The practice of concentration on a single subject (or the use of one technique) is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments.
To prevent or deal with these nine obstacles and their four consequences, the recommendation is to make the mind one-pointed, training it how to focus on a single principle or object.
The antidote to these obstacles is maintaining a regular practice and sticking to it, through good times and bad. Sounds simple, but sometimes just showing up for our practice is the difficult bit.
Patanjali is saying that the method or technique of meditation is not important, rather that we persevere. Some days, the practice will be easy and we will feel pleased. Other days, it will be tough or things will appear to prevent us from practising at all. Showing up is key.
In the next few sutras, Patanjali outlines some different techniques of meditation.
Accompaniments to the mental distractions include distress, despair, trembling of the body and disturbed breathing.
From these obstacles, there are four other consequences that also arise, and these are: 1) mental or physical pain, 2) sadness or dejection, 3) restlessness, shakiness, or anxiety, and 4) irregularities in the exhalation and inhalation of breath.
These four arise because of the other nine obstacles discussed in 1.30. These four may be easier to notice in yourself, and give a clue that something more subtle is going on below the surface. At times in my life, I have experienced low mood or sadness, and I can see that this could be a symptom of a deeper instability – for example I may have been feeling sad because of ‘false perception’, or not seeing things as they really are, or perhaps I was comparing myself to others, or not maintaining a regular meditation and yoga practice (‘failure to reach firm ground’). If we notice these four clues in ourselves or others, it is a sign that something deeper is going on that needs addressing.
Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained – these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.
Nine kinds of distractions come that are obstacles naturally encountered on the path, and are physical illness, tendency of the mind to not work efficiently, doubt or indecision, lack of attention to pursuing the means of samadhi, laziness in mind and body, failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects, incorrect assumptions or thinking, failing to attain stages of the practice, and instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained.
Sri Swami Satchidananda says that these obstacles are like a chain, one leading on to the next. For example, physical disease leads on to a dull mind, which then leads on to doubt and carelessness, and so on and so on.
On reflection, I have experienced many of these obstacles on my journey, particularly ‘slipping from ground maintained’. It is good to know that these are common obstacles that many people face on their spiritual journey, and Satchidananda says that once we know this, we won’t get disheartened. If we were not aware of these obstacles, we might just give up altogether. Part of the practice is experiencing the highs and the lows, and always returning to it.