OBSTACLES IN YOGA PRACTICE AND HOW TO OVERCOME THEM
There are two sides to the practice of Yoga, upon which the student has to bestow sufficient attention. One is the method of practice, which has to be followed with meticulous care. The other is the obstacles that one may have to face on the way for totally different reasons. While the practice of a positive nature is important enough, a consciousness of the impediments on the way is equally important. It is not enough if one knows one's own capacities and strength; one should also know what are the difficulties that one may have to confront or face due to various circumstances, difficulties which may present themselves in various colours as one advances on the Yoga path, stage by stage.
It is a known fact that there is a marked difference between the mental attitudes of a student of Yoga, and of a prosaic individual with worldly instincts and whims. While everyone in the world has a programme and a routine of daily life, the programme of a student of Yoga has a marked distinction. He has to adjust himself to a new law altogether, a law of self-integration, we may say, which is Yoga essentially, as distinguished from the usual, sentimental, social, emotional and practical adjustments which one makes during the day-to-day routines of the workaday world. Thus, there is an attempt on the part of the Yoga student to accommodate himself to a law which is wider and more integrating than the systems of living with which one is acquainted in ordinary life. So, when a positive attempt is made to strike a new note in one's internal conduct, and not merely in outward behaviour, a kind of physiological change takes place in one's body, as a result of the mental change that is brought about.
An ordinary mental change, an ordinary change of thought, does not affect the body. It is a little change only, and as such, is too weak to have a vital connection with the physiological function. But, an intense concentration of mind on a new outlook altogether has a positive impact on the whole body, which the body may not be able to bear sometimes. This may cause illness of various types, which an ordinary man in the world may not encounter. While there can be many reasons for falling ill, especially in the case of a serious student of Yoga, one of the reasons is this inability of the body to adjust itself suddenly to a very strong thought which is quite different from the usual thoughts of individuals that we are familiar with.
Moderation of Conduct Is Yoga
Considering this difficulty that one may have to face in the practice of Yoga, scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita warn us to be a little bit moderate in our approach and not go to extremes. Because, when the seeker takes to Yoga, he is likely to be stirred up into an emotion of holiness and religiosity, which may lead him to think of such items of exceptional practice as fasting, reducing one's sleep, eating less, talking nothing and so on. While all these practices are very advantageous, and perhaps necessary, they should not be resorted to all at once, in an extreme measure. Moderation is a greater virtue than complete abstention. Complete abstention may not be so difficult as moderation. Moderation is more difficult. For instance, to speak in a moderate and acceptable manner poses a greater difficulty for a person than to observe complete Mauna or silence.
Yoga is, a moderation of conduct and an internal adjustment. It is not an extreme step that one takes, though sometimes an individual seeker goes to extremes unavoidably due to his very nature. The moment we think of spirituality, religion, God or Yoga, we are likely to be stirred internally by certain feelings which are just the opposite of the individual feelings of day-to-day life. That is why we run to monasteries and sequestered places. No human individual can escape this eventuality of being stirred inside in a holy manner, which may look like something extreme to the poor body which is not used to these conditions of thinking and feeling.
In the system of Patanjali's Yoga, in one of the Sutras, the great author says that obstacles may have to be faced by the student of Yoga; and he mentions many obstacles. The first one that he mentions is 'illness', physical illness. One has to guard oneself against this possibility. That health is very important does not require much of an emphasis. If the health of the Yoga student fails and he collapses physically, nothing can be done. Everything fails in one second. So, he should not be too enthusiastic in running after the spirit to the neglect of the body. This is because the body is an unavoidable accompaniment of the spirit, as long as the latter has to work through the individuality in this empirical world. St. Francis of Assisi used to call the body as Brother Ass. Well, it may be an ass; yet, it is a brother all right. We cannot avoid it, because, it is our brother. Like an ass, it will carry some load; so let it be. We have to live with it.
