The five hindrances to practice
In Buddhism, the five hindrances are temporary mental states that impede practice.
They can be regarded as obstacles to mindfulness in daily life as well, clouding our Judgement and hindering our ability to respond appropriately to situations.
They all rooted in aversion, attachment and ignorance.
- Attachment / desire for sensual pleasure and more generally the leaning of the mind toward what is pleasurable and its inclination to cling to it is the first hindrance. In meditation practice, it may manifest as an attractive idea,memory or fantasy that distracts us from the practice. To counteract this, we practice guarding the doors of the sense faculties (Pratyahara) and moderation in eating (mitahara, the advice is to stop eating before you are full). We learn to look for happiness inside ourselves, and to be content with what we have (Santosha).
Experiencing this hindrance is like being in debt as we endlessly have to work to fulfil our desires.
- Ill will and hatred (aversion) is the leaning of the mind away from what is perceived as painful, unpleasant or uncomfortable. It may manifest as anger, fear, impatience, etc. To counteract this, we practice Ahimsa, non harming, and develop a friendly attitude (metta, or maitri in Sanskrit) towards all beings. The well known Buddhist practice of metta Bhavana is a powerful antidote to ill will and all aversive states.
Experiencing this hindrance is like being ill as is prevents us from enjoying life and experiencing joy.
- Sloth and torpor may take different forms, such as laziness, procrastination, depression or sleepiness. It is a general lack of energy that prevents us from doing the practice. In the short term, it can be remedied by any method that will raise energy, such as focusing on the inhalation part of the breath, adjusting or changing the posture, etc. In the long term, moderation in eating and spending more time outdoor will help, as will, of course making sure we get enough rest and play. If sloth and torpor is a recurring problem in your practice, try dynamic yoga styles of asana practice and emphasize Samavritti and other energizing pranayama.
This hindrance is like being in prison because we can’t do anything while we’re experiencing it.
- Restlessness and worries is a high energy hindrance which prevents us from practising by constantly pulling our attention away from the practice. Its antidote is sukkha (relaxation, ease). In the short term, using the breath to foster stillness, calm and contentment or adjusting the posture for a more comfortable one will help. In the long term, we may need to make lifestyle adjustments to slow down and foster a more relaxed attitude to life. Self reflection and inquiry (swadyaha) will help. Try yin yoga styles of asana practice and emphasize Visamavritti pranayama.
Experiencing restlessness is like being a slave (to the constantly changing demands of our restless mind).
- Doubt and especially self doubt is closely related to Restlessness and becomes a problem when it prevents us from practising, with questions such as "is this the right practice for me?", "will I ever get it right?", etc..
Study and the advice, encouragement and support of teachers and like minded friends who are travelling in the same direction will greatly help to strengthen the determination necessary to overcome paralysing doubts.
Experiencing doubt is like travelling through a dangerous place as we are unsure which way to go.
The support of a sangha of teachers and like minded friends is possibly the greatest help we can have along the path. It helps us overcome all the hindrances, and as such, should be always be eagerly sough by all practitioners.