“Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from firm ground gained–these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.”

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra (Thread) or Lesson 30: Vyadhi Styana Samsaya Pramadalasyavirati Bhrantidarsanalabdhabhumikatvanasthitatvani Chittaviksepaste’ntarayah

Vyadhi: disease | Styana: dullness | Samsaya: doubt | Pramada: carelessness | Alasya: laziness | Avirati: sensuality, intemperance | Bhranti: false | Darsana: perception | Alabdhabhumikatva: failure to reach firm ground | Anavasthitatva: slipping down from ground gained | Ani (an ending to the nine words that groups them together) | Citta: mind-stuff | Viksepah (Viksepas): distraction | Te: these | Antarayah (‘Ntarayah): obstacles

According to Patanjali, there are 9 main hurdles/distractions that Yogis encounter, and may, therefore, have to overcome on their journey to Samadhi, Asamprajnata Samadhi, and Kaivalya.

These 9 hindrances include 1) disease: illness that leads to pain and/or suffering (this includes sickness/injury of the mind, body, and/or spirit), 2) dullness: boredom or lack of enthusiasm for the truth/higher understandings fueled by lack of adequate comprehension due to sustained and/or deeply ingrained ignorance or lack of effort to develop your capacity to continually and/or sufficiently sharpen/refine your intellect/Buddhi, 3) doubt: lack of confidence in the Truth and/or in yourself, 4) carelessness: indifference/lack of mindfulness or neglect of careful thoughts, words, actions, and/or practice, 5) laziness: failure to take action or to sufficiently practice, often illustrating disregard for the Truth, 6) sensuality: overindulgence in the senses, 7) false perception: incorrect thinking/views, 8) failure to reach firm ground: failure to understand what is needed for your advancement and/or not making sufficient enough inner progress to gain security in maintaining your practice/goals, etc., and 9) slipping from any firm ground gained: losing sight of your practice/goals and/or dismissing any learnings that you have gained along the way–failing to adequately and consistently apply, or to integrate, your learning/understanding for your inner growth and evolution.

These are all distractions that can turn you away from your practice, goals, and inner development altogether if you are not diligent, significantly delaying your spiritual progress and/or preventing you from reaching enlightenment and Liberation in this lifetime.

This list serves as both a warning, and somewhat of a guideline (since, for the most part, these distractions are inevitable), in any Yogi’s practice before he/she becomes fully secure in Yoga and has safely and successfully transcended over-identification with form and the ego.

Obviously, therefore, being afflicted by one or more of these 9 issues can become problematic for practicing individuals.

Having awareness of these issues, however, also helps those on the spiritual path to be better prepared on their voyage, and, thus, more capable of overcoming any challenges along the way.

Delaying Or Stopping Progress…Or Creating Clarity And Motivation To Make Better Progress?

Each distraction on Patanjali’s list can naturally take any practicing Yogi away from his/her goal of achieving Self-Realization by delaying positive movement forward in one way or another at any given time, but, the real issue with these 9 distractions, is not in their ability to delay progress, but in their potential to stop progress altogether. If your distractions become solidified obstacles, they have the potential to completely take you off the path toward your goal entirely (in worst case scenarios), which makes these distractions even more potentially serious if you are truly committed to reaching Liberation in this lifetime.

Knowing that these distractions exist as potential issues on your path, however, will help you to better identify when they appear, and will further support you to course-correct and get back on track when necessary without too much self-deprecation when/if you slip-up.

Awareness that normalizes the prevalence of these 9 distractions (because they are “normal” for anyone who has not fully integrated higher connection–which is practically everyone on Earth and certainly includes anyone who is not even on a higher spiritual journey with any sincerity to begin with), helps you to be kind and gentle with yourself as you navigate on your Yogic path. Since you will know, without getting too attached or fearful, that, once in a while, there can be possible detours that appear along the way to your inner purification and higher seeing, awareness of these distractions will help you to mentally prepare for any potential issues they may cause by recognizing these disturbances as only temporary in their ability to distract you or get you completely off track.