We must bestow sufficient thought on the various problems that we have to face in Yoga. This is very necessary. The difficulties that we may have to encounter are not confined only to those mentioned in the Sutras of Patanjali. Patanjali draws our attention only to the general, philosophical sides of the difficulties. We may come across personal and petty difficulties, everyday, which we must tackle with intelligence, aided by the guidance of a Guru. The Sutras of Patanjali alone will not be sufficient to provide all the guidance that we require when we go deep into Yoga practice. But, broadly speaking, Patanjali has given us an idea as to the nature of the problems we are most likely to face.
Dullness of Spirit
Physical illness apart, the Yoga student may face, in the course of his practice, a sort of lethargy, a certain dullness of spirit. His enthusiasm cools down after some time. While he might have started on the Yoga course with an intense longing to catch something higher, later on, this burning desire-fire slowly comes down in its intensity, because of a reaction that is set up by the other constituents of his personality. Of the three properties of Prakriti, it is Sattva that stirs up in a person an aspiration for divine living. While the aspiration is good and very praiseworthy, one cannot ignore the presence of the other two properties, namely, Rajas and Tamas, which will not always keep quiet. If one pays too much attention to one side, the other aspects of the personality which are ignored will have their own say, one day or the other.
It will not be correct to strike a comparison between these properties. It cannot be said that something is good and something else is bad, though usually we say that Tamas is bad, and that Sattva and Rajas are good. In truth, the three properties of Prakriti are neither good nor had, but appear to be useful or not useful under different conditions of one's life. Our body has all the three properties in it. It is mainly Tamasic. We may say that it is heavy like a log. Therefore it is very weighty, and its characteristic is, principally, fixity. And Rajas is something well known as an active nature causing distraction, a desire to run about and do something or the other at all times. Everyone has all these urges inside. While we all have a spark of a longing for a higher kind of living, we also have a desire to be very active in human society, doing something for ourselves as for others. And there is also the lethargic attitude.
So, these urges, when they are not properly attended to, sometimes come to the surface of one's life and bring about a reaction of a melancholy nature, of a moody nature. This is something known to every person. Even when we take to such small simple routines like chanting of the Divine Name with a rosary, it does not mean that everyday we will be concentrating the mind in the same way. Sometimes the Maala might drop from the hand in a mood of sleepiness and we might get fed up. Who can do Japa for three hours, four hours, five hours? Though it may be the Name of God, for the glorification of the Almighty, yet the mind will refuse; because, it has got other things inside than merely this urge for God-realisation. So, Patanjali tells us that there is a dullness of the entire constitution that may prevail sometimes, about which also one has to be cautious.
Doubts and the Need for a Guru
Then comes another problem, a difficulty which is of a psychological nature, mentioned by Patanjali in the Sutras. Doubt is in the mind. This is a very terrible problem which many seekers are faced with. It looks as if the majority of seekers have this difficulty. "Am I right? Or am I a foolish person, wasting my time in doing something under the impression that some great thing will come about? Perhaps I am entirely mistaken. Perhaps this teacher is not the right sort or, maybe, I am not the proper person to do this. I am unfit at the present moment." Hundreds of doubts of this nature will assail the mind, and under desperate conditions, the seeker may doubt even the existence of God Himself. He may go to such extremes.
People curse God Himself when they have great problems and sufferings. Then they give up every spiritual practice. There is a snap in their Sadhana automatically. Anybody can get angry with the Almighty. And when that happens, everything goes wrong. Now, this eventuality is occasioned by doubts, which creep ever so slowly into the mind, as the result of insufficient education and training under a proper teacher. In such a case, the seeker must have been jumping into Yoga suddenly, without guidance.
In ancient times, the system of teaching was through the programme called "Gurukulavasa", a system altogether different from the one followed in our schools these days. The Guru or the teacher, the guide or the master, is expected to know every little detail of the mind of the student, because only then can he teach that which is appropriate under the circumstances. And if the student goes astray, the Guru will know what has happened to him and what is the remedy for it. But these days, in modern times, circumstances being different, this system does not seem to work. Therefore, there is not much of an advantage accruing even from a serious study of Yoga or the so-called practice of it. It has mostly become an academic affair or a joke practically.
