The Secret of the Yoga Sutra Book Club Session 3


Sutras 1:30 and 1:31 offer a detailed examination of the obstacles we encounter in every sphere of life. Patanjali sorts these obstacles into nine broad categories; Panditji’s commentary addresses them one by one in terms of how they impede our spiritual unfoldment. The nine obstacles are disease, mental inertia, doubt, carelessness, sloth, inability to withdraw from sense cravings, clinging to misunderstanding, and inability to reach and to retain samadhi.

These nine impediments pose such serious obstacles to our practice that Vyasa calls them yoga mala (toxins in Yoga sadhana). Left unchecked, they lead to the five conditions discussed in sutra 1:31: pain, mental agitation, unsteadiness or trembling in the body, and disturbed inhalation and exhalation.


  1. What is the cause of disease? How is that cause radically different from what we normally assume it is?

  2. The first seven impediments are a chain reaction—one leads inexorably to the next. Trace this chain reaction:

  • How does disease lead to inertia?

  • How does doubt arise from disease and inertia?

  • How do these first three impediments breed carelessness?

  • How does sloth emerge?

  • How does the sixth impediment (inability to withdraw from sense cravings) arise from carelessness and sloth? How does it relate to vritti samskara chakra?

  • How does the inability to withdraw from sense cravings lead to the seventh impediment (clinging to misunderstanding)? 

  1. How do these nine impediments breed the debilitating conditions described in sutra 1:31? (You may want to refresh your understanding of prana and pranayama by looking at Panditji’s discussion of the subject in sutra 1:13.) 

  2. Why do disturbances in our breath pose such a formidable obstacle in spiritual practice?

  3. At the end of his commentary on sutra 1:31, Panditji writes, “Removing these obstacles and their accompanying conditions is as important as the methodical practice of abhyasa and vairagya.” Why is this true?

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