My Journey with the Kleshas

When I first started to practice Yoga, I remembered being really out of my depth when Sanskrit terms were being used. But very soon, I did get used to it.
However, I can not say that it was the case when with the common philosophy text, Patanjali Yoga Sutra.
Looking back there are reasons for this. Firstly, my irreverent self could not see how the teachings by a 1000 serpent headed sage, has any relevant to my daily modern life. Secondly, my very analytic brain, was stuck in the mode that I had to get it. It was really difficult to get as I kept rereading the one and only very heavy and intellectual commentary on PYS and was stuck in the the very first chapter. Put it this way, the first chapter is similar what the last chapter of a self-help book – the overview and celebration of implementing the practicals tools offered! In PYS, the ‘how- to’ actually started in the second chapter (pada in sanskrit)!
Thank goodness, I was introduced to more ‘user-friendly’ commentary and they have informed my way of practice1,2. Early in chapter 2, Patanjali outlines the kleshas (veils/afflictions) of the mind that has an impact on our practice of Yoga and are the cause of our suffering. Personally, I find them extremely useful in my practice on and off the mat!

What are the kleshas?

I am definitely no expert in sanskrit and I am sharing with you some of commentary (1,2) that resonates with me together with my own interpretation.

Advidya – lack of insight (1)
Asmita – Over identifying with personal self/ego
Raga – attachment or fondness to impermanent pleasures (2)
Dvesa – Aversion or excessive avoidance of unfamiliar or unpleasant experiences (2)
Abhinivesah – fear of loss1/death or elusive awareness of immortality (2)

What does to mean to my life?

As we know, life will tend to throw up curve balls that we need to respond or react to depending on our state of mind. So, let me take a recent occurrence in my physical state as a relatable example. I had develop a baker cyst in my left knee in recent months after hyper extending the knee by tripping backward (as one does!). There are mornings or day when minimal flexion (bending of knee) is possible. Pain and twitches can also be unpredictable initially. Let me share with you how this 10 cent lump affected my physical practice and how at times did my head in!
Yes the kleshas were constantly making their presence known during these months especially in my physical practice. The kleshas came up either as a whisper or a loud PA announcement. Here are some of the goodies!

Advidya – ‘Surely, the way that I have been practicing has not contribute to it.’
Asmita – ‘I need to keep up with similar level of physical practice as I am a Yoga teacher.’
Raga – ‘I healed my other knee using this way, so it must be THE way.’
Dvesa – ‘This other way of practicing is so so hard and frustrating.’
Abhinivesah – ‘Oh no, how can I be a movement educator with a bad knee!’

I am pleased to report the cyst has receded and I have learn a lot about how I tend to over use my knees and stoping the line of communication from my feet to spine and spine to feet (more on that in the future).

As you can see the sutra can definitely inform our practice of yoga on and off the mat when we reflect and inquire (svadhaya) with gentleness (ahimsa). A good place to start is to notice if a common kleshas keeps popping up. It may be a good point to start some self-inquiry that will then affect your practice of Yoga.

References for interpretation:-

1. Patanjali’s Yoga Meditation by Vyn Bailey
2.The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi


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