This week we explored aspects of the final Klesha. Abhinivesha describes a sense of fear- of change or uncertainty, of being judged, of things coming to an end. When our lives feel they are turning upside down, we naturally can feel fearful, and grip on to get our bearings.
So balances and inversions seemed ripe for exploring in classes this week. There may be valid and healthy reasons to avoid or limit turning ourselves upside down, so again, the important point is to ensure your behaviours and decisions are guiding you in a helpful direction.
Normally we avoid placing ourselves in situations that expose us to fear. But by doing so, we can learn to be that observer of ourselves, to better understand what is driving the response in us. Are our fears helpful or are they holding us back? Can we name what we are afraid of, what would happen if the fear was realised, what we could alter slightly to be able to move forward with a better sense of security?
Be firm yet gentle, cultivate the soft inner smile as you give forth your best efforts and let go of the outcome. We breathe, we move; we work, we rest; we let it in and then we let it go. Fear not: stay present with your practice, be inquisitive, and enjoy it!
Last week’s theme discussed the Kleshas of Raga (attachment) and Dvesah (avoidance), which distract us from understanding the source of these feelings. Like the ivy growing, it hides what is happening deep within us. But facing up to our habitual unhelpful patterns can take a lot of courage and patience...which is why we are reminded to be very kind and gentle to ourselves. A calm and clear mind is needed.
We explore in yoga the interweaving of body, mind and spirit. We can impact mind and spirit through the body. We know we can help do this with our breath. But we can do it in other ways too. So this week, we explore in our practice bringing a gentle inner smile to the face. Just by altering our facial expression a little, we can invite a sense of calm in the mind, a lifting of our spirits and a softening of our resistance. This gets especially challenging to remember when we get into more strenuous asanas, but this is where it really pays dividends and helps to avoid tension creeping into the body and mind. So go on and give us a smile!
Discussion of the Kleshas continues with Raga and Dvesah. (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras discuss the Kleshas in Chapter 2, verses 3-9.) Raga and Dvesah arise from opposite ends of a spectrum and both describe behaviours that distract us from knowing our selves better. As with all the Kleshas, they obscure our true understanding in quite powerful ways.
Raga describes that sense of want, desire that is beyond what we need, in order to create a sense of inner security. We feel unwilling to let go and try either to cling onto or to re-create the pleasant feeling. I suspect we can all find our Raga trigger of choice (Chocolate anyone? How about another glass of wine!) Unhealthy desires lead to a sense of craving as opposed to feeling content.
Dvesah indicates negative emotions we connected with unpleasant, fearful, or painful events, e.g. behaviours such as avoidance, judgement, or hatred. Some of our habitual reactions can be triggered by natural animal instinct to avoid danger. But we need to be prepared to let go of such reactions when they serve no positive purpose anymore. We need to know when to dismantle our barriers. This can be a lot easier said than done! For many of us, our barriers were erected so long ago, we do not even notice they are there anymore. And then we wonder why we feel disconnected to others, who read and heed our Do Not Enter sign that we forgot was there.
We can take awareness of these Kleshas onto our mats and notice those asanas that we enjoy and would like to do more of and those asanas which would never feature in our own personal practice. Do we gravitate toward ones we feel we execute well, or that energise us? Or perhaps ones that help us relax? Do others confront us with our limits of strength and flexibility that we would rather not be reminder of or which make us feel exposed to injury and bring tension into the body?
Such reflections can grow your practice and your understanding of yourself. Be open and honest with yourself, without judgement. Learn when the feelings you have are constructive and helpful (an asana really may be too difficult without modification) and when they are reinforcing unhelpful behaviours. And don’t be afraid to reach out for a helping hand. You will likely find others with similar experiences who can share helpful insights with you.
Focus on the Kleshas continues, this week with Asmita. This describes our tendency toward that sense of “I am” as a separate being from everyone and everything around us: my body, my mind, my personality etc as defining who we are. The sutras emphasis that what is real is unchanging. If we define ourselves by these transient attributes, then our sense of equilibrium can be disrupted easily and often when inevitable change arises. But we do touch moments when we are aware of our connection to everything around us, as when we gaze at the galaxies of stars on a dark night.
In our asana work this week, there are some unfamiliar sequences to challenge the equilibrium (ok, quite a few balances in there as well!). But students are supported in so many ways beyond that sense of “I-ness” that connects them to everything around them- the air for prana, the floor for grounding, the shared energy of their fellow students. So amidst all the effort, feel the connection to everything around you, and remember to enjoy it!
Ruth is a yoga therapist and yoga teacher based in Cheltenham, UK. She emphasises yoga as a tool for well-being, for individuals and in her classes, in person or via zoom.