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Understanding the 5 Kleshas for Better Mental Well-Being

In English, klesha translates as poison. Think of kleshas as the mental toxins that lead to suffering. By being aware of them, we can start to get to the root causes of pain and trauma.

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In both Buddhism and Hinduism, the kleshas are known as “afflictions”—negative mental states that block the path to inner peace. Here’s how to recognize which ones are plaguing you—and how to use your yoga practice as an antidote.

Avidya, Ignorance

We are embodiments of divine consciousness. When we forget who we really are, we suffer disconnection from the atman (soul). The more that we can let go of our own ignorance by connecting with our true nature—by practicing asana, pranayama, and meditation—the more we can liberate ourselves from misunderstanding reality and holding false beliefs. Yoga philosophy tells us that if we can overcome ignorance, we can automatically overcome the other mental afflictions.

Try This: Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose)

This pose, which is both a balancing pose and a backbend, requires concentration and determination. It represents the power of Lord Shiva to destroy ignorance and ignite the flame of knowledge.

Asmite, Ego

Everyone has an ego—it’s necessary to survive with confidence in the world. However, when we live at its mercy, it starts acting like a tyrant. This is where suffering happens. To overcome ego, we must remind ourselves that individual liberation is intimately connected to collective liberation. Karma yoga allows us to control the ego by practicing selfless service and relinquishing the fruits of our actions to divine consciousness.

Try This: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)

In this mild inversion, the head is below the heart and we look at ourselves and the world from a different perspective. In this pose, practice being an impartial observer of your mind, training your ego to be less reactive.

Raga, Attachment

Attachment to pleasures causes more grief than we realize. The taste of chocolate, the embrace of a lover—once it’s over, we feel what is known in Buddhism as a craving. We want more. But when we’re caught up in thinking about what we had in the past or worrying about the future, we don’t live fully in the present moment.

Try This: Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate-Nostril Breathing)

Practicing breathwork brings the body and mind together; alternate-nostril breathing in particular balances the right and left sides of the body to create a greater sense of balance and equanimity.

Dvesha, Aversion

Dvesha is an emotional response that judges things as good or bad, creating division and disharmony with what we’ve decided is no good. When we live in a state of imbalance, we fail to realize that true happiness can only be found within.

Try This: The Mantra Om

Use sound as a vehicle to quiet your mind and move away from fixating on your likes and dislikes. This can help you create equanimity within, develop resilience, and open up to your own personal growth. Using this mantra daily, we develop resilience and receptivity to areas of personal growth and evolution.

Abhinivesha, Fear of Death

Life is impermanent, and yet so much of our mental suffering comes from clinging to our physical body. In yoga, we understand that the physical body is simply a vehicle for the soul. Death is inevitable. Ultimate peace can only come through recognizing mortality and working toward the ultimate goal of yoga, samadhi (enlightenment).

Try This: Savasana (Corpse Pose)

In this resting pose, practice detachment. Focus on enjoying the time that you have in your physical body, accepting impermanence. Visualize yourself merging with divine consciousness, feeling the release that comes with this awakening within.

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