Updated: May 18, 2022
When I attended my first Yoga class, I loved the physical element of it - the poses, the stretches, the challenging transitions - but I had no idea that one day I would be sitting here in my studio, sharing with you some of the lessons that Yoga has taught me.
You see for the longest time, I.... like so many others, thought that Yoga was just another way to exercise. I had no concept of all the lessons that I would learn along the way, that would really enrich my life physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Today, as I finished teaching a Yoga Flow class, I felt overcome with the urge to share the lessons that we have learned over the last 5 weeks in our Klesha series, because whether you enjoy yoga or not, these lessons are for everyone. I hope you will enjoy this brief explanation of what we have been doing recently; and possibly bring these lessons into your own life so that you too can enjoy the harmony, peace and freedom that follows with practice.
Some background so you know the starting point:
Yoga is spiritual but not religious - attach the meaning to your own beliefs
In this blog we are focusing on the life lessons and not the spiritual ones
The lessons we learn start with observation of ourselves
From observation comes understanding and clarity of who we are
With clarity we can decide what we want to grow and what we want to stop
The word Klesha in sanscrit is translated to 'poison'
Over the last 5 weeks we have been looking at the 5 Kleshas which are the areas in our life where we create obstacles and difficulties for ourselves through a mindset that can be changed if we choose to change it. These are obstacles that stop us from gaining greater understanding and enlightenment spiritually, yet they can also be translated into obstacles that we create in our lives that create difficulty in everyday living.
AVIDYA (Ignorance / Wrongful Perception)
Our first Klesha is Avidya, meaning ignorance or wrongful perception.
This is known as the root klesha because if we can overcome this one we can actually overcome them all. In the yoga teachings, Avidya is about the ignorance of our spiritualism - that we are more than just a body living here on Earth. So it is more about your pathway to enlightenment.
In our Yoga practice we may translate that as doing yoga just for the sake of exercise instead of taking all that Yoga has to offer. It could also be that in our yoga practice we are more concerned by how we look in our poses rather than how they feel.
In life however Avidya is demonstrated in other ways.... in life, we need to let go of how we think things should be, how they should look, how people around us should act and instead we can open our own hearts, minds, ears and eyes and focus on seeing the reality of a situation.
How you can observe yourself as you go about your day....
Be mindful of your thoughts and the stories that you replay in your mind. Sometimes we can create a belief just through reciting a thought pattern in our minds. When you notice yourself thinking something, stop and consider if it is the truth. E.G. Your mother in law hires a cleaner for you - is the story you tell yourself that she is criticizing the way you clean your home and therefore her 'gift' is an attack on you; or do you consider that she is trying to give you a break because she can see you have a lot on and is sending the gift from a place of love and kindness. Depending on what you believe to be true will impact your relationship moving forward.
This example can be attached to any other situation - when you look in the mirror, what are your thought patterns? Are these thoughts building you or breaking you down?
Have you convinced yourself that you don't like certain foods because you tried them once when you were a kid and didn't like them?
Once you have observed, you can make a conscious decision on whether these thought patterns are really true or not, and if you aren't sure you can always gain clarity through asking for it. Then decide which thought patterns you are happy to keep and which ones you are ready to let go of. This sounds simple (and it is) but it takes time and consistency, so get ready to start working on yourself.
ASMITA (The Ego / I-am-ness)
Once more there is a spiritual meaning to this Klesha - we create difficulty in our life when we see ourselves as stand alone energies (our ego) instead of being apart of all that is around us. Whether you believe in a higher energy or not, we can all agree that we do not control the spinning of the earth, the tides, the rain, the sun rise or the sun set - and so perhaps we need to ponder on the possibility that our energy (our ego) is not the center of the universe.
In our yoga practice we see the ego every time we think "I love this pose", "I can't do this pose", "I don't look like that person in this pose". These thoughts are very normal yet it takes away from the actual practice and the intention that you have set for yourself. When we keep our focus on the ego during practice we can create feelings of doubt or superiority in class.
To be clear, the ego is not a bad thing all the time. We need to be aware of our individual needs and wants in life and in our yoga practice. This lesson however kicks in when we get a belief that we are more important than the greater good or than other people. Asmita has been compared to a pair of tinted glasses that we wear to view the world around us. The tint allows us only to see things from our point of view, only taking our needs into account and only worrying about how something affects me. When we are in this mindset we live a life where receiving is more important than giving, being loved is more important than loving and having kindness is more important than being kind. When in reality we all know that a more balanced way of life creates more harmony for everyone.
Final thought on Asmita....