So, when there is something serious working in our minds and we are intent upon achieving something palpable, in spite of all the oppositions that may come upon us, when we desire to transform ourselves into a nobler type of existence, we have to see that these doubts do not assail our mind. Therefore, even today, in this most modern of times, the necessity for a Guru cannot be avoided. Because, no one is so wise as to know everything about the future. All problems are new when they come. They take a new shape when they appear before our eyes. They may be old problems, but when they come before us, they look new. And we will not know what to do with them. So, we require a superior to guide us.
Correct guidance is an unavoidable requisite in the path of Yoga. It should be very clear to our mind that we have chosen the path, and we know what to do, and we know whom to refer to in case of difficulties. Everything must be clear to the mind and there should be no doubt. It is, therefore, impossible to take seriously to Yoga meditations when any kind of doubt exists in the mind. There can be metaphysical doubts, there can be personal doubts, there can be doubts concerning the day-to-day adjustments in life. Misconceptions cannot be removed by a study of books, because the books cannot speak to us and answer to our questions. Book knowledge is knowledge, no doubt, but it looks like dead knowledge. Whereas the seeker wants living, vital answers to his poignant queries that arise freshly from his heart, now and then, almost everyday.
So, the need for a teacher cannot be gainsaid, and one should not be under the impression that he can stand on his own legs in the Yoga path. No one can do that, unless one is a blessed master, come like an incarnation. That is a different matter. Usually, it is not possible. Before a person takes to Yoga practice, he should question himself: "Have I got any doubt in my mind in regard to the course that I have taken in the name of spirituality?". If doubts are there, he must get them cleared immediately. Even if it takes months to get the doubts cleared, it does not matter. He must see to it that there is no doubt in the mind. Everything should be clear like daylight. Then he will make progress.
Other difficulties are also mentioned in the Sutras of Patanjali. An indifference of attitude comes in even after everything seems to be clear. Complacency sets in. The seeker sometimes tells himself: "After all, I have made some progress. If today I do not sit for meditation, what does it matter? I shall do it tomorrow. Today I am a little busy". Some questions will arise in the mind, and the mind itself will give answers. In the Mahabharata, there is a great episode called the Sanatsujatiya, where a great master, Sanatsujata, gives this immortal advice to Dhritarashtra, that there can be nothing worse for a man than neglect of duty. Pramada: this is the word used in Patanjali's Sutra to signify neglect of duty. And our duty being the practice of Yoga, neglect of it is worse than death or Mrityu. Yes, it is worse than death.
Everyday we have to resort to Yoga as we resort to our breakfast or lunch or supper. We have to love it as our own mother or father; brother or sister. There is nothing so dear to us as our Yoga. Yoga is not an abstract thought. It is a living, vital, substantial existence, and to think of it as an abstract thought is also a doubt in the mind, which has to be removed. Yoga is not an idea in the head. It is a name that we give to a concrete, substantial manifestation of the Absolute Itself, with which we have to unite ourselves, by gradual stages. So, there should be no step-motherly attitude towards Yoga. Everyday, the time devoted to the practice should be almost the same. The allotted time should not be diminished.
It is better to diminish the time for other activities than for meditation, for meditation is the seeker's central vocation. But the instincts inside, which have not been properly attended to or sublimated or fulfilled, may create unforeseen difficulties and speak like angels or sometimes threaten like devils. All these are possible, and we have to know who is in front of us when a voice speaks or an object presents itself before us.
Sleep and the Need for Occasional Rest
When the seeker sits to meditate or do Japa or even to study or think, he may feel sleepy. Sleep is very essential for the health of the body. Yes. And one should not cut short his sleep beyond a certain limit, so that it may not trouble him when he is at his worship or prayer. If the seeker unduly scissors off his sleep in the night, by getting up very early at about 2 o'clock or 1 o'clock then it will have an adverse impact on him in his meditation. He will not be able to concentrate properly. He will have a little bit of a creeping sensation in the nerves in the head, as if ants were crawling and he will feel miserable and wretched, and he will like to close his meditation as early as possible. It is not the quantity of time that we devote which is important, as the quality of concentration, which cannot be there if the mind is not prepared. And if the mind is not happy, how can it be applied?
