A Shaolin Kung Fu Master Shares the 5 Hindrances That Hold Us Back In Life

Master Shi Heng Yi (Source)

How to fight these hindrances to realize your full potential

“The intelligent desire self-control; children want candy.”


There are different reasons why people succeed in this world. Luck, being in the right place, being born in a particular family, and so on. But there’s one sure-short way that everyone knows but no one truly works on.


It’s the pursuit of being so good at what you do that you don’t have to chase tips and tricks to be successful. It’s an act of supreme focus where everything else is pushed aside. What remains is you and your craft.

When you focus on your craft, all others things fall into place. Luck happens when an opportunity hits a prepared mind. The more you prepare yourself, the more you can capitalize on opportunities.

The mastery of Steve Wozniak over electronics is what made him and Steve Jobs get on the computer wave. If you go back in time and shout in the streets “Wake up guys! The world is going to move towards computers!” no one is going to listen to you. Because their minds are not prepared for that.

The importance of mastery is clear. Yet, most people seem to jump from one thing to the other, never going deep into a particular skill set. Why?

Shaolin Master Shi Heng Yi can tell us. He belongs to the 35th Generation of Shaolin Masters and is the headmaster of Shaolin Temple Europe.

In his 33 years of practice, one of the most important things he’s learned is the 5 hindrances to self-mastery. These are the core mental states that prevent us from clarity, making smart decisions, achieving our goals, and living a happier, more harmonious life.

1. The Senses — Our Biggest Hindrance

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Sensual desire is the first hindrance we all fight daily. When we crave sense stimulants, we’re falling prey to sensual desire. This can be anything that excites our five senses — vision, hearing, smell, touch, and taste.

In the 21st century, sensual desire can know no limits, if one’s not careful. Yes, we live in an age of abundance, but it comes with a cost. It’s too easy to get caught up in watching Netflix, ordering unhealthy food, or scrolling through social media.

We all have vices. And we need to keep them in check. Without working on our vices, we can’t know peace. We can never be calm and focused enough to work on self-mastery.

Enjoy life. But don’t let an activity develop into an obsession or addiction.

How to do it

List down the bad habits you want to remove from your life. Choose one of them. Remind yourself about the negative consequences of indulgence. And make a plan to overcome it.

Take it slow, but be consistent and determined. This is a life-long process. The moment you let your guard down, a vice can get hold of you. Check yourself every day and remove what you don’t like. Chisel yourself to perfection.

2. Not Embracing the Suck

“The one who does most to avoid suffering, is in the end, the one who suffers the most .”— Thomas Merton

Invariably, your life will present situations you don’t want to deal with — almost daily. Yes, some situations suck and we wish they weren’t there. But they are.

Denying them and running away only makes us unhappy and fearful. This is the second hindrance which Shi Heng Yi calls ‘Ill Will’ or simply put, aversion.

It’s the opposite of sensual desire. It’s the mental state of not wanting something, because of a strong dislike. It might be an activity, situation, or person.

Even if you get to do what you love doing, you’ll still have to embrace the tough things. For instance, I love writing but finding the right image or the best publication is not something I look forward to. Still, it’s my job to accept that as part of my writing experience.

Shi Heng Yi explains it this way —

“You are climbing the mountain, and it starts to rain. But you don’t like rain. You discover the roads are bumpy, but you don’t like bumpy roads. In order to cross the river you need to swim. But you don’t like swimming. Whatever it is you dislike, it won’t make it a pleasant journey”

What he’s teaching is the same virtue taught by every philosophy — acceptance. Only when we accept things as they are can we deal with them. If you run away from them, it will keep chasing you.

How to do it

Instead of ignoring, denying, or wishing the absence of your ill wills, investigate them. Get to the root of the problem. Why is it that you don’t like a certain thing? How can you handle it with calm acceptance? Or is there another alternative?

Confront the situation head-on and it will lose the power of repulsion. You can see it in a new light and not live in denial.

3. Mental or Physical Inactivity

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

The third hindrance is sloth, dullness, or just a state of lethargy. It can arise at a micro or macro level. At a micro level, you can feel demotivated to complete your project with a looming deadline. At a macro level, you can feel demotivated to do the kind of work you do.

Dullness of the mind or heaviness of the body prevents us from doing our best work and achieving our goals. If taken to an extreme, it can also translate into a state of depression.