Below, you will find a detailed overview of the main distractions that we just introduced, and a few tips (although you will ultimately have to customize your solutions to your unique expression) on how to course-correct in each instance if you happen to encounter any distractions that threaten to cause you to stray away from, or to abandon, your higher path (whether it is Eight-Limbed or otherwise) at any point on your inner journey.

The 9 Distractions To Self-Realization And How To Overcome Them

  1. Disease– Sickness, as unpleasant as this truth may be, is a natural part of life. No matter how healthy you may be (or become) throughout the larger span of your life, there will inevitably be instances where you will be afflicted with imbalances and disturbances of the mind, body, and/or spirit. Whether it is a virus, bacteria, a physical injury, or even a deep emotional wound, you must always remember that simply because illness appears in your life, body, or mind at any point, it does not mean that you are destined to be diseased, or sick, forever, or that you immediately become completely unhealthy if you become ill. Health, you are best served remembering, is not the absence of disease, it is an overall state that encompasses many different areas of being. And, no matter what you do to prevent yourself from ever getting sick in your life, your body-mind will, at some point inevitable get off balance (and your body will eventually get old, decay, and die at some point). If you experience illness at any point throughout your journey, whether mental, emotional, physical, or all of these things at the same time, simply work on getting back into balance by seeking the appropriate treatment for your illness. See a therapist or a spiritual counselor if your emotional wounds are too much to bear and you cannot support yourself through a rough patch or you do not have any others to help you, see a physician or naturopath (as appropriate) if you have a physical ailment that is causing you pain or discomfort or if you are experiencing a physical condition that is decreasing your quality of life, and never adopt a mentality that has you feeling helpless and stuck in any way since most illnesses are not permanent. Always know that healing is possible (and likely) for all illnesses (or manageable for those that are chronic) and simply work to regain homeostasis no matter how long your healing process will take. Trust that you can, and will, get better with time and appropriate care if you are ever faced with an illness while navigating on your Yogic journey. And if your disease is incurable, keep going anyway since you can only do what you can at that point. Simply aim to make a commitment to not let any physical ailments stop you from effectively moving forward.
  2. Dullness– Due to ignorance, lack of mental acuity, and/or lack of awareness, it is easy for some people to become, or to remain, weak thinkers, and/or it is common for others to become “bored” or unengaged/zoned-out after some time when practicing in Yoga or any activity. To avoid boredom/dullness, which can lead to complacency, be sure to find new ways to keep your practice vibrant, fresh, and interesting. Integrate new information, activities, and/or skillsets into your practice, seek out deeper and more nuanced knowledge, vary your routine when necessary, and avoid getting stuck in a monotonous routines that cause you to “tune out” and/or to lose motivation to continue forward with your goal. Creating an enriched (and enriching) Yoga practice filled with a variety of activities and things that you like, for example, an interesting Japa meditation routine (that you can change up the symbolic ritual practices around, for example), integrating dancing, adding artistic expression, and so forth, and just generally personalizing your routine to match your “style,” and to cultivate a rich inner landscape, will make it so that you never get tired of continuing on your journey. Create new challenges that incorporate your strengths into your Yoga practice, challenges that support you to grow and to create greater inner clarity and insight (as well as intellectual fitness/endurance/skill). And, as needed, be sure to switch up old routines when they get stale and boring after a while, while still maintaining the discipline to keep any beneficial challenge. To firm yourself up against boredom/dullness, you need to regularly “sharpen” your mind and to strengthen it through eustress and variation. At your core, you only become bored when you are not effectively learning and/or growing. Sustained boredom, with no action taken to either mindfully observe the boredom itself as a learning opportunity, or to create a necessary change to keep your mind sharp/alert/aware, leads to dullness that sets the stage for deeper ignorance and “backwardness,” which will eventually delay your progress, if sustained.