So, if we have not given to the mind what it requires, it cannot be happy; and if it is not happy, it cannot be ready also. So, like a wise psychologist or a psychoanalyst or a school master, we have to teach the mind the lessons which it will be able to accommodate itself to and appreciate from the level in which it is. Also, if there is a mood of laziness or sleepiness, the seeker may admonish himself thus: "What for have I seriously taken to Yoga? What is the intention behind? If my intentions were holy, pious and clear enough, what makes me now close my eyes to my goal and lessen the intensity of my longing for it?"
The theory of Yoga may sometimes look very simple, but when the seeker actually sits for practice, he will find it not so easy. The beginner cannot independently live a life of Yoga for sometime at least. That is why he is asked to keep the company or Satsanga of like-minded people. They can then have a group discussion among themselves. People of similar aspiration may have a sitting, a chat - or, may be, a discussion. In addition to this mutual exchange of ideas that the Yoga students may have, among themselves as friends and co-students, for their own benefit and necessity, they can also have a time set apart for study. Yoga does not always mean meditation with closed eyes. It means many things that are contributory to it ultimately. A little bit of study also is very necessary. Perhaps it may also have to be maintained as a necessary routine always. Some amount of reference to a text on Yoga may be required to brush up the mind into higher thoughts. Otherwise, we cannot always entertain noble thoughts. It is not easy to accommodate in the mind lofty thoughts of God always, throughout the day.
That is impracticable. So, we take to various methods of practice in order to accommodate the mind to this habit of lofty thinking. Discussion with good people, friends, is a help and is something like a secondary Satsanga. Also helpful is a study of great texts on Yoga, given by great masters, incarnations, prophets and divinities of the past.
If the student finds that there is something seriously wrong with himself, and he does not know what has happened, and it is not possible for him to study or talk to anybody or even meditate, he may even close his practice for three days. It does not matter. Because, he may have to recover himself first, when he has fallen due to some exhaustion or incapacity of some kind. If a soldier acquires some sort of incapacity in the battlefield, it does not mean that he is permanently incapacitated and cannot fight. On the other hand, the wounded soldier is taken away from the battlefield, and given some treatment and rest, until he recoups himself and makes himself ready.
Similarly, in the battlefield of life, in this war called Yoga, it is possible that one gets exhausted and is not able to fight everyday, every moment, unremittingly. Though Patanjali teaches that the practice of Yoga should be unremitting, unceasing, that there should be effort without any break, we have to use some discretion. A war may be continuous, but when the soldier is incapacitated, naturally, that day he cannot fight. He has to take rest, which means that that rest also is a part of the fighting process. Even so, rest is a part of the practice of Yoga itself. Here again, a Guru is necessary to guide the student, as to when to rest and when to step up practice.
Then comes the devil's whisper. It comes in a very advanced stage. The devil does not speak to the student when he is in the beginning stage. The devil is just not bothered about the beginner. But, when there is a fear that the Yoga student is actually going to upset the plans of the lower nature, by his interference with its externalising activity, some reaction is set up. There is no such thing as the devil ultimately. It is only a common term used in theological texts. There is no man sitting somewhere as the devil. It is only a kind of automatic reaction that is set up from the lower nature, when the Yoga student attempts to go above it.
To give an example: When a person tries to move with the current of the river, he does not feel any difficulty, because the current carries him easily and far. But, when the same person swims across or goes against the current, he experiences difficulty. The current then opposes him vehemently, or even tries to drown him, because he is trying to cross it, or go against its movement. The usual movement of nature is externality, outward contact with objects of sense, satisfaction of the instincts and urges by physical possessions and enjoyments of various types, including egoistic satisfactions. Now, inasmuch as there is a necessity to understand the great mistake involved in these sorts of satisfactions, and to rise up gradually to the level of a larger integration for a higher universal comprehension, any step that the Yoga student may take in this direction may look like a step against the ordinary laws of nature.
