Evolution: the obstacles

There are endless possibilities to grow and evolve through yoga practice – so let’s look at what might be holding us back!

Disease – that dominates and disturbs the mind.

Dullness – losing the sharpness of your awareness, daydreaming, "spacing out".

Doubt – "I’ve been doing this exercise for so long without any change; should I change the teacher, or do something else?"

Procrastination/putting things off – "I will begin the classes again next week." (Next week there is another thing that intervenes, and this can go on for years.)

Laziness/sleepiness (tamas) – drinking coffee for a short-term solution or partaking in physical activity will remove this.

Craving – "I’d love to eat something, see somebody, experience something, do something other than what I’m trying to focus on now."

Erroneous perception – in higher stages of meditation we might experience visions from the psychic realm and mistake them for spiritual evolution/enlightenment. Thinking that you’ve attained a higher level when you haven’t. The ‘this is it’ illusion.

Inability to achieve finer stages in practice – for example not being able to feel energy flowing through the body, or to visualize anything.

Instability – body suddenly shaking or moving when you try to sit perfectly still for some time, reducing the level of your concentration.

Pain – disturbing/distracting both body and mind.

Depression – instead of feeling light, harmonious and content, becoming subdued and depressed.

"I don’t have time" – (to do a particular thing or to attend classes). The concept of time is very much linked to the mind. And we all know how the mind can work for or against our evolution. It can hold us back in old, vicious circles of action and thought, or move us forwards. Yoga is geared towards enabling us to take responsibility and control of our life as well as our mind. If our ‘mantra’ is “I do not have the time”, then it is clear that we do not have control over our life.

All these obstacles can be eradicated by developing one-pointed awareness of mind, which is the reason I keep asking you to focus on the breath and to visualize a candle flame in the space between you eyebrows!

This list of obstacles was compiled by the sage Patanjali in his book "The Yoga Sutras" written around 400 BC (except the last item, which is my own insight). Human evolution has been unbalanced, and despite huge technological advances we are still struggling on these mental, emotional and psychological levels in the 21st century. So where do these obstacles come from?

The three gunas

In the classes I have been sharing information with you about three ‘attributes’ (tamas, rajas and sattwa) that influence us, nature, the cosmos and everything material in it. They are ‘the three gunas’ and are inherent to all creation (prakriti). All material things fall under the fluctuation of these three elements. They affect us subjectively on a psychological and mental level and objectively via manifestations that take place in the world around us.

Tamas – inertia, lethargy, laziness, resistance, sluggishness, procrastination, the prevention of movement, making us feel "stuck", unchangeable, ignorant, negative, destructive, passive and indifferent. For example if you are experiencing tamas, while you may have the idea that attending classes will help you, it will probably remain just that, an idea without action! Yet the good news is that tamas will also make you feel grounded and very stable, with the ability to focus on one thing (good news or bad news depending on what you are focussed on)! Yet in tamas the consciousness is in darkness, leading to "doom and gloom" patterns of thought and the inability to see the positive side of people and situations.

Rajas – Action, dynamism, vitality, restlessness, agitation, dissipation, instability, uncertainty, fluctuating passions, insatiable desire, worldly ambition, a need for appropriation, greed, enterprise, charity but only for your own benefit (‘what’s in it for me?’) and therefore full of self aggrandizement, pride, hypocrisy, anger and harshness. The good news? This dynamic activity leads to assertiveness, creativity and the motivation to grow and evolve. How many people, situations and institutions express and stimulate rajas?

Sattwa – balance, harmony, calmness, fearlessness and clarity (one knows which direction to take, what has to be done and how), inner luminosity (ajna chakra is active), positive nature, purity in word, thought and action, compassion, a striving to help and benefit others whenever possible without seeking fame, name or reward for doing so. Faith, reverence, devotion, inspiration, self-control and stability in all circumstances. Feeling free and experiencing full mental absorption during meditation.

During your day try to be aware which of these is most active at any given moment, beginning with how you feel when you wake up. How does this change throughout the day? How did what you ate affect the three gunas? Each of us has a dominant guna. Be aware of how the gunas express themselves in the behaviour of colleagues, family, friends, animals, plants and even weather conditions.

During the class pay attention to which physical movements stimulate tamas, rajas or sattwa and to how you feel after the class.

Regular yoga practice, along with development of one-pointed consciousness, will balance the fluctuations of tamas and rajas, allowing you to experience a state of sattwa increasingly often.