by Nora Wendt
"Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is what you learn on the way down.”
– Jigar Gor
KLESHAS - क्लेश
May you be at ease in your body, feeling the ground beneath your seat and feet.
May you be attentive and gentle towards your own discomfort and suffering.
May you be attentive and grateful for your own joy and well-being.
May you move towards others freely and with openness.
May you receive others with sympathy and understanding.
As the Yogis say: pain is a fact of life, the extent of our suffering is optional.
On October 10th, we celebrate 'World Mental Health Day'. As a clinical psychologist, I am enormously grateful to have yoga available as an effective body of knowledge offering a lot of starting points for mental wellbeing.
I have been fortunate to co-conduct a study on yoga and anxiety disorders with other yoga teachers and psychologists. This work showed that yoga is a very potent way to get to know your psyche. It is empowering because you don’t need a doctor or a pill to do that. You need your breath, your body and your mind, align them on the mat and you're bound to learn something mind-blowing about yourself.
A mindful yoga practice enables you to collaborate with reality as it is. You cannot set helpful intentions without identifying your obstacles first. This month we’ll focus on the ‘Kleshas’ or ‘personal obstacles’ that Patanjali describes in his Yoga Sutras (2.12).
क्लेशमूल कर्माशयो दृष्टादृष्टजन्मवेदनीय
kleśamūlaḥ karmāśayo dṛṣṭādṛṣṭajanmavedanīyaḥ
Kleshas are psychological patterns that shape our intentions and our suffering.
The 5 Kleshas are:
AVIDYA (अविद्या, ignorance). We struggle to perceive reality as it is. We believe that the temporary is eternal, the impure is the pure, and that pleasure is painful. This distorted perception is the first klesha upon which the other four kleshas are built.
ASMITA (अस्मिता, over-identifying with your ego, I-am-ness). We create a self-image that does not correspond to our true self (think for example of the difference between social media and our inner self). This self-image can contain both external (‘I am poor’) and internal (‘I am a bad person’) false projections. We often feel trapped in the projections we have made of our lives.
RAGA (राग, desire, or attachment to pleasure) is the attraction to the promise of satisfaction. Our desire for gratification leads us to act in autopilot mode. When we do not get what we desire, we suffer. When we get what we desire, we get used to the satisfaction and soon seek something new.
DVESHA (द्वेष, avoidance) is the aversion to unpleasant experiences. When we cannot avoid the things we dislike, we suffer. Even the thought of unpleasant experiences creates suffering.
ABHINIVESHA (अभिनिवेश, will to live, attachment and fear) is universal. We know that we will die one day, but our fear of death is deeply embedded in our subconscious.
This Yoga Sutra tells us to look closely into the driving forces of our actions. We cannot help ourselves if we don’t know why we’re doing what we’re doing. It might sound complicated, but on the mat this becomes very accessible: You might find yourself doing another vinyasa when the body tells you to rest (avidya). You might not try the arm balance out of fear to stumble and fall (dvesha, asmita). You might practice the ‘fun’ flows but skip the pranayama and meditation (raga). All of these patterns give you immense insight in how you live your life and how your mind works. Certain life choices might be driven by a certain Klesha and when you notice a tension in your practice, look closer and identify what thoughts and feelings are emerging.
Here is a little guide to start:
Area of life
Vipareeta Karani Mudra
Loss of control
Start by asking yourself: What do I value most about my yoga practice?
Use the answer to identify which practice might be appropriate for you today (more Yang or more Yin) and what kind of Asana, Pranayama and meditation you want to do.
And always remember - we’re in this together and it's always okay to ask for help! The beauty of yoga is that it brings us together. We have such diverse stories and yet we share the courage to look into the soul of life in all its complexity, right here right now, on our mat.
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
Readings on Yoga and Psychology:
The Body Keeps The Score - Bessel van der Kolk
Eastern Body, Western Mind - Anodea Judith
The Psychology of Kudalini Yoga - C.G. Jung