Buddhists also explain this state as imprisonment — you find yourself locked in a cell where mental/physical effort is difficult.

To live your life to the fullest, you need to get out of that cell.

How to do it

As with most hindrances, it’s worth exploring what got you to that state in the first place. The source carries the solution. The next step is to do something small and build momentum. That momentum is going to carry you far.

If you’re to design a website for instance, only make the header. If you want to start working out, just take a walk for five minutes. Getting out of that cell is more important than achieving the goal.

Once you’re out of the rut, you can go in any direction you want. But dreaming and procrastinating inside the rut isn’t going to do anything.

4. Restlessness

“And how can there be any happiness without peace?” — Bhagavad Gita (2.65–66)

This is my favorite hindrance and also the one I fight the most. I’m not talking about the restlessness of the body here — although you might struggle with that as well. What’s even more crucial to conquer is the restlessness of the mind.

It occurs when the mind is unsettled due to one of many reasons — judgment of others, anxiety about the future, ruminating on the past, desires, aversions, and so on.

When your mind is not settled in the present moment, but the past or future, you can’t see clearly anymore. This is why Buddhists often refer to it as the monkey mind which keeps on jumping from one branch to the next, without standing on one branch for a long time.

How to overcome restlessness

Meditation has been the best way for me to overcome the restlessness of the body and the mind. It helps you gain distances from your thoughts, acknowledge their presence, and let them go.

Once we release our hold from our thoughts, we experience freedom and joy. But if we cling to a single thought, we go on an emotional rollercoaster at the mercy of our whims and fancies.

5. Skeptical Doubt

“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” — William Shakespeare

Doubt can be constructive or skeptical. Constructive doubt is more like feedback which helps you check if you’re on the right path.

Skeptical doubt is the incessant chatter of your mind which you can’t control. “What if I fail?”, “What will others say?”, “I’m not experienced enough” and so on.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. When your way is filled with too many doubts, you can’t see clearly. You fail to reach the goals you once set for yourself.

How to remove skeptical doubt

You need to identify if the doubt comes from a place of actual reason or emotions. Is there a reason why you think you can’t do something? Then write it down. If you don’t find any logical reason, know that your mind is playing tricks on you.

Don’t listen to those doubts and keep going on.

Just Let It Rain

We should do our best to avoid these hindrances by living our life in a way that doesn’t give birth to them. However, since that isn’t always possible, Master Shi Heng Yi gives a simple, four-step process to face them — R.A.I.N:


The first step is to find which of the above hindrances are keeping you from moving forward? Are you spending too much time binge-watching (sensual desire) to avoid working (aversion)? Are you overthinking things (restlessness)? Are you not taking action because you fear failure (skeptical doubt).

Awareness precedes progress. Whatever it is recognize it. This is the first step. Recognition allows you to break conventional habit patterns and have space to operate.


Beating yourself up, overthinking, and worrying about your faults aren’t going to change anything. You must accept who you are and where you’re at.

This implies accepting your good and bad traits without judgment. It’s the mark of a healthy relationship with yourself. Otherwise, emotions of guilt hold us down from making real progress and instead get caught up in downward spirals (overthinking about overthinking).


Investigate your habits as well as thoughts. Break down your thought patterns like a puzzle and trace the root cause behind them. By doing this you’re exercising discrimination to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Just by introspecting on your faults, you loosen their grip on you. See yourself from another person’s point of view and come up with plans to deal with the situation at hand.


The root cause behind urges, temptations and bad habits is our identification with our thoughts and emotions. For instance, just because we’re feeling bored, we think we need to check our phones or open Netflix.

Or, just because we’re feeling angry, we think we need to let it out on someone. Instead of seeing anger as a temporary emotion, we say “I’m angry.”

You are not angry. You’re only feeling anger. There’s a vast difference between the two statements. To overcome this, Master Shi Heng Yi suggests affirming “I am not the body. I am not my emotion.”

By doing this, we detach and non-identify with our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.

Final Thoughts

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”


Each of us has our own unique path to follow. There’s no cookie-cutter approach to success. But the challenges we face are the same, no matter what our path looks like.

Solving these challenges is a mental and spiritual battle we have to fight. Once we’re able to completely overcome these five hindrances, we can be much closer to self-mastery.

The man who masters his mind and body can master anything. A master of inner beasts can render any outer beast dead.

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Written on June 8, 2021