  3. Doubt– You have probably heard the saying that doubt kills more goals than anything else in life. Lack of confidence in the Truth of this path, or in yourself, can deaden your spirit, dampen your will to progress, and it can even deter you from setting out on your journey to begin with. It is essential that when you begin “walking” the Yogic path, that you take some time to reinforce your “why,” (which also helps with overcoming dullness as well) and simply have faith (not by blindly believing, but through verification along the way) that you will get to your goal by staying motivated and confident in what you are doing. Test things out so that you know what is True for sure, and, therefore, have confidence in them. And remember that, with continued effort, Self-Realization is a given, you simply have to possess unwavering trust/faith in yourself and your own unique journey (or just the higher Truth) no matter what things looks like on the surface (since appearances are ever only just that: appearances). Question everything with honest curiosity as you move forward, but do not doubt your Self (after all it’ is the only thing that you know for sure/with any real assuredness truly exists). And never compare your path to any others’. Like you, your Yogic/inner journey is unique, and everyone has the capacity within them, with applied effort and devotion, to reach Samadhi and Asamprajnata Samadhi/Liberation in any given lifetime. The Yoga Sutras would not be written, and/or preserved, if it was not useful as a guide. Your True Self is already who you are; you simply need to clear away the distortions that get in the way of seeing, knowing, and settling into this Truth…which is what your practice is for, so have faith.
  4. Carelessness– General recklessness in life and doing things like slacking off in your Yoga practice may seem tempting (after all, there are infinite shiny useless things to waste your time/energy on in the world), but it is never worth it. Running into/toward dangerous, frivolous, and unhealthy directions/situations (or not leaving/walking away from danger/distraction when you recognize that moving away from what is harming you is the best course of action) is obviously counterproductive to your progress on your journey/in life. This is why slacking off in your practice and neglecting to do the things that you know that you should do is so detrimental. Slacking off in your Yoga practice is such a reckless and dangerous action that it is practically akin to walking straight into the destructive grips of Maya (illusion), ready to be taken into bondage, and asking for unnecessary suffering. This type of behavior only delays your progress and weakens your motivation to continue forward. Love yourself and have enough Self-respect and appreciation to make consistent, intentional, and meaningful efforts toward your goal of Liberation each day (by ideally aligning your work, relationship, and other goals to this higher goal as well), which includes diligently working to avoid careless/reckless behaviors that can create problems (like worldliness, over-consumption/indulgence, pleasure-seeking, too much socializing, etc). Your freedom and peace matter (if not to anyone else, then, I hope, certainly to you)! Even if your efforts are “small,” ensure that you partake in practice (“efforts toward steadiness of mind” [Sutra 13]) activities with earnestness and a sense of reverence each day. Avoid getting involved in toxic situations and with toxic people and remember that you are connecting with the divinity within/of you through your Yoga practice. Always make an effort to give your best effort as you journey forward, and never look down on even the most seemingly mundane activities (especially those aligned with your Yamas and Niyamas) as “nothing” moving forward. Nothing that you do in Yoga (with full intention and earnestness) is ever in vain or ever meaningless” or “useless” in any way. Every step that you take in the right direction on this journey has value…again, no matter how small…so, please keep this in mind at all times (or as much as you can)–especially when you are tempted to slack off or be reckless about your choices in life. Anything that is taking you away from your Yoga practice is a careless undertaking; don’t do it. Go as far away from, or as close to, the world and people and worldly agendas as you need to, but never stray from Yoga. Make everything (every thought, word, and action) for your advancement in Yoga and avoid this problem.
  5. Laziness– Do not just stop practicing or become compulsively sporadic in your practice. As mentioned before, please see your journey as the important undertaking that it is and set a strong internal resolve, even when you are tired, to keep moving forward. Remember that there are Eight Limbs of Yoga and infinite ways to practice. If one limb, or activity, is just not working out for you on any given day, or at any given point overall, please feel free to focus on another limb or activity that gives you more insight and/or energy to progress. Switch up your Sadhana if/when you need to, because maintaining momentum, no matter what it looks like, is key to your consistently walking this important path without too many detrimental delays or pauses. Get an accountability partner or coach if you need to.
