Challenges in Hatha Yoga

What the sādhaka needs most is single-minded, devoted practice.

                                                                        -- Patanjali

 

The path of Hatha Yoga can sometimes be a rough one, with dry patches, bumps, and wrong turns.  Obstacles are predictable and are to be expected; they will emerge and re-emerge unless they are overcome. The ancient yogis, having traveled the same path, have given us a guide map, with a number of road signs along the way to help us.

 

Written thousands of years ago, both the Hatha Yoga Pradīpkā and Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras – the key text on Raja Yoga – give us guidance.

 

As BKS Iyengar writes in Light on Yoga, “Hatha Yoga and Rāja Yoga complement each other and form a single approach toward liberation… By performing āsanas, the [practitioner] first gains health, which is not mere existence…It is a state of complete equilibrium of body, mind and spirit...Dualities like gain and loss, victory and defeat, fame and shame, body and mind, mind and soul vanish through the mastery of āsanas.”

 

The ancient Hatha Yoga Pradīpkā gives us a list of six destroyers of yoga practice:

 

  1. Overeating causes obesity, heart disease, digestive disorders, and a host of other illnesses. A diet of moderation is important so that the yogi can perform and progress in āsana and in meditation. Āyurvēdic medicine cites that one should fill half the stomach with food, one quarter with water, and the remaining quarter be left empty.

 

  1. Exertion (meaning overwork) makes performing āsana and meditation difficult. Again, moderation is the order of the day, as a tired body and mind is vulnerable to negative emotions, poor quality of āsana practice and difficulty in meditation.

 

  1. Talkativeness, gossip, and idle chatter scatter the mind. The yogi must be focused on keeping the mind stable and the energy peaceful.

 

  1. Adhering to rules (meaning torturing the body) that are severe, such as extreme fasts or bathing in ice cold water, create negative effects in body and mind. It is necessary to cultivate caution and good judgment.

 

  1. Company of men (meaning keeping good company) is a key to maintaining a peaceful life and to progress on the yogic path. People who are negative, doubters, complainers and energy zappers infect and drain the yogi of their energy, making it more difficult to do āsana and meditation.

 

  1. Unsteadiness in body and mind occur when the yogi does not practice. The Hatha Yogi should be able to sit in place for hours in order to meditate, and control the mind, freeing it of fluctuations.

 

This list primarily relates to the obstacles in the physical aspects of yoga, as Hatha Yoga emphasizes on refining the body and the breath in order for the aspirant to easily reach the non-dualistic state of consciousness, the goal of Rāja Yoga.

 

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras gives us a list of nine other obstacles:

 

  1. physical illness,
  2.  inertia,
  3. doubt,
  4. carelessness,
  5. idleness,
  6. indiscipline of the senses,
  7. living in illusion,
  8. lack of perseverance,
  9. inability to maintain achieved progress.

 

If these nine obstacles are not conquered, the Sūtras name four further obstacles which may appear, according to the circumstances:  pain, despair, unsteadiness of the body, and unsteadiness of the breath.

 

This list relates more to the workings of the mind and emotions, as Rāja Yoga is the path of meditation.

 

The Upanishads’ (the most ancient of texts, written before the Yoga Sūtras and Hatha Yoga Pradīpkā) list of destroyers include “bad physical posture and self-destroying emotion, like lust, anger, hate, fear, greed, anger and jealously.”

 

Sometimes obstacles stem from internal issues, such as overindulgence or lack of discipline; other times they’re due to accidents or natural occurrences.

 

According to Patanjali, the pupil needs “faith, virility, memory, meditation, and acute insight.” BKS Iyengar writes, “Patanjali offered the four-fold remedy of:

 

  1. friendliness and feeling at one with all that is good,
  2. compassion with devoted action to relieve the misery of the afflicted
  3. delight at the good work done by others
  4. avoidance of disdain for, or feeling superior to, the victims of vice.

 

Patanjali states that we not allow any obstacles, no matter how difficult, to distract us. He gives practical guidance, stating that under all conditions we must cultivate one-pointedness of mind. This one-pointedness of mind means keeping the focus on virtue, whether it be on one of the yogic ethical principles of yama and niyama, a mantra, a meditation or love of another human being. This one-pointedness is the one key to the removal of the obstacles. By keeping the attention on this single object of good, the obstacles fall away and “begin to lose their importance and power.”

 

The Hatha Yoga Pradīpkā prescribes these means to overcome obstacles: “The following six bring speedy success:-- Courage, daring, perseverance, discriminative knowledge, faith, aloofness from company… Faith in the practices of Yoga, and in one's own powers to accomplish what others have done before, is of great importance to insure speedy success. I mean "faith that will move mountains," will accomplish anything, be it howsoever difficult. There is nothing which cannot be accomplished by practice. Says Shiva in Shiva Samhita.”

 

 

References

  1. B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Pranayama (New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing, 1998)
  2. B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (New York, NY: Schoken Books, 1966)
  3. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Sacred-texts.com

 

 

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