I.30 व्याधिस्त्यानसंशयप्रमादालस्याविरति-भ्रान्तिदर्शनालब्धभूमिकत्वानवस्थितत्वानि चित्तविक्षेपस्तेऽन्तराया:

vyādhi-styāna-saṁśaya-pramādālasyāvirati-bhrānti-darśanālabdha-bhūmikatvānavasthitatvāni citta-vikṣepas te ‘ntarāyāḥ

bhūmikatva-anavasthitatvāni citta-vikṣepaḥ te antarāyāḥ

“Disease, stagnancy, doubt, lack of care, low energy, boundarilessness, delusion, inability to hold ground, instability–these are disturbances of citta. They are obstacles.”

Obstacles, in a general sense, can range from external outer circumstances to internal–physical, mental, emotional. Patañjali provides this specific list to describe blocks to inward connectedness (see sūtra I.29). The word he uses is antarāya, literally “what comes in between” (from antar, “between,”  + i, “to go”). These antarāyas could be understood to be what comes in between ourselves and our own selves.

If yoga is a process of integration, then the revelation of our inner disruptions and agitations is perhaps an opportunity–an opportunity to gain self-knowledge, to explore deeper layers of patterning in us.

Encountering obstacles, in my experience, is not a happy event, and generally has led me to feel further from the goal, deflected, perhaps confused about what that goal is. Yet there is some deep learning in each obstacle–whether it be a physical injury or a moral dilemma. My friend and teacher Carrie Owerko has often spoken of committing to “process not product.” I have found this to be a useful and encouraging idea when encountering difficulty–especially spiritual difficulty, what St. John of the Cross, the sixteenth-century Spanish poet and mystic, called “the dark night of the soul.”

“When they are going about these spiritual exercises with the greatest delight and pleasure, and when they believe that the sun of Divine favor is shining most brightly upon them, God turns all this light of theirs into darkness, and shuts against them the door and the source of the sweet spiritual water which they were tasting in God whensoever and for as long as they desired.”

–St. John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, from chapter viii


“This sūtra describes the nine obstacles or impediments which obstruct progress and distract the aspirant’s consciousness. [They] can be divided into physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual [obstacles].” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.30

“We have to find out what mechanisms come into our meditation, how our mind behaves, how the consciousness reacts, how the intelligence reacts, what thoughts come between us and the pure light of the soul, what thoughts come between us and awareness inside and outside.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p. 135

“Some days or weeks, when you are practicing, the mind will be calm and easily concentrated and you will find yourself progressing fast. All of a sudden, one day, the progress will stop, and you will find yourself, as it were, stranded. But persevere. All progress proceeds by such rise and fall.” –Swami Vivekananda, Raja-Yoga, commentary on I.30

• If you were to draw your own list of obstacles, what would it look like?
• In your own words (not Patañjali’s), what is the goal that the obstacles are getting in the way of? What is your idea of progress?
• How would you classify the obstacles that you encounter? Are they physical, mental or spiritual? How do the physical, mental, spiritual interrelate (for you)?
• What have you learned from an obstacle?


masculine noun in compound

illness (from vi-, “away,” + ā-, intensifier,+ dhā, “to hold”; to be out of health, separated or divided)


neuter noun in compound

density, thickness, spread (from styai, “to thicken”)


masculine noun in compound

doubt (from sam-, “all,”+ śī,  “to lie down, sleep”)


masculine noun in compound

carelessness (from pra-, “toward,” + mād, “to be intoxicated”)


neuter noun in compound

want of energy, lethargy (from ā-, in the sense of diminution, + las, “to shine”)


feminine noun in compound

incontinence, boundarilessness (from vi, “away” + ram, “to  enjoy”;  to stop or pause)


feminine noun in compound

error (from bhram, “to wander”)


neuter noun in compound

vision (from dṛś, “to see”)


past participle in compound

not-obtained, not-held (from a, “not,” + labh, “to obtain”)


neuter noun in compound

groundedness (from bhū, “to become”; bhūmi is “earth”)


neuter noun, 1st case ,plural

instability (from an-, “not,” + ava-, “away,” + sthā, “to stand,” + –tva, which makes an abstract noun)


neuter noun in compound

mind, consciousness, life field (from cit, “to perceive, to observe, to know”)


masculine noun, 1st case ,plural

disruptions, disturbances (from vi-, “apart,”+ kśīp, “to throw”; throw about)


pronoun, 1st case, plural

these, they


masculine noun, 1st case, plural

obstacle, block, what gets in the way (from antar + i, “to go between”)

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