What are the 5 kleshas and how are they stopping you from getting what you need from your yoga practice? - Do A Shot Of Yoga


Pronounced (klay-shuhz)

Kleshas = poisons. Yogic tradition says that these are the root causes of suffering, the things that create the emotional blockages that can stop you from kicking ass on your personal yoga journey.


They are:

  • Avidya: You think you understand what is important and how to handle it (but you don’t).
  • Asmita: You are obsessed with shit that doesn’t matter.
  • Raga: You’re all about that instant gratitude.
  • Dvesha: You are addicted to the cycle of self-sabotage.
  • Abhinivesha: You cling to the notion that suffering is better than yoga because it’s comfortable even if it sucks.

The kleshas were first taught in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and the word translates from the Sanskrit as “poisons.” They are believed to be the root cause of all pain and suffering, and the tricky thing is that most of us engage in these behaviors without even realizing it.


It’s not like we say, “I would rather be miserable than happy.” But we start by embracing an understanding of the world that causes us to value things that don’t really matter, and the pursuit of which ultimately causes us pain.


As a result, we tend to “self-medicate” that pain by making choices that really do nothing to address the root of the problem and actually make things worse. BUT those things are comfortable and feel good in the moment, so we do them more and more – which of course, means that we only cause more suffering for ourselves instead of the relief that we say we want so badly.


When presented with the idea that maybe there could be a better way, we tend to cling to our ideas because they feel safe even though we know that trying something new (AKA, full-on commitment to yoga practice) might work out better for us.



Pronounced uh-vid-yuh


This klesha describes an inability to see things as they are.


A big picture example might be if you are raised to believe that academic success, Ivy League schools, and becoming a CO of a Fortune 500 company is the singular goal of life. It’s an American ideal that success = tons of cash and flashy stuff.


Therefore, if this is your foundational belief, it is from this perspective that you will make your choices (e.g., long work hours, choosing work over family consistently, putting work before health, etc) and as a result you’re stressed, tired, lonely and basically miserable.


Small picture example:


When you interpret the words “organic, gluten-free, dairy-free” on a bag of chocolate chip cookies as a go ahead to eat the entire bag with impunity.


You and I both know that that’s not how it works, right, but if you choose to live according to the notion that “organic, GF, DF” equals healthy in huge amounts, then it’s going to cause suffering.


(That’s not a story from personal experience. At. All.)


Medium picture example:


When you believe that your boyfriend is your meant-to-be, ride or die for life and based on that perception decided to max out a credit card to bail him out of jail.


You know how this story ends, right? Crippling debt and feeling ridiculous when you finally realize that he was not your ride or die but a douchebag who was actually kind of boring.


(Also… not a personal story. Not necessarily.)



Pronounced us-mee-TAH


Asmita occurs when you are heavily invested in something that is impermanent and contributes nothing to your spiritual growth – like your appearance or money.


You know, when you get your self-worth wrapped up in how much you weigh, the car you drive, or how many likes you get on IG.


The truth is, though, that even if you are practicing yoga regularly you can still struggle with asmita.


For example, you might feel competitive with yourself when it comes to your ability to do certain poses (pincha, anyone?) compared to how you may have done them in the past or with your commitment to practicing for according to a certain schedule each week if you are unable to maintain that schedule.


You may also begin to feel competitive with others, comparing what other people’s yoga practice looks like to how your yoga practice feels.


When we’re too heavily focused on the self and the things that are fleeting or impermanent, we are setting ourselves up for sadness and suffering.



Pronounced ruh-GHA


This third klesha, raga, is one that usually is triggered by a combination of the first two kleshas as well as a trigger for the next two kleshas.


Raga is defined by a fiery desire to do something that feels good.


For example, you might feel shitty for bailing your boyfriend out of jail when you find yourself at home alone when he gets arrested again. In response to the wave of guilt, shame, and loneliness you feel (AKA, suffering) you begin to feel the raga desire to quell those feelings with something comforting… regardless of whether or not it’s good for you.


Like that big bag of organic, DF, GF chocolate chip cookies. Except you can’t afford organic, DF, GF anymore, so you buy the generic brand of cookies and still go for it, because raga.


In a world where your boyfriend is not a douche, this “addiction” to what feels good manifesting as a blockage to your yogic growth may be a lot more direct.


As in, you might sleep in on a rainy Saturday instead of going to a yoga class, binge Netflix instead of getting on the mat, or scroll through Facebook instead of meditating.


But beware: raga is a slippery slope…



Pronounced dv-ay-sha (which, incidentally, rhymes with kl-ay-sha)


Dvesha occurs when you so often choose your addictive raga pleasure (or all raga pleasures) over active and healthy choices for your yogic growth that you make yourself miserable.


It’s a tense cycle that can feel really hard to break. Like when bingeing on Netflix isn’t just something you do occasionally but something you tend to do at the same time daily to the point that if you try to skip it and do something else you feel agitated and uncomfortable.


Psst…. there’s good news here. Sometimes it takes feeling that misery to recognize that changes need to be made. Ultimately, it’s a good thing. A great thing, even. And it’s all a part of the process.


Think of that pain associated with dvesha as being akin to a yogic rock bottom – a true wake-up call that it’s time to dig in and make some serious changes.



Pronounced uhb-vin-ee-vay-SHUH


Abhinivesha can be described as a fear of death that is so strong that it stops you from exploring your full experience of {God, the Universe, Spirit}.


By fear of “death,” I don’t necessarily mean physical death – though it can mean exactly that. In less existential terms, it can mean fear of change from the comfortable and known experience, even in the face of evidence that that comfortable known is slow poison.


Any and all of these kleshas can pop up at any time – whether you are new to yoga practice or a long-time lover of asana and meditation.


More good news: the goal is not necessarily to overcome these kleshas but to live in a state of active awareness. Being present in your life, both on and off the mat, empowers you to have a more objective view of goings on around you and your choices in response.


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