In the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, the Sadhana Pada, Patanjali outlines “the means to liberation.” Within these key principles we find the five kleshas, or obstacles: ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion and clinging to life. Sutra 2.2 introduces the subject very clearly: “The goal of Yoga is not to obtain something that is lacking: it is the realization of an already present reality. Yoga practice removes the obstacles that obstruct the experience of samadhi, or the state of complete absorption” (Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras). He then explains how each obstacle can be resolved in Sutras 2.3 through 2.11. I discuss all five obstacles below and offer easy ways to identify and approach them. I suggest you read one at a time and work on them gradually, so your mind and body can come to understand them. Only through understanding are we able to grow and shed unnecessary habits. Have fun!
#1 Avidya: Ignorance
Our first affliction is our lack of awareness and disconnection from Truth. To cultivate awareness, consider how often you do the following
–Mistaking the impermanent for the permanent:
In case you haven’t yet noticed, everything in life tends to change. Take a moment to look back on your life though and see all the things you thought you could never live without… but something happened and you managed to readjust! Hold that acknowledgment, that sense of ‘I can’ at hand! With this awareness, change is much less scary.
– Mistaking the impure for the pure:
Find a picture of you as baby! That is Pure, and we all have that inside. I like to have a picture of me as a baby on my night table. I look at it when I feel out of contact with my True Identity. Looking at myself in my pure state, before life added layers to me, gives me a sense of direction. Your innocence and purity is always with you; remind yourself of this.
– Mistaking pain for pleasure:
How many times do we need to get burned before we know the nature of fire? Next time you have an unpleasant reaction to something, write it down! Shine your awareness on things that don’t serve you anymore. Make a list of them & keep the list at hand! Think also of the good changes or growth these experiences brought into your life.
– Mistaking the non self as the Self:
“To see beauty is to see unity. To perceive unity is to sense the presence of the absolute.” – Lady Ruth Lauer-Manenti
Who are you underneath your clothes? Without your job? Your possessions? Attainments? Hobbies? Get in touch with your eternal Self by stripping away all outer identifications.
#2 Asmita: Ego
Our second affliction is ‘Asmita’ or the Ego. We all have one!
Here is a fun exercise to track down your Ego and make friends with it, so it can soften and quiet down. I like to call it the Labels exercise.
Observe and take note on the following:
-Labels you tag onto yourself
-Labels that your mind tags onto people/things/foods/events/actions/dress codes/behaviors…
-Comparative labels (how you compare your labels with those of others)
Take a deep breath.
Settle into your seat and look over the collection of labels you have jotted down.
Recognize the space they hold in your mind.
Keep breathing, and see if you can find a space in your mind that allows you to drop the need to constantly label, tag, judge. Just be for a moment, be here, present in the space where there are no labels.
A label is a judgment. Often we mistake the labels we give ourselves for who we are. This exercise allows us to step out of the small, limited picture, we often get stuck in. When you take a step back you are able to see the larger picture, and that’s when you can find a sense of ease; because it’s ok, you are only a small part of a very big picture…
#3 Raga: Attachment
The third klesha is all about desire. All of us have experienced this, we are all attached to something (how can you not in NYC?!). Whether it’s a partner, a friend, a practice, an object, a pet, a food, an iPhone… it’s okay to need or want things, but you know your desire has become an affliction when it creates suffering. A healthy need or want is one that gives you happiness, inspires you, and has a lightness to it.
Here is an exercise to detect your attachments:
-Observe your mind – what is it drawn to?
-Recognize the desire you feel
-Give this feeling a name and a space inside you
. Now see what happens if you don’t automatically follow through with it. Experience what it’s like to create some space between feeling a want/need and acting on it. You can practice writing your desires down to break the cycle of feeling beholden to them.
#4 Dvesha – Aversion
Nevermind our desires, there are also plenty of things we don’t want…
“I don’t want to be rushed”
“I don’t want to eat this…do that…see him/her…”
Dvesha can also be interpreted as an avoidance of something, or feeling of dislike towards something. The ego is usually involved in this choice.
For instance…When we are challenged out of our comfort zone by a pose in our practice, we may encounter this sensation of dislike. Uncomfortable as it may be, sometimes a lesson lies in taking that step that takes out to a new ground, out of your comfort zone… It’s a great opportunity for growth.
Here is something to think about:
-If you usually WANT to challenge yourself, what would it feel like to take a step back?
-If you usually DON’T WANT to challenge yourself, what would happen if you did?
“We perceive as good that which brings pleasure; we perceive as bad that which brings pain” — Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras
To step out of a state of aversion is to step out of your ego’s comfort zone. Being pushed around by the ego (I want, I don’t want) is a vicious, never ending cycle, which creates suffering.
You are in power of breaking the cycle. Identify one habit, and change it. You will come to see that your True identity is not defined by your likes and dislikes.
#5 Abhinivesha: Clinging to life
We cling because we fear loss. Abhinivesha is often translated as “moving towards the entrance”….
Two ways to help soften the feeling of fear are to look at:
1. How you prioritize your day. Take care of things that are important for you, complete them so you don’t owe people or yourself anything. You feel free and accomplished. You feel settled.
2. Not having said something, to yourself or someone else. Don’t wait to say thank you or I love you…let people know you appreciate them. Be gentle to yourself and others! Express your love.
“The fear of death or a clinging to life dilutes your focus and interferes with your ability to experience the spiritual freedom that is the goal of yoga” — Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras
All of these obstacles are tied together by our egos. The ego thrives on them, and once they begin to dissolve the ego softens… If you experience resistance, know its okay — its part of the journey! All the kleshas derive from ignorance, and the practice of awareness allows our innate intelligence to awaken. Ignorance can’t survive in the light of awareness, and awareness is within each of us, always available to shine.