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.


Lessons From the Road

My lovely beach yoga tribe - Marina del Rey, CA

Yoga Retreat - Nazaré, Portugal

Mind/Body/Technique Clinic - Nazaré, Portugal

Come-Together-Cup - Cologne, Germany

I also have fun during my travels. :)
Launching the Bavarian Alps - Sonthofen, Germany

Harbor Island - San Diego

Mt. Constitution - Orcas Island

Since I started teaching yoga over ten years ago, I've heard so many observations on my life that have sometimes made me laugh, sometimes annoyed me and sometimes woken me up to a different perspective. I guess it's a romantic life as an observer. I get to do what I love, make my own schedule and share something that brings peace into peoples' lives. And now, I get to hop around to different places throughout the world, see friends who are scattered around the globe, all while doing this thing that doesn't ever feel like a job. The part that is missing in the eyes of most observers is that I do this alone, without a home, mate or children to return to and without any security that the next retreat, workshop or class will be successful. Not so romantic from that viewpoint. Sure, I've been doing this for many years, so I have developed a somewhat secure business, but the security that comes with a weekly paycheck, a pension and certain retirement at 65 is not in my cards. I think my favorite thing to hear (sarcasm) is when people say, "You must be rich." when they find out how I live my life.  Or the best assumption yet is when someone points out that a man is funding my life. I remember when I first started paragliding, we were driving up to the launch when one of the men noted how lucky I was to have such a generous boyfriend to take care of my gear and paragliding fun. When I told him that I did not have a boyfriend, he actually said to me with an incredulous gasp, "Then how do you afford to do this?" All I could say without turning into a complete asshole was, "I have a job." (Ahhhh, patience grasshopper.) And I've had one since I was 13 years old. This is what you do when your childhood is impoverished. Apparently, I was either going to fit into a statistic that struggled with being in the material world and feared always lacking or I would do the complete opposite and find stability, denying the misfortune of growing up in complete dysfunction. I chose to simply embrace impermanence because I'm convinced that my need for constant change came with me in my DNA. It's extremely hard for me to be in one place for too long. So this lifestyle might not be for everyone, but it works for me, even when I'm exhausted from living out of a suitcase and missing the simple pleasure of having my own mug to sip my tea out of in the morning. Ultimately, my point is that what you see is not always what you get. 

I am one of those people who believes that life happens "for a reason" or "as it should". This life is a giant connect-the-dots puzzle, each one of us collectively making up something much bigger than our individuality; the paradox of being whole and being part of a whole. Mine has many dots; friends and students abound. This network contributes to who I am. When your environment is not static, you are exposed to a multitude of lenses. If you open your eyes and actually look beyond your own nose, the landscape is so varied that diversity becomes the constant. From this perspective, the malefic effects of bias and judgment become transparent and you are swayed towards being more accepting and loving by default. Being in the business (cringe) of "awareness" means that you cannot undo whatever information has come in. We "empaths" are on the other end of "ignorance is bliss"; you can't unlearn something once you've experienced it. With this comes an insane amount of responsibility that sometimes pisses me off having. I wax and wane between having a huge voice and speaking what truths I've come to know and keeping it small, teaching the practice and allowing people to come to their own conclusions. Yoga is the middle path. The struggle for me has always been balance. Shaking people up out of their complacent stupor isn't always the best method to communicate. You start with patience, accepting that your views are different and being open to understanding why someone else has a different experience of life. Being okay with not understanding another person's perception and just showing them how it looks from your view might be the best method toward unraveling the hate, fear and divisiveness that is spreading like a wildfire on our planet right now. We've all heard the platitude, "Be the change you wish to see in the world" - Mahatma Gandhi. As boring as most of these sayings can be after hearing them for years, they are priceless and have stuck around for so long because we constantly need to be reminded. If we're all running around screaming at each other about how the other one is wrong, that's all we're going to create. I must believe that the human heart is, by design, good. I'm speaking about the majority of people in this world. I do believe there is evil and darkness in some hearts that will unlikely be undone. But if we unify with those who are desperately seeking to live a joyful life (even if we don't culturally understand who they are), then that darkness won't be able to exist in such light.

No matter what path my life takes, yoga and meditation have always proven to be the tools needed to come back to center. As a guide, I don't need to do much more than pass on the information that I've been taught. I say it over and over and over: The practice speaks for itself. It gives you the strength to see not only good, but also to see weakness and to have compassion for it within yourself and others. It teaches you to be kind, humble and loving. It shows you where love resides in this moment. No, you can't be lazy because it ain't easy. But it's worth it.