Prisons and Open Doors

By Brigid Godwin

This week I’ve been asking my students quite a personal question: ‘Is every corner of your life sorted?’ To which they have invariably scoffed in an ‘Are you having a laugh?’ sort of way. So, I ask, ‘If your answer is no… I’d like you to ponder for a moment, and maybe more when you go home, on why that is the case.’ 


Now this may sound like quite a confrontational introduction to a yoga class, but my question was to provoke an internal conversation about the obstacles that we create which stop us from succeeding, excelling, producing, sorting, clearing, moving on, creating. Do you want out of an unfulfilling relationship? Do you want to learn to play the Ukulele? Have you got an amazing business idea scratching away? Do you want your garden to look like the Chelsea Flower Show? 


One of the many poignant teachings of Patanjali, the author of The Yoga Sutras, is around the subject of obstacles. This book is the foundation of yoga philosophy. In essence Patanjali points out that the human condition is often one of suffering and that a lot of that suffering is… wait for it… of our own creation! What?! But that means it’s not his / their / her fault?! Yup. That’s right. But it’s not all bad because; a) That means you are in charge of your happiness and nobody else and; b) He then presents a system of practices that will release a dedicated seeker from this suffering – hurrah! It’s clear and simple. However, in his wisdom, Patanjali also notes, in verse 1.30, that although the route is simple, you will come across obstacles along your way. Some will be beyond your control, but there are others that will be skilfully justified self-sabotage techniques. Yes the finger is pointing back at you!


Patanjali has whittled it down to a list of 9 obstacles. I’m quite sure that some, or all of these will give you a twang, a poke or a thwack somewhere or another.


What is fascinating (and also quite disheartening) is that 1500 years after Patanjali wrote the text, us humans are still doing the same old crap to make ourselves feel so beautifully awful. We play the same games and create these stories which keep us bound by invisible walls. As Rumi says in his sagely way, ‘Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?’(smug git.)


So, perhaps before you read this list, get in your mind a specific thing in your life that needs an adrenaline shot, and then see if any of these obstacles are part of the reason why it’s currently getting a bit smelly in the corner. Also maybehave a think about what end result you are hoping for too, just so you have clarity around your motivation. Is it happiness? Contentment? Sense of achievement? Freedom? Self-worth? Self-love?


OK here we go:



1. Vyadhi – Illness or disease. OK so you could argue that getting ill is out of your control… unless the illness was caused by self-neglect or lifestyle choices.

2. Styana – lack of interest or apathy. Is this a reflection of your general state of mind or just around this issue?

3. Samsaya – Doubt or indecision. Is this the right thing for you to be spending your energy on? Or is there something else that would be better / quicker / easier?

4. Pramada – Carelessness, lack of foresight, haste. Do you jump in without checking the water then end up entangled in a shopping trolley with frog sporn in your mouth?

5. Alasya – Fatigue or laziness. Energy of body or mind (prana) can become stuck and leaves us in a heap. 

6. Avirati – Distraction with objects of the senses. Over indulging or following cravings. There will be repercussionswon’t there?!

7. Bhrantidarsana – Ignorance or arrogance. The stories we tell ourselves and the excuses we make up and believe (oh what theatre!)

8. Alabdhabhumaikatva – Lack of dedication. Chopping and changing. Expecting results quickly. Is the green grasser?

9. Anavasthitatvani – Loss of confidence. Inability to maintain progress made. Lack of resilience. 


Any bells? Little tinkly ones? Huge clangers? 


I guess these projects could come in small packages or big ones. These are some of my small packages: having a tidy house, having a full fridge and meal plan for the week, keeping on top of my inbox. These are some of my big packages: happy healthy kids, feeling my work is valuable to others, maintaining good friendships. I’ll take one of my big ones as example of how my obstacles trip me up and send me headlong down the stairs (bit like my cat does).


Feeling My Work is Valuable to Others. 

So, Tuesdays are my lesson planning day for the week. Every week I teach pregnancy yoga, postnatal yoga and baby massage, intermediate, mixed ability and beginners vinyasa yoga and 3 private sessions. I need 3 different class themes and 3 different lesson plans. I have more than enough time in the day to get this task done, but it needs to get done or I won’t be sufficiently prepared for whole rest of the week.


Somehow knowing how important it is to get this done sometimes drives me into a petulant teenager mindset. I’ll do almost anything rather than sit down and get the important work done, work that’s going to make me feel confident that I’m teaching something valuable, make me feel like a useful human being, and work that I love!! So, what is THAT all about?? Some days I will manage to procrastinate to the point where the work simply hasn’t been done (lovely tidy house, fridge full of food, flowers on the mantle – but no new lesson plans or new interesting themes!). Thankfully I have a lot of years teaching under my yoga belt, so I can usually pull something together that is OK, however I’m intrigued as to what is stopping me from excelling each and every week? 


Looking at the 9 obstacles for answers is quite enlightening as they offer a framework of enquiry. If I’m honest I think my driving force for procrastination is number 9: Self-confidence (lack of). Still after 19 years of teaching I suffer with, the not uncommon, Imposter Syndrome. Annoying, undermining and very uncomfortable. So, there’s some number 3 in there too: Self-doubt. And to avoid actually having to sit with any discomfort, I’ll fall into a nice easy number 6: Distraction. I’ll go and do something that doesn’t challenge my sense of self. I’ll do something that has immediate and sensory results (deadhead the roses, comb the cat, clear the inbox). Some days there will also be some juicy number 7 in there: Arrogance (well you see I have been teaching this for 19 years so maybe I already know everything… think ‘small dog syndrome’). Arrogance may be seeming contradictory to self-doubt, but I promise you these two are like deranged Siamese twins who won’t stop having a circular argument, neither listening to the other in my Gemini mind. Quite a heady cocktail of complex delusion, crashingly destructive  story telling and self fulfilling prophecy. And that’s just one of the daily soap operas that’s going on in my head! Thank goodness for Yoga huh?!


When we start to enquire along these lines we begin to wake ourselves up a little. We have the opportunity to move away from pointing the finger and being the victim and move towards self-reflection (uerk!), truth (ouch!), and ultimately empowerment and change (RAAA!)


So what tales of old can you unpick in your head? 

You can find more information about my classes here and


Brigid Godwin