  6. Sensuality– If you are tempted to recklessly overindulge in sex, food, drugs, fear/worry/disaster-focused thinking/observation (yes, many people enjoy/are addicted to the “relief” that comes after these feelings), gossiping (shared delusional fantasies), over-socializing/attention-seeking (people crave this as a lower form of “connection”), consumerism (due to feelings of “not-enough-ness” or anything else), or if you are compelled into any other activity that is grounded in unconscious sense-enjoyment, craving, or material pleasure-seeking with a false promise of potential long-term, or deep fulfillment, of any empty void that you may be feeling–things that distract you from your path–just remember that nothing compares to the pure peace, bliss, and fulfillment that you will obtain from, and at the end of (and seek and find through), your Yogic journey. While Earthly pleasures are nice and you can certainly enjoy them in moderation/appropriately (if they are not just entirely destructive to begin with, which many sense-enjoyments that people seek out are), know that these things are pale comparisons to what you will gain from your attainment of the Self-Realization, or even self-control, that you seek. Even a little glimpse of the Truth is enough to tame even the strongest sensual craving/impulse. So, don’t be desperate for, or dependent on, external things for the bliss and fulfillment that you can find within and give to yourself through higher spiritual connection and clarity.
  7. False Perception– Keep your mind and views about the things and people that you observe in life neutral and well-adjusted, and do not be tempted into either seductive delusions or Twisted Thinking that causes you excitement, disturbance, and/or distress and take you off your path or put you on shaky ground while on it. It is easy to get distracted from clear/higher seeing when you are not diligent in your balanced observation of life and the things that occur within it (after all, the world can look crazy, and be confusing, at times). If you have not developed the necessary skill of discernment to be able to truly tell Absolute Reality from unreality, and/or you are still stuck in pleasure-pursuit or pain avoidant behavior that causes you to chase after/follow teachers and teachings that keep you stuck in your ego body-mind overidentification, you will be led into delusion. Simply work to see things as they are, or at a higher level, at all times as opposed to distorting your vision with what you fear, or desperately crave, them to be. When you do this, you can avoid being dragged down a dead end of false perception that warp your understanding as you journey on, getting you entangled further within Maya (illusion) and binding you Karmically to suffering and destruction with others. Work on unlearning as much nonsense as you can while seeking out undistorted Truth. And do not be disturbed by the appearance of anything at any point, including your own clinging to conditioned or seductive ideologies or world views. When things seem bleak on your journey, or in the world, ask yourself: how can/is everything that I encounter and observe useful (to see or otherwise) on my path or for my progress? How can I let go of what does not truly serve me?
  8. Failure To Reach Firm Ground– Keep your focus on your practice/goal (Liberation) and work diligently to learn more about your Self each day. You have to be honestly committed to your goal to attain it in Yoga because everything counts. Understand that having a solid foundation in your practice goals, and being clear about where you are headed, is a key component to your success in getting to your intended destination. If you feel that some concepts are simply not “clicking,” or you need additional clarification/practice in any area as you engage in Self-study, go deeper into your focus, concentration, and meditation, pay better attention, do what you need to do to purify your mind for clearer seeing/understanding, and, when necessary, please seek assistance from a teacher or coach, or, if you are inclined to do so, join a group where you can get the support that you need to work through your blockages (only if in a safe space though, or you may end up doing more harm than good) to stand firmly in your understanding and make progress toward your goal as a Yogi.
  9. Slipping From Firm Ground– Life is unpredictable, and there will always be the inevitable accidents, unforeseen disasters, unexpected events, and/or “Tower” experiences that will shake you to your core and have you questioning everything that you believe, are capable of, and/or stand for. These are great opportunities to restore your faith, confidence, and resolve in your practice and to find new meaning, clarity, and value in your goals so that you can even more effectively move forward with success. Do not feel ashamed, discouraged, nor doomed, if you stray from your path at any point for whatever reason, whether due to a random accident or a bad decision/bad luck (since, do you realize how rare it is to even honestly be on/get on this path at all, no matter how may times you fall back into the distraction of the world/worldly experience?). Even if you get carried away by a “cute little bunny” that has you trapped in a hole for days, weeks, months, or even years, just get yourself out of that hole and keep going. Have faith that your path will still be there when you find your way out of any ignorance, forgetfulness, or bad luck that you may have fallen into or gotten carried away by, and simply use your detour as a strengthening tool to “firm up” your resolve and to succeed (especially if you do not want to fall any further or ever again).

