Overcome Obstacles In Your Asana Practice - The Kleshas

In the second chapter of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the spiritual practice of yoga is explored. There are five Kleshas, or obstacles, on this yogic path to liberation.

  1. Avidya - Ignorance
    • Not knowing the true Self
  2. Asmita - Egoism
    • Self-importance with one's own identity, separating the Self from the truth of Oneness
  3. Raga - Attachment
    • Attraction to things that bring pleasure to the "I", creating suffering when they are not accessible
  4. Dvesha - Repulsion or Aversion
    • Disdain for things that threaten the "I"
  5. Abhinivesha - Will to live or fear of death

    • The need to keep the "I" alive. Fear of bodily death or anything that threatens one's own identity

These are rudimentary explanations of the kleshas. One must go much deeper into Self exploration to develop a greater understanding of each of their meanings. We can cognitively, intellectually understand these obstacles but true knowledge comes from a commitment to meditation and asana practice, as mentioned in the Sutras as Abyhasa or constant practice. 

So how do the kleshas apply to asana? When Anusara was at it's pinnacle before the fall of John Friend, I was obsessed about the practice. There were a few things that struck me as odd, though. One was this teaching of finding one's edge. Being the fiery personality that I am, this was not the best direction for me in my early 30s. How can one truly find their edge without going over it? And that is where the kleshas come in to play. When ignorance, ego and attachment are the forces behind advancing your practice, it will only lead to injury and frustration. In the moment, you are lead further from the truths that are being expressed in the Yoga Sutras. As a tool to break through these obstacles, the kleshas are actually assisting you in an awakening. But one must have consistent practice (abyhasa) in order to get to the other side. The awareness doesn't come by being consumed by the obstacles and walking away before you glean from the experience. The awareness arises when you fall flat on your face over and over until you realize whatever is needed to not have to move through this same lesson anymore. This doesn't necessarily have to be how you find your edge, but we all must teeter on the fulcrum before we find steadiness. How far from the center you must stray before discovering balance is up to you.

Another common practice during a typical Anusara class was having a student demonstrate an advanced posture. This always ended in a round of applause. I was perplexed by this and felt this action attenuated the deeper teachings in the yogic system, namely the second and third kleshas. But was I just experiencing dvesha or a repulsion of an action that threatened my own ego? It is likely that all of these things were happening. Our lessons simultaneously appear on opposite sides of the coin in a communal consciousness.

When we are facing postures in class that we love or hate, there is likely a klesha in there. The ones that we love, most of the time, are postures we look pretty in or "do well". Our attachment to being recognized for being "good" and feeding the ego perpetuates the need to be seen doing them instead of doing them to get further away from those things and closer the truth of who we are. Of course, there are postures that we love because we go deeper into our bodies, into present moment and ultimately into our Self. You can clearly see the difference between how the two expressions are experienced. Then there are those that we hate.  Usually, they are difficult and scare us, we do not look pretty in them and they push us to work harder. Many times, we choose not to do them or make a lackluster effort while in them, not utilizing the opportunity to move past the story.

Instead of all of these labels that we put upon everything throughout the day, our yoga practice can be the place where we face our kleshas. When you step on your mat, take note of the kleshas. Can you make your asana practice about your breath and experiencing the movement without judging it in any way? Can you work harder before you get to the point where you've fallen off the edge? Equanimity can take us there. It has taught me to just experience what is happening in present time, fully and wholly. In those moments where I have succeeded, liberation is the only word I can think of that comes close to describing the experience. 

I invite you to be open to finding out who you truly are every time you step on your mat and your practice will transform from a great workout to the most faithful tool you can draw upon to connect you to deeper truths that will bring peace into your being and a realization of what oneness actually is.