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the mind amuck...aka the five kleshas

yogini Nikki Estrada writes about noticing her mind during uncertainty and instability

This pandemic we are living through has added so much change, instability and uncertainty to our lives. As I watch myself more closely than ever, I have noticed how often I seek to have a timeline, a clear idea of when things will reopen, some kind on answers to my questions. But there are few.

Putting my spiritual practices to work, I have also noticed how often my mind rns amuck to really grim places or worst-case scenarios. Luckily, I catch myself and reroute.

It’s had me thinking of the 5 yogic causes of suffering.  There is a difference between pain and suffering. We all feel pain. But when our minds create stories or resistance to pain, we suffer.

The great sage Patanjali wrote a manual on how to practice yoga more than 2000 years ago called the yoga sutras. It’s not a “how to” text on poses or how to balance in a headstand. It’s a roadmap of the mind and of achieving inner states of advanced awareness. It’s a book on meditation. It’s a book leading you to YOU.

In this great text, he explains why we suffer: Patanjali identifies the 5 causes of suffering, called kleshas.

first...The first klesha is avidya, or ignorance. Our fundamental misunderstanding is that we are ignorant of who we are. We think “I am a mom” or “I am a successful lawyer” or “I am worthy because I am pretty." Or perhaps “I’ll be happy when…” or “if only I had this much money then I could be happy." None of these thoughts are true and they inevitably lead to suffering. And they are not permanent. Following such thought patterns a serious mistake, always leading to suffering. Instead the key to freedom is to know ourselves at the deepest level, to know that part of ourselves that is timeless, changeless, luminous and vibrant. It’s to know our spirit. Patanjali wants us to identify with OURSELVES not with something outside of ourselves.

second...The second klesha is asmita, or ego. Ego is when we finally achieve that career benchmark or number in the bank account and think we are now better than everyone else. Ego is when we think we know it all and expect the world to be as we think it should be. When ego is in control, we lack humility. Ego is always dependent on something outside of ourselves.

third...The third klesha is raga or attachment. We like something, we love something, we have a positive experience and we want to hold onto it for dear life. We literally cling to it as a source of happiness or fulfillment. This inevitably leads to suffering because nothing is permanent. Everything changes, it’s the law of the universe.

fourth...The fourth klesha is dvesha or avoidance. This is the act of avoiding anything we want to push away, likely from a painful experience we don’t want to relive. But there are so many things we simply can’t avoid, especially right now.

fifth...The fifth klesha is abinivesha or fear of death. Isn’t this the deepest fear of all? Don’t most of us want to avoid death at all costs? Well, we can’t. Death of the body is inevitable.

Lately, on any given day, I’ve watched myself -sometimes in a matter of seconds-blast through all five kleshas. It might go something like this: oh my god, my whole outer world is changing and I cannot handle it (ignorance); what if I can’t teach my students and lead those retreats, what will happen (ego); I have to figure out some way to be sure I can make those events happen (attachment); I have to avoid cancelling and losing money (avoidance); what if everything falls apart and we have no money to survive? (fear of death).

Then I take a deep breath and realize I have gone all the way to the absolute worst and unlikely outcome, none of which is actually true in the present moment. And even if they do happen in the future, it will be okay; I will be able to accept and respond. Another deep breath.

Are you experiencing something similar? Are you going to worse case scenarios in your head and causing your own suffering? Do you notice yourself clinging or avoiding? Maybe your ego has taken a huge hit during this pandemic.

Patanjali encourages us to gain control of our thoughts and to use techniques that reduce such suffering, like meditation, and create more peace, ease, stability and clarity. A steady, committed practice of yoga toward meditation, even simple and short, cultivates these qualities so they can be inately practiced independent of our circumstances.


Gratitude to yogini-master teacher chattra friend Nikki Estrada for her post, written while sheltered in place, April 2020.  Nikki Estrada has been in the yoga scene for more than twenty years. She leads workshops, teacher training and immersions nationwide. Nikki began her formal training in India, focusing on Ashtanga. She is currently a senior yoga teacher and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nikki's Vinyasa-based classes are a synthesis of her years of yogic and Ayurveda study and personal experience, with an emphasis on spirituality, intelligent alignment, meditation, and living life more joyfully. Find Nikki at www.nikkiestradayoga.com. and use code NikkiGift for a free month of online yoga.


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