Photo: Will Hale
Kick Your Kleshas and Regain Control of Your Life.
“The practice of Yoga must reduce both physical and mental impurities. It must develop our capacity for self-examination and help us to understand that, in the final analysis, we are the masters of everything we do.”
~Yoga Sutra 2.1
“The obstacles are misapprehension, confused values, excessive attachment, unreasonable dislikes, and insecurity.”
~Yoga Sutra 2.3
“Our actions and their consequences are influenced by these obstacles. The consequences may or not may not be evident at the time of the action.”
~Yoga Sutra 2.12
I am not really one to engage in “road rage” on a regular basis, but I have had my moments–slamming on the breaks in front of the guy who cut me off moments before, flipping the bird here and there, blaring the horn. Well, maybe I have had my fair share of road rage experiences–more than I care to admit. Driving is a good metaphor for life. On the road the worst comes out of us, as we don’t have to confront the other driver face-to-face, and 3,000 pounds of metal can really give you a sense of protection and security, like armor. So, while driving, we can face our worst inner demons as they start to come to the surface of our consciousness, and possibly defeat them. I think that if everyone treated one another better on the road, we might actually treat each other better face-to-face. Am I expecting too much from humanity here?
I have put this to the test. In our yoga teacher training program we spent some time learning about kleshas. A klesha is a bit like an inner demon. It is more commonly defined as an “affliction.” They can stand in the way of your true potential on the road to enlightenment. And, as long as you engage your kleshas, you continue in this negative cycle. A klesha is like a “button,” and when someone knows how to push it, they will push it! So, if you tend to flip off the guy who cuts you off on the road, or spend the rest of your ride to work trying to “teach this guy a lesson,” and in the meantime make yourself late to work; you might be dealing with your own klesha here.
Everyone has one (or two, or three) in some form, but some have learned how to redirect them rather than engage or activate them. And when my kleshas get together with your kleshas, they like to have a big, grandiose party at our expense.
For those who don’t know what they are, here is the super-condensed, in-a-nut-shell overview of kleshas:
1. Avidya: ignorance.
2. Asmita: the small self or ego is in control and always thinks he is right. The ego doesn’t like to admit that there are multiple ways of perceiving the world.
3. Raga: attachment (to a feeling, an object, a person). We can start to feel very attached to our feelings of anger, even though it may not be good for our health (or the health of others).
4. Dvesha: Extreme hatred or aversion.
5. Abhinivesha: Fear of death or fear of the death of the ego. This can stop us from experiencing life, love, happiness.
So, pick your poison: what klesha is in control of you at the moment? Once they take control, you begin to identify with them. This takes you further from your true self, which is functioning on a higher plain of evolution and enlightenment. So, even if you have an aversion to something (like that bad driver who cut you off), you are so focused on him that you are literally “becoming” your feelings of hatred or aversion.
Imagine the last time you were angry or vengeful. Your heart probably started beating at a more rapid pace, your blood pressure skyrocketed, your face turned red as a result (maybe because of your boiling blood), and your breathing probably became more shallow. This tense feeling probably stayed with you the rest of the day and maybe even caused you to be late to work. We revert back to our “primitive” self and only focus on self-preservation. Think about the life-span of early man, who was always in such a state of self-preservation. Case in point: anger is not good for you.
So here I was on the road of life, my klesha as my driver. I had unknowingly become the passenger of my own life. Think of a backseat driver: they want control of the wheel and believe that they have control of the wheel, but this is just the illusion of control. Once I realized that my kleshas were driving my life, I decided to take back the wheel.
So, we’ll call this Situation X: I always feel the need to defend myself. On and off the road, I tend to always put my defenses up, like 3,000 pounds of armor to protect my perceived insecurities. So, the kleshas that were in control, driving my life, were Abhinivesha or Asmita. In an attempt to preserve the self, my ego would become quite reckless–even if it involved bottling up my feelings of rage and anger, making me feel like shit for days. So, all it took was becoming more aware that this was happening. By turning every negative into a positive, and knowing that there is no reason to feel insecure (everything inside of me is pure and beautiful, as my guru had told me), I was able to push my kleshas to the backseat of my life and take back control of the wheel.
The next time I drove, I remained in this perfect state of contentment and perfection. If some guy cut me off or did something equally annoying, I just let it be. I let it roll right over me like an ocean wave. This is even more fulfilling with the Beatles blaring. I was no longer my anger or my defenses. I found myself getting to my desired locations on time (and even early) without any feelings of rage, anger or revenge, my face as fresh and calm as it might have been after coming out of a 90–minute massage or a kick-ass Vinyasa class.
So, the next time you go to flip off the guy who cut you off on the road, consider that you might actually be screwing yourself.
Janice Armstrong has been practicing yoga for seven years and is currently finishing her 200 hour teaching training certification at Inner Vision Yoga in Tempe, Arizona. She received her MFA in Creative Writing in July of 2010 and teaches writing and composition at several online universities. In particular, she is interested in the unique marriage of yoga and creative writing, especially journaling. She lives in the Phoenix area with her husband, three-year-old daughter and four cats. When she is not teaching or practicing yoga, she enjoys cooking vegetarian meals that will also impress her carnivorous husband, reading, writing (especially reading and writing about yoga) and just being in the present moment.