Of course, it does not mean that the seeker is going to work against nature. But, it may appear as if he is interfering with nature, because of a little initial non-adjustment, resulting from extreme methods. Reactions from nature arise when the seeker resorts to extreme steps. It is not the fault of nature entirely. Even when the seeker has to overcome the instinctive urges of the personality which move in the direction of external objects, this has to be done with great caution, like a physician driving a needle into the flesh of the patient very gradually, slowly, so that the patient may not even know that an injection is being given. One does not thrust a knife into the flesh in the name of an injection.
The Necessity for Caution and Circumspection in the Practice of Yoga
The Yoga student should not be too wise. This is a very important thing to note. Also, he should exercise his wisdom in a wise manner. Unwisely applied wisdom ceases to be wisdom. So, wisdom has to be wisely applied. This is a specialisation in the art of Yoga practice, and falls within the area of responsibility of the Guru. The student cannot understand what this method means. When he has gone wrong, he will not know till he feels the pinch. Only when he gets a kick, he will know that something has gone wrong. Otherwise, he will not know what the mistake is that he has committed. The desires of the mind, and the urges of the personality in general, are the activities of the outward nature that compel our attention in Yoga. We can flow with this current of the outward nature or we can oppose the current.
Yoga tells us to be very cautious and adopt a via media. It tells us that neither have we to flow with the current of nature entirely, nor oppose it directly. Both these extremes are unwarranted, because they will immediately make us a cynosure in the eyes of Prakriti. It is better to live unnoticed than become an object of attraction to everybody; because an object of attraction always gets into some trouble. Whereas, an unnoticed person somehow gets on happily in life.
Therefore, even in the practice of Yoga, the student should live in the midst of Prakriti's activities in an unnoticed manner, and not make her suddenly conscious of his activities by shouting aloud, "I am a Yoga student!". Prakriti does not like shouts of this kind. The reactions of nature, if they are strong, may bring about a reversal of the practice. An internal desire may burn the senses. Desires, which the student tries to run away from in the name of Yoga, desires sensory as well as egoistic, violent urges, may press him forward in the reverse direction; and these reactionary urges may be stronger than the corresponding urges manifesting in a normal person in the usual course. Bottled-up energy is always stronger than the energy that is given a little bit of freedom.
Let it be noted that Yoga is not bottling up of energy, but a wise utilisation of it. If water is allowed to build up in a dam without being released, the dam will burst. Dams are not built so that they may burst. They are built for optimum utilisation of the available water resources. But, if the waters are not so utilised, and are just allowed to build up inside the dam, the dam will burst, and the waters will ravage the land.
The activities of nature being external in space and time, and we being a part of nature, we are automatically involved in those activities, and we cannot easily curb our external urges. They have to be controlled only gradually. The stages of Yoga are therefore gradual ones in Patanjali's system. There are, in all, eight stages. The student can devise more stages as per his need, and in consultation with his Guru. He can have a hundred stages for his own practical purposes. Whenever a desire arises in the mind, we immediately throw a counter-bolt against it in the name of Yoga. We condemn it as an enemy. Generally, religions condemn all desires.
Every religion is against normal human desires. This is a mistake if the attitude to desires is a total opposition. Even when we meet an enemy, directly opposing the enemy is not wisdom. To conquer the enemy, we need to manoeuvre in a highly dextrous, well thought-out manner, and in order that our manoeuvres may be successful, they have to be executed in a very imperceptible manner, very much like the moves of a political agent or an expert general in the army.
Yoga is like the activity in a battlefield. And we do not go to the war field only to get defeated and killed. That is not the intention. The intention is to win victory in the war. We do not practise Yoga only to become shame-faced. That is not the intention. We go to achieve something, and unless we know all the minor details of the problems that would be set up by the agents of the opposite party, which in this case is Prakriti, and unless we know the wise methods to be adopted in adjusting ourselves to these tactics of nature, we will be a failure.