All Of These Are Distractions That Can Grow Into Obstacles– Life can get stressful, confusing, and busy, and there are many shiny objects, promises, obligations, commitments, and “opportunities” that can take you away from your practice, goal, or from your focus on the Truth of who you really are at any given point if you are not yet single-pointedly focused on your Self-Realization and Liberation and sacrificing/devoting everything to this. Distraction is the nature of Maya and the fluctuating body-mind that likes to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, and is often feeling confused and forgetful when led by the ego and living in this realm of manifestation that is filled with potential for anything.

So, get focused, and stay focused, to avoid unnecessary problems and/or lower attachments that will only drag you down and/or back into misery!

Remember, please, that nothing is as important as your connection with your Self and divine expression. While you can certainly participate in all that you would like to engage in/with on your journey “outside of Yoga” (as if there is such a thing, since Yoga is life), do not become so distracted by the things and ways of the world/illusions of Maya that you forget that you are on your path home to your Self altogether, getting lost here in the misery, suffering, and nonsense instead. If you find yourself distracted by anything on your journey, be willing to sacrifice it in order to stay on your path. Whether you need to give yourself more time, more focus, or more commitment to your Eight-Limbed Path (or any other inner path), remember that distractions mainly promise to delay your progress if you are not careful, and the worst thing that can happen is for you to abandon your birthright of Union, and unbounded/unconditional Joy, altogether for an empty glimmer of fleeting pleasure, or due to getting caught up in wallowing, apathy, ignorance, and/or delusion/fantasy/imagination/nightmare that only represents being swept away by illusions that will bind you to suffering.

Your Yogic journey/practice has a higher purpose and it gives meaning and order to your everyday life while creating stability and equanimity in your mind, body, and spirit. But even with all of the benefits that you gain from your practice and journey, it is inevitable that, from time-to-time, you may experience “temptations” and outright unconscious moments (whether voluntary or involuntary) that take you farther/further away from, as opposed to closer to, your goal/Self.

Do not be disheartened if you get distracted, and always know that you can simply choose to get back on the right track no matter how far you stray from your path or your Self. As long as you keep going (no matter how “slowly” or “imperfectly”), you are moving forward; it really is that simple. Small steps will take you to great places over time, and nothing cannot be solved in your practice with the right intention, a bit of effort, and your steadfast commitment.

Knowing that these distractions are a normal part of your journey (that can even be transformed into lessons, or pains for your purification) will better assist you with understanding what to expect on your path and will further support you with course-correcting when necessary.

You will get to your goal if you continue moving forward, so be sure to keep going, and make appropriate adjustments when needed.

And, always remember that getting to Samadhi, though it is the final step on the Yogic Eight-Limbed Path, is only the stepping stone for your full Liberation. This means that there is even more to Yoga than purification of the body-mind-ego for embodied Self-Realization. The Eight-Limbed Path is, at its core, a process for developing Spiritual Fitness/Clarity (Purity). Once you are fit/clear enough to realize who you are, full integration and Union can then take place in Kaivalya, where you can become fully unchained from suffering and false-identification with the ego-body-mind and the illusory world altogether. So…just keep moving forward!

This week, I invite you to assess whether you are currently experiencing any distractions on your path, or, work to identify any potential distractions that may come up.

What are some ways that you can get unstuck/what are some strategies that you can implement to get back on track if you were to (or have already started to) slip off your path?

Have you slipped off your path before? How? And were you able to overcome your distraction and realign with your goal/what matters? Why or why not?

Thank you for reading.

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