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The Five Kleshas

Know your suffering to know your path to Happiness.


Life in today’s modern times is a simmering hot pot of chaos and overstimulation. This is the inevitable reason why stress is one of the leading causes of our worries. That said, the way we think, act & react has a direct impact on our daily lifestyle & well-being.

As much as we are aware that suffering is a natural part of life, we as human beings can choose how much & how deeply we would like for stress to affect us. Daily triggers like being stuck in traffic endlessly, trying hard to meet or exceed expectations at work while managing our personal life – the struggle is genuine & there is no denying that.

Deep within, we desire the invaluable gifts of calm, peace and silence that money can't buy. This seems almost unachievable or somewhat unrealistic feat.

Let’s pause for a moment with these thoughts and return to our yoga roots. We can then apply the philosophy of yoga to our daily lives, shifting our perspectives and actively choosing to live a life free from the clutches of suffering. It is only then that we can enjoy a fulfilling spiritual, personal, and social life.

Five Kle

This blog first aims to understand the 5 main KLESHAS of human suffering and how they bind us from life until death. The consequences of kleshas have a cascading effect, thereby preventing us from achieving enlightenment. The important step, though, is the act of self-acknowledgement. Reflection fosters self-understanding & knowledge. These are the main tools to recognize kleshas & how we can, in turn, apply the practice of yoga to help equip us with the power to overcome suffering. 

The History of the Five Kleshas

The concept of the five kleshas originated in the ancient Indian philosophy of Sankhya. According to this philosophy, the universe comprises two main elements: Purusha, the pure consciousness of the self, and Prakriti, the material world.

Therefore, according to Sankhya Darshana, the kleshas are the by-product of the interactions between Purusha & Prakriti.

The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali describes suffering as a roadblock to spiritual growth. Within the yoga sutras, Patanjali described the 5 obstacles or kleshas, which are the root causes of our suffering.

What are the Five Kleshas?

The five Kleshas are Avdiya (Ignorance), Asmita (Ego), Raga (Attachment), Dvesha (Aversion) and Abhinivesha (Fear of death).

Symbolically speaking, kleshas are depicted as a tree with Avidya being the trunk, the branches being Asmita & the three sprouts being Raga, Dvesha and Abihinivesha.

What is the meaning of Klesha?

Klesha is a Sanskrit word that means impurity or poison. Hinduism defines klesha as a mental state that distorts the mind. This mental state could be ignorance or fear, and this negative state results in unhealthy outcomes and actions.

Kleshas are considered obstacles that prevent us from realizing our true nature, which is inner peace and contentment. Yoga helps overcome kleshas to awaken and live in absolute harmony with our inner true nature and pure consciousness.

Let’s begin by exploring each of these kleshas & how they manifest in our lives.


Patanjali understood that it was difficult to identify with Avidya or the first Klesha.  Once we know the context of the other 4 kleshas, it will be easier to comprehend Avidya. This primary klesha stems from the misconception or misunderstanding of our actual reality. Ignorance stems from a misinterpretation of the truth that - temporary is eternal.

Incorrect assessment of a situation can cause us to act unconsciously without giving it any thought. Avidya is born out of habit and perceptions that have formed for over many years and are hard to unlearn immediately. It obstructs our sight & thinking in the long run. Avidya can be recognised more from its absence than its presence. 

In yoga, the first step is to become fully aware of how the mind is holding us back by creating its own limitations. Self-reflection and meditation can help us rediscover our true nature and gain a far deeper understanding of ourselves and the world. 

It is from Avidya (first Klesha) that the other four Kleshas emerge.


Asmita is essentially identifying ourselves with our Ego or the I –am-ness. We create a false self-image of ourselves that we believe is us but is not us. We use this self-image and portray ourselves to the external world. This self-image though we perceive as our shield of protection, is actually a false trap we have created in our own life, which can lead to our downfall.

The ego leads to feelings of superiority and inferiority, and eventually, this false sense of ego creates an attachment over time. Through yoga, we are able to nurture a deep sense of humility and become more conscious that we are a part of a greater purpose.

The asana practice, pranayama and meditation together encourage us to observe this false ego and help us with our inner, true self. It teaches us how to use our ego as a tool for growth, awareness & upliftment versus destruction in our daily lives.


Raga is the third klesha, which refers to attachment. Humans are drawn to materialist pleasures that give us immense satisfaction. We are always in the pursuit of comparing how much we can possess or how much we have & using others' desirable possessions as a yardstick to measure our own success, status in society & material gains. This attachment leads to greed, jealousy & lack of contentment & affects our true sense of happiness.

The essence is that true happiness comes from within and cannot be purchased through temporary pleasures. Mindfulness, meditation, and self-reflection help us slowly yet steadily accept this truth and let go of our attachments while seeking a more fulfilling life. Tuning into enjoying each moment in the now helps add a fresh perspective.

Raga is also a desire or attachment to our family, spouse, kids, and the people we love. Finding a sweet spot of moderation and balance is vital to avoiding possessiveness in relationships and overcoming this affliction.


Dvesha or aversion is the fourth klesha, and bears reference to avoiding pain, strong dislikes, or discomfort. This can manifest in feelings of anxiety, anger and fear. We are quick to judge ourselves and others around us by creating a false perception in challenging and uncomfortable moments. An anchored yoga practice helps recognise and acknowledge these difficult-to-navigate experiences and aversions we face.

Asanas and pranayamas, together with meditation, teach us how to make peace with our present experiences, especially the ones that create great discomfort & pain. We can eventually cultivate a resilient mind in the face of such adversities & use these situations as opportunities to grow the self & step out of our comfort zone.


Abhinivesha is the last and fifth klesha. It implies fear of death & the attachment to our physical body. This can lead to stolen moments of joy from our daily living and create moments of anxiety, worry, insecurity and many such difficult emotions that are hard to process and creates panic.

This fear holds us back from addressing our true and full potential. Did you know that our true nature is beyond our physical body, beyond our thoughts and limiting beliefs? Self-reflection and meditation are the tools of yoga that can help us to let go gracefully and seek peace in the present.

A consistent yoga practice and applying the principles of yoga both on and off the mat can make us aware of how this klesha can come into our lives and how we can address it through acceptance instead of being a victim of these negative attachments & inflictions that damages the beautiful gift of ‘our now’.


We are all born with these kleshas. The most crucial aspect, though, is how we can work toward eliminating them and taming our own egos. We are not idealists, nor are we seeking to be free of blemishes.

We are human, and perhaps in our humanness, if we can accept and understand ourselves & others better as we journey through life, we have the choice to avoid mental suffering. Ideally, there is no good or bad emotion; it is our rejection of that sensation and what we do in response that leads to suffering.

Yoga is a tool that can support us on this journey to articulate our mind, body and breath. Yoga can help us ease the cycle of suffering and encourage us to show up each day despite all that wears us down by sowing seeds of all that nurtures and nourishes us into who we really are.

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