Nobody is right all the time
Nobody is perfect all the time
Nobody is without fault all the time
Nobody's views / beliefs / opinions are more important than another's
Nobody can do it alone.... we are all in this life together
Raga is the attached to material things in life, like relationships, status, money, power, assets etc Whereas materials are not seen as evil or bad, when there is a strong attachment to things, it creates a mindset that is not in line with reaching enlightenment and therefore it is an obstacle.
In our yoga practice (and any workout really) we may only do one type of workout that we love - particularly in yoga you may only do certain poses because they are the ones you do well. You move into a comfort zone that stops your growth in your practice.
In life, we all have things that we enjoy doing but Raga becomes evident when we become so attached that it could be seen as an addiction. This can be seen in co-dependency relationships (whether you need someone else or you need to be needed), addictions like gambling, drugs, sex, sleep, food, cleanliness, shopping, or even OCD tendencies. These addictions feel good in the moment but are often followed by feelings of stress, guilt, self hate, sadness.... the list goes on.
These 'addictions' can creep up without you even noticing and they often come about in an attempt to fill a void that is within you. As with all these life lessons, the first step is to observe yourself, then to identify and decide what you want to keep and what needs to stop. This can be pretty scary as addictions often come about to numb hurt and pain, so looking inward may cause you to find things you didn't want to look at. But in the long run, you will be helping yourself on your path to enlightenment and harmony.
The 4th klesha is repulsion which is the opposite side of Raga. Instead of attaching ourselves to things we enjoy, we push away what we feel is bad, or that we don't enjoy.... ummmm, well yes! Why is that an obstacle?
Spiritually speaking, this klesha creates disharmony and turmoil as through it we begin to label things / people / countries / religious or political groups / cultures / races / sexual orientations as 'Good' or 'Bad' - our strong belief against something creates much anger and maybe even hate to a point that it gets in the way of enlightenment where we all focus on love, gratitude and kindness towards ourselves and others.
In our yoga practice, Dvesha is observed when we have a strong repulsion to trying a balance, pose or stretch in the belief that it won't be good for us, or perhaps because we are fearful. We of course want to be careful in our practice, but this is more about having a strong belief that we don't want to do something. To overcome this, we might add in elements to our practice that really challenge us. Perhaps adding more balance poses (if we believe our balance is bad) or more arm strength transitions (if we believe our arms are weak). We then take time to observe how we react to doing the poses we don't like and that is when the lesson starts. We might have to overcome frustration, irritation or annoyance - but when we can learn to overcome these emotions in yoga we are practicing for life.
In life, we see Dvesha appear when fear holds us back from doing something that might bring us great joy and success.
The examples I gave in class were:
Wanting to see the world but fearful of flying
Wanting to change careers but fearful of going back to school
Wanting to start a business but fearful of failure
Wanting love but fearful of getting hurt
Wanting to learn to dance but fearful of looking silly
Wanting a new haircut but fearful of other's opinions
In all these examples, the fear is what repels us from doing what we really want to do. Fear stops us from following our dreams and living the life that we want for ourselves. What is holding you back from living your best life?
ABHINIVESHA (Attachment to Life / Fear of Death)
The hardest of all the kleshas to overcome is Abhinivesha, the fear of death whether it is our own or someone else's. The fact is that we are all inevitably going to die, literally nobody will get out of this life alive, yet the thought of death is one that we don't talk about too much and one that everyone has some level of discomfort with.
In our journey towards enlightenment, it is believed that once you can overcome this klesha, you have reached enlightenment!
In yoga we often (if not always) talk about being in the moment, enjoying life to the fullest and celebrating each day even if it doesn't feel like a gift. This lesson of being present and finding joy or reasons to feel gratitude, is one of the steps towards facing this fear. I think it is because when we come to the end of our life, if we have lived life to the fullest we may feel more ready to pass.
Another step is linked to your spiritual beliefs - if you truly believe that your inner spark, your soul, your spirit, your inner being will continue well after this life has ended, the peace of mind that comes with that belief can help free you of some of the fear. I'm not sure if it is possible to overcome this klesha completely - clinging to life is a very natural and automatic response - every creature in the world has an instinct to survive. So how does one overcome that instinct and peacefully surrender to death? I wish I had the answer.....
The overall advice to finding calm about death is to meditate or pray on the topic. To look for strength and peace in your belief of what happens after death and surrender to the fact that we cannot outrun it.
This was not meant to bring sadness but an awareness. I hope that these topics have been informative and that you will find ways observing more and getting to know yourself a bit better. What you do with what you find is 100% up to you.
Much love always
PS. You can find the yoga classes on these topics in the On Demand library (in the menu) - there are 30 and 60 mins yoga flow and restorative yoga classes on each klesha.