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5 Reasons You’re Not Improving In Your Yoga Practice

What's niggling you?

Have you ever felt stuck on your yoga journey? Or got the niggling feeling that something’s getting in your way? Read on to discover the five obstacles that might be blocking your path.

Road Blocks Happen

In part two of the Yoga Sūtras, Patañjali introduces the concept of the five kleśhas. This chapter is considered by many to be one of the most useful chapters for modern day yoga practitioners as it is the chapter which offers practical methods to practice yoga beyond your mat. This can be (and has been) partnered with many philosophical concepts like the yamas and niyamas.

The yamas and niyamas give us a framework to cultivate positive attitudes to help us in our yoga practice. When studying yogic philosophy, you examine what it really means to be truthful, honest, kind and content, as well as generating a practice full of heat, study and surrender. But I’m going to be honest with you here – we’re all human. No matter how good our intentions, no matter how dedicated we are, sometimes things get in the way.

In philosophical terms, these obstacles are known as kleśhas. By recognising these obstacles for what they are, you’ll discover ways to work with, and overcome, each one. I can’t promise you’ll never again skip a morning practice in favour of an extra few hours in bed, but you will understand why you do it. Along with this perspective and understanding, you’ll probably feel less guilty about it, and be able to overcome it more successfully next time.

The Kleśha Family Tree

So what are the five kleśhas anyway? To begin with, we have ignorance (avidyā). In some drawings of the kleśhas, avidyā often appears as a tree trunk, with all the other kleśhas appearing as branches deriving from avidyā.

Subflux via Flickr.
Subflux via Flickr.

Other schools believe that, unlike the yamas and niyamas, each kleśha creates the next one. If you’re suffering from ignorance, then egoism (asmitā) is sure to follow. This is when the naturally selfish quality of the ego is allowed to take hold of the reins and dictate our actions. From this, we encounter attachment (ragā). We’re all familiar with this one I’m sure – the feeling we get when we ‘need’ the latest iPhone, another expensive holiday, or even more yoga clothing! It’s not just consumerism where the kleśhas thrive. Just take a look at certain news reporting on situations of refugees fleeing war torn countries, and we can often see the acting out of what is ‘ours’, and how ‘they’ might take it.

This fear of ‘them vs. us’ displays our belief in separation and often leads to the fourth kleśha often translated as aversion or hatred (dveṣa). And finally, we come to abhiniveśha, the clinging to bodily life, or fear of death. The accumulation of hatred and fear leads us to cling anxiously to life, obsessing about the past, worrying about the future and never quite letting go enough to just be in the moment.

Sounds like a lot to think about? Don’t worry, we’ll be looking at each of them in detail, and discovering ways to overcome each obstacle both on and off your yoga mat.

What’s In A Word

Lost in translation
Image Credit: Manjushri on flickr.

It is worth mentioning here that, as with all yoga philosophy, it is important to always be aware that what you are reading is always a translation. Whenever anything is translated, it can result in a miscommunication; sometimes comic, sometimes just plain confusing. We also have the added complication that a lot of yoga philosophy was written in a completely different script, in a different time, and a different culture, to the world we reside in today.

Take the fifth kleśha: abhiniveśha. In the Satchidananda translation of the Yoga Sutras, this is interpreted as ‘clinging to life’. Let’s take a moment to think about what this means. If we changed ‘clinging’ to ‘valuing’, would we really consider this an obstacle to leading a peaceful, contented life? After all, most people go to yoga to feel better about themselves and to make life more enjoyable through easing tensions in the body and mind.

This doesn’t mean that the kleśhas are no longer of use to that, more that we need to look critically at how we interpret them to ensure they still serve us. Imagine a life with no fear, no neediness, no worries. Sounds good, right? This is what we can aim for in our yoga practice, if we find a way to make yoga philosophy relevant to us here and now.

A Millennia Of Discussion

A lot of interesting modern authors (Matthew Remski and Mark Singleton, to name just two) are re-examining some of the more widely known yoga philosophy and theory, with very interesting and exciting results. Sometimes it can feel frustrating that it isn’t all black and white, but to me, that ambivalence is where the excitement lies. Yoga philosophy most certainly isn’t dead! The ideas floating around as far back as 200BC (and maybe even before then) are still relevant enough to be debated and discussed today. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that’s pretty cool.

No matter where we are on our road to yoga, whether you’ve just discovered it or have been practicing for over 50 years, we all can encounter obstacles at any time. As Patañjali says in the first Sūtra, the time to practice yoga is now. It’s all about the practice, and knowing what you need, on that day.

Yoga is your journey, and philosophy is personal to you. Practice lots, read up on the subjects that appeal to you, and stay open minded. Don’t be too hard on yourself, or others around you. The practice of yoga can seem overwhelming sometimes, but remember, we’re all human.

Entertain This Thought

Can anyone hear your frustration?
Image Credit: Michael Pardo on flickr.

This week I invite you to consider whichever kleśha jumps out to you as the most relevant to you right now, and begin to ask yourself, what does this mean to me? If you’re not sure right now which seems most relevant, just go with the first one, avidyā, or ignorance. Are there areas of life that perhaps seem shrouded in ignorance? Or can you see ignorance being played out in wider society, maybe in politics or the media?

Starting to ask questions is the first step to beginning to become fully aware of any kleśha.

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