So, it is better to take many days and many months in the preparation for the battle of Yoga or the practice of Yoga than suddenly jump into the meditation stage, which, at least according to Patanjali, is one of the last stages. Many a time we live under the impression that we are advanced students, and that the initial steps are not for us. This, again, is an overestimation of oneself. The world is too strong for everybody. We should not underestimate the strength of the world. We should know how large the world is, how powerful nature is, and what a tremendous energy the five elements called earth, water, fire, air and ether hold within themselves!
Why, even the prejudices of human society are strong enough to oppose us, if we take an unwise step in Yoga.
Illusions and Delusions
Patanjali mentions another difficulty likely to be encountered by the student of Yoga. This is the perception of illusions. The practitioner of Yoga may be under the impression that he has had God-vision in his meditation, that he is seeing celestial light, that angels are speaking into his ears, and that he is smelling the Parijata flower of Indra's garden. All these ideas may be in his mind, and these are called illusions. These are illusions, because they are not divine visions and divine perceptions, though they may look like something unusual and super-normal. Most of the colours or sounds which people see or hear in intense concentration are the result of a pressure that is exerted upon the Prana, either by Pranayama or by concentration. If we press our eyes very hard, we will see in them colours. Even if somebody gives a blow on one's head, one will see some colours. We cannot call them divine colours. They are the result of some pressure exerted on the Prana. The pressure can be exerted either by a hit or a blow, or by stopping the breath in Kumbhaka, or even by a mere psychological effort of concentration of the mind on something.
When such a thing happens, one immediately begins to see the colours of the Pranas, and sometimes hear a subtle vibration, which goes by the name of Anahata Nada. If these result from one's effort in concentration, to that extent, they are praiseworthy. But they are not to be taken for divine perceptions. So, Bhranti-Darsana or perception of illusions, and mistaking them for reality, also is a mistake that the seeker should guard himself against in Yoga Sadhana.
Now, there are other Bhrantis or illusions, which sometimes begin to take possession of the seeker. He begins to feel that he is an incarnation itself, and that his only duty is to save the world from hell. Many sincere seekers begin to feel that they are here in this world only to save mankind from perdition, and they leave their own Yoga practice. They have learnt the Upanishads, studied the Bhagavad Gita, practised Yoga. Everything is okay and nothing is left except the saviour's activity! So, they take up the responsibility of a prophet or an incarnation, and strive to save mankind from hell, and themselves enter into hell afterwards!
The Yoga seeker intent on his success in Yoga should not succumb to such false notions about being here to save mankind. Nothing of the kind is his duty. And if that is his duty, he will know it as clearly as sunlight. There will be no doubts in the mind. Such a high clarity there will be, if God commissions a person to this great responsibility of saving mankind. Therefore, the ordinary Yoga seeker should not imagine that saving mankind is his duty. He is a very small weakling, a fly as it were. These misplaced ideas should not arise in his mind. The wrong egoistic feeling that one is a great master of Yoga, or a saviour of humanity, should be given up totally.
The next difficulty that Patanjali mentions is the incapacity of the mind to concentrate upon the ideal or the object chosen. However much one may try to concentrate, the mind will not stick to the object of concentration. It will think something else. Like a small ball of mercury which cannot be held in the hand, or something very fishy which cannot be grasped, which eludes the contact of the hand, the mind will slip out of control, and however much one may struggle, it will not concentrate. It is like a wild bull which will gore us to death, rather than accept our admonitions or teachings. The mind can become wild in such a way as to turn into an anti-social manifestation, outwardly as well as inwardly. A very terrible situation it is, when the mind becomes wild! It can make one go crazy. Many people actually become insane on the Yoga path, due to extreme pressure exerted upon themselves, either deliberately or by compulsion of outer circumstances.
So, the Yoga student has to proceed very slowly and very cautiously.
The last difficulty that Patanjali mentions is this. Even if the Yoga student gets at the point of concentration, he cannot settle the mind on it for a long time. "Yes, I caught the point of concentration, but I cannot fix the mind on it for a long time!" - This is a common complaint. The mind immediately comes back. By gradual effort, a daily sitting, and various other methods, the mind will gradually gain the capacity to concentrate for increasingly longer periods.
