles. There’s nothing inherently wrong with us, nothing evil about us that makes us unfit to walk the yogic path.

We can view obstacles as teachers rather than enemies. They create the friction and resistance of spiritual work, which makes us stronger and helps us evolve.

The nine types of obstacles:

  1. Illness

Illness can be a severe obstacle. It can range from a minor cold to terminal cancer. Generally, if our body isn’t well, our consciousness isn’t going to be clear. The exception to this rule is that we’ve already transcended our identification with the body. At that point, no obstacles exist.

Those of us still on the path to liberation must take care to maintain our vehicles. For this reason, yogis developed a system of healing called ayurveda, which means “the science of life.” Ayurveda teaches us how to align ourselves with the rhythm and flow of nature. In doing so, we come to experience balance and radiant health. Ideally, this prevents the obstacle of illness from arising in the first place.

If we’re already wrestling with serious illness, taking the steps needed to reestablish a state of well-being becomes a large part of our yogic discipline. The disease may propel us toward a major shift in our life priorities and serve as the catalyst we need for spiritual growth.

Faith and trust in the divine can empower us to transform the harshest obstacles into powerful allies. This has even been the experience of some suffering from an incurable disease. The illness becomes the guru, the force that “dispels all darkness.” Relating to it as a teacher, and through the power of grace, we may learn true compassion, discover a deeper sense of surrender, and become free.

  1. Dullness of mind

Styana, meaning “dullness of mind,” is also translated as “lethargy,” “density,” or “apathy.” The mind becomes heavy and dull when under the influence of tamas guna, the force of inertia. The most effective way to overcome inertia is to tap the power of rajas guna, the force of passion, activity, and movement.

A few ways to do this are to exercise, eat spicy foods, and listen to lively music. Anything that will get our blood moving and clear our senses.

But an excess of rajas can create restlessness. The ideal is to cultivate sattva guna, nature’s uplifting and harmonious force. But we can’t get from a tamasic state (dullness and inertia) to a sattvic state (clarity and upliftment) without rajas (passion and action).

These three gunas are in continuous flux. They constantly influence our states of consciousness. Therefore, becoming aware of their effects on us is an invaluable part of yogic training. (You can find more information on the gunas in the commentary on Sutras 2.19—2.22).

  1. Doubt

A degree of skepticism is healthy. Yoga is not a path of blind belief. But once we see the value of our practice, we can’t keep second-guessing it if we want to progress.

Patanjali tells us that faith, the opposite of doubt, is one of the traits which precedes the experience of the higher samadhi. This isn’t faith in a religious doctrine or dogma but faith in our practice that comes from examining the previous results we’ve experienced. And it’s faith that our inner Awareness will continue to light our way.

  1. Negligence

To be negligent is to be inattentive or careless. We must stay vigilant, mindful, and in tune with the energy of the moment. In this way, we will notice when we begin to go astray and be able to course-correct before spiraling out of control.

Before rolling out of bed, a quick body scan can show us where we’re blocked and what we need to focus on for the day. If we’re feeling anxious, sluggish, restless, or holding tension in certain areas, we can become aware of that before diving into activity or interacting with others. Throughout the day, we can take a slow breath down through the heart and into the belly and feel where we’re at inside.

Just as a plant or tree needs regular water, minerals, and sunshine to grow and thrive, we need the proper spiritual nourishment. Consistent training will supply us with that energy and ensure we’re not knocked off course by the obstacle of negligence.

  1. Laziness

Like dullness of mind, laziness stems from an excessive influence of tamas guna. We can overcome it in the same way as discussed earlier.

Another name for tamas guna is resistance. Resistance keeps us in bed in the morning rather than getting up early to meditate. It glues us to the couch when we should be heading to the gym to work out.

Resistance, and the lazy attitude it creates, will block all progress on the path unless we overcome it with the power of our will.

  1. Excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure

Despite what many monastics may tell us, sex is not an obstacle to the spiritual path. A healthy sexual relationship can contribute to vitality, well-being, empathy, and higher levels of consciousness.

However, allowing ourselves to be overcome with lust, and obsessed with sexual pleasure, can deplete our vitality, disturb our balance, and create complicated drama in our life.

  1. Philosophical confusion

Confusion about the purpose and meaning of life causes us to become stuck. Anxiety builds, and we can’t see a way forward. Excessive study is not the way out. We can spend years stuck in endless mental mazes constructed by scholars and pundits who have mistaken intellectual knowledge for Self-realization.

The key is to come back to our training. Because it’s through training that we will develop the clarity of mind that will allow us to access our intuition, also known as our higher intellect or “buddhi.” Awakened intuition will enable us to discern the Real from the unreal. And the perception of the Real will dispel all confusion.

That doesn’t mean we should burn all our books. Right view is indispensable. And we can acquire that through regular contemplation of spiritual writings, listening to and reflecting on the words of an awakened teacher, and Self-inquiry. But it’s crucial we understand the distinction between intellectual study and spiritual work. Training always takes precedence over study.

  1. Failure to progress to higher states

There can be multiple reasons why we fail to progress to samadhi. One cause is that our training is not intensive. Another is that we’re not cultivating detachment.

A third reason could be that we are trying to will ourselves into enlightenment. We get frustrated and impatient when the results don’t roll in fast enough, rather than surrendering the fruits of our actions and trusting in Awareness.

Samadhi is not a goal we can achieve. Samadhi is a grace bestowed on us by the highest aspect of our Self. Our practice, which can lead to samadhi, is to clear the path through which grace can flow.

  1. Not being able to stay in those higher states

Becoming established in samadhi is a life’s work. Many yogis have risen to high states only to fall and become entangled again in suffering and confusion. This is because the latent impressions in consciousness (samskaras) were still lurking below the surface, waiting to become activated.

It’s easy to be still and peaceful when isolated from the world. But the moment you come down from the mountain, all your fears and desires surface. Until all karma is dissolved in the light of Awareness, the chance of falling back into lower states will remain.