The 5 Kleshas + How to Use Them
Studying yoga philosophy is a powerful way to discover your patterns (samskaras), strengths and weaknesses. When we use this information in conjunction with our practice, yoga philosophy is what drives our practice; it's the reason that yoga is so very healing, on a soul level.
In the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the 5 human afflictions called the kleshas. In Sutra 1.5, Patanjali says:
"Thought patterns (vrittis) fall into five varieties, of which some are colored (kleshas) and others are uncolored."
The "coloring" of a klesha means that we are allowing ourselves to be dragged around by our senses. When we become aware of the 5 kleshas and our personal experience of them, they lose their potency.
- Avidya - ignorance. Patanjali speaks about mistaking the impermanent for the permanent, impure for the pure, pain for pleasure and the self for the non-self. These are all ways in which we ignore or are unaware of the truth. Acknowledging our ignorance at times will help us to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.
- Asmita - ego. You can think of the ego as any way in which we separate ourselves from others. Any label that we put on ourselves or others is limiting, so it's very freeing to begin to develop an awareness of what those labels are.
- Raga - attachment. Raga includes anything that we cling to or feel an unhealthy attraction toward. It might be a person, a yoga posture, a habit, a food, place or an object. Healthy needs and wants create freedom and lightness, while raga creates bondage.
- Dvesha - aversion. Dveshas are like our 'pet-peeves.' All of those things that you don't want, can't stand or push away are types of dvesha. Identifying our aversions can help us to begin to break the cycles of the suffering that they cause for ourselves and others.
- Abnivesha - fear of death. Abhinivesha is often translated as “moving towards the entrance." Meditating on the spirit and the afterlife can show you what ways you might be clinging to life or avoiding the idea of death.
Now that you know what each klesha is, take a moment to write out 5 Raga (attachments) & 5 Dvesha (aversions). It is helpful every once in a while to write down ideas about all the kleshas and how they are impacting you. Especially with raga and dvesha, making a list of your main 5 attachments and aversions is eye-opening and can inform the way you practice yoga. Knowing the difference between 'wants' and 'needs,' what are some of the things that you feel as if you need? What types of yoga practices, studios or teachers are you drawn to? Who is that one person, habit, animal or quality that causes you to react negatively? How can you begin to heal these reactions and develop non-attachment?
Non-attachment is not pushing or pulling away from any circumstance, thought or experience. It's a vast perspective that offers clarity for our yoga practice.
The more we notice these kleshas and the control that they have over us, the closer we become to non-attachment and peace. Attachment and aversion within our yoga practice create more and more imbalances, exacerbating our existing physical, mental and emotional patterns. If we're practicing asana, we must be acutely aware of what we're avoiding within our practice as well as our 'go-to' postures, patterns, spots in the room, habits, mantras, tendencies...etc. Once you have this information for yourself, the kleshas are meant to be studied and noticed so that we can find freedom from them.
We must understand that all of our attachments and aversions stem from 'ignorance and ego.'
Understanding the real root cause of our attachment and aversions will show us that only we have created our own suffering. Ignorance and ego are the roots of all 5 kleshas. Until we are ready to give the kleshas our full attention, ignorance and ego will rule. Working through our kleshas is not easy and there is no 'fast-track' to non-attachment. But the value and life-changing results we can gain from practicing through our kleshas with discipline, dedication and self-study (svadyaya) are worth it.