Even if it takes ten births to reach God, it does not matter. The intelligent Yoga student should not retrace his steps and fall back. He should go slowly. There are secondary difficulties mentioned by Patanjali, other than the primary obstacles already referred to. A mood of despair is considered by the great Yoga teacher as a secondary effect produced by the practice, when that practice goes a little wrong somewhere.
This melancholy mood or mood of despair can supervene even after years of practice, and not necessarily in the initial stages. "What is there? I have done enough. I am fed up with it." The mind will speak in these terms, perhaps after years of practice. "All the prayers have gone waste; meditations have been without any kind of benefit to me. I have lost this world and I have lost that also. What is the good of all this?" The mind will tell like this one day or the other, and the seeker will not speak, because of the grief in his heart that he has lost everything. This grief is an obstacle. This grief is a stage which every great master has passed through. We are told that even great thinkers and persistent students like Buddha were, at one stage, in a state of sorrow and grief that they had achieved nothing.
We read in the biography of Buddha that even a day before the moment of illumination, he had no indication that anything would come about at all. He had decided that death was the only thing to embrace. The result of all this suffering in the name of Yoga is destruction and loss of everything. These moods may enter the mind - melancholy moods, dejectedness, and a sour Sunday face, a castor-oil face as Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say. This is Duhkha and Daurmanasya - sorrow and dejection. Whenever such moods manifest, the earnest seeker should cautiously survive the moods, and not succumb to them.
The other secondary obstacles mentioned by Patanjali are of a different nature. He considers breathing itself as an obstacle. Ordinary students will not be able to understand what all this means. Why should breathing be a difficulty? We cannot live without it at all. But it must be noted, that Patanjali speaks of breathing as a difficulty, only in the case of the advanced Yoga student who is in a lofty state of perception. Patanjali regards the inhalation and exhalation process as an impediment in Yoga, because the alternate breathing causes a sympathetic reaction upon the breathing itself, resulting in oscillation of thought. One cannot consistently think one continuous thought like a flow, unremittingly, because of the alternate breathing. And, therefore, Pranayama is prescribed as a requisite of Yoga practice, Pranayama meaning suspension of the breath and a prevention of the normal alternate breathing.
Suspension of the breath is supposed to lead directly to fixity of mind, concentration of consciousness, and freedom from the oscillation of thought, freedom from the movement of the mind towards objects of sense. One day or the other, as the result of persistent Yoga practice, this breathing process will get merged in the thought process, and the Yogi's vital energy will become one with his psychological being. All that is his personality will get concentrated in a centre of consciousness. There will be no alternate breathing at that time. That is called the Samadhi state, a state which is the final one.
Tremor of the body is also mentioned as a secondary obstacle by Patanjali. Perhaps, in intense concentration, this will be the first thing that the Yoga student will notice. The other obstacles may not be immediately experienced. The various difficulties mentioned in the Yoga Sastras will not be confronted at once. Within a few minutes of real concentration, the student will feel a jerk in his body. He will have a tremor, a tremor which is something akin to a little electric shock - like the sensation felt on contact with a mild live wire of low voltage. A similar sensation will be felt when the mind is really concentrated. The student will feel a shake-up of the system for a second, as if somebody has pushed him with a finger. This jerk is considered an obstacle only in a philosophical sense. Really, one need not bother about it, and it is not going to harm very much. It is only a suggestion, inwardly coming, that the mind is concentrated.
Why should the jerk come? Why should the body have this tremor? Because the Prana is given a notice by the mind that it is going to adopt a new attitude altogether, quite different from the one which it used to adopt earlier. The mind tells the Prana. The moment this message from the mind reaches the Prana, a reaction is set up by the Prana in answer to the message of the mind, and that reaction is the jerk that the Yoga student feels. So, it is a good thing, because, at least the mind is speaking something worthwhile to the Prana.