RAGA: The Kleśa that has us going back for more

I'm now enjoying chai in the mornings...

I’m now enjoying chai in the mornings…

Coffee is one of my favorite things but when I drink it, over time it starts to have this cumulative effect of gradually increasing my anxiety. I’ve tried to will this side-effect away, to ignore it, or to pretend that it isn’t all that bad, but after a few months steady coffee intake, the anxiety reaches a point where I can no longer deny the problems it causes me and I resolve to quit. Again.

The kleśas are five ‘afflictions’ or ways that our perception can cause us problems. In a nutshell? We suffer because we don’t see things as they are but instead, misperceive. This isn’t ignorance. If I’m unsure what time the appointment is, then I’ll open up the calendar and see that it is scheduled for 10:00am. But if I know that the appointment is at 1:00, then I leave the house at 12:15 and drive to the office. I miss the appointment because of my avidyā, misperception. We knew incorrectly. Because we believe that the way we see it is the right way, we take action based on that misperception. This causes us all sorts of problems.

Patañjali describes particular ways in which we misperceive.

  • We misidentify, confusing what is happening in the mind.  We say, “I am angry.”  “I am sad” etc.  We think we are these emotions and if we act from this place, this is Asmitā.  It would be better expressed if we said, I feel angry or I feel sad, giving space to observe the experience rather than identify with it. (*Edited 8/28/16 see below)
  • We have a positive or pleasant experience and want to repeat that experience of pleasure so we go after it even if it may no longer be appropriate or helpful. I think of this as also misidentifying what it is that will be truly satisfying. Raga!!!!
  • We have an unpleasant or negative experience so we avoid the thing that we associate with the problem. Dveṣa
  • Fear makes us see things in ways that may not be accurate or correct. We all know that when we are afraid, many things can seem threatening or dangerous even when they may not be. Abhiniveśā.

Why do I struggle with coffee, so? .

Patañjali nails it with raga. When I’m out of balance, underslept, or over-committed, then the attraction to the morning bev can overwhelm the more practical voice in my head. “I waaaaant it” is the beginning of the story I start to tell myself. “I like it. I like the routine. I like the little jolt and I want to repeat it every morning of every day. Why not? My parents drink coffee. My husband drinks coffee. It’s for sale everywhere.“

This is how I’ve known it to start. It seems good at first, but inevitably, unpleasant effects show themselves. If we see a kleśa at the foundation of any action, Patañjali advises that we take action early when they are small. If we don’t, the suffering may eventually be great enough, and provides motivation to change.


** read more about the Kleśas in the second chapter of the yoga Sutras or join us NEXT WEEK in Ojai, CA for our women’s retreat and get in on some great discussions on how this applies to daily living. http://handson-retreats.com!

Edit 8/28/16: When I originally published this post, I confused asmita and moha YS.II.32 “We think we are “wife” or “mother” or “yoga teacher” but then something changes and that role is no more or needs to adapt in some way and this can be very painful.” This is moha.  Asmita is something that happens with how we are thinking… confusion in the mind with how we are perceiving. (see above)

8 thoughts on “RAGA: The Kleśa that has us going back for more

  1. Katie Coburn

    Along these lines, I have succeeded in recognizing that a beer or glass of wine at the end of a stressful day may sound nice, but ultimately is not as good for me as some herbal tea and a good night’s rest. This has been a relief to master. Coffee, however, is not something I’m ready to part with, even though I can see things in myself that you describe here. Good luck to you! Thanks for giving these concepts a name!

    1. Amanda Post author

      It’s so good to recognize these things AND act on it! I’m feeling good about this time around. I’m going to kick coffee’s butt.

        1. Amanda Post author

          Good question. I’d say that as many times as I’ve been through the quit/coffee/quit cycle, I’ve identified it as an undeniable and significant culprit. Is it the only source? No. I know I have have a tendency toward anxiety. If I lose weight, I’m more anxious. If I’m overly busy, I see an increase. If I’m cold… also more anxious. I’ve learned through Ayurveda that these things go along with vāta doṣa. Coffee is thought to aggravate both vāta and pitta. Ancient wisdom supports my experience on this one!

  2. anita brown

    I am so fascinated how you and I are on such similar paths from across the Globe!! I too, have had to eliminate my morning coffee because of anxiety. In a yoga therapy sesh two years ago I heard from Jesus saying “I’m alive in your body”. Ever since, I have a profound respect for its communication!! I stopped drinking in December when my ancestors begged me in my spirit, saying it would help free them from a ‘purgatory’ as they died in the midst of their alcoholism having placed their 3 boys in orphanages (my father included). Its been relatively easy and interesting as an experiment to watch when I desire it. Also fascinating is my choice’s impact on others!! I now make a warm almond milk to which I add Kaffree from WHole Foods, cinnamon and honey. I also just ordered mushroom coffee by Four Sigmatics. Bless you my friend!!

    1. Amanda Post author

      What a gift to have such clear guidance and special knowing, Anita. It makes me think about how what we choose to do now can help heal something that has happened in our family history. Maybe it’s something we continue to carry in ourselves, and maybe it’s something we offer our ancestors. wow. That’s a juicy topic for reflection.

      I think I need a reason that’s bigger than, “it’s the healthy choice.” Having less anxiety is a pretty good reason. But there’s this other idea that has come up in my yoga therapy recently — this thing of having a strong/stable container. This connects with what you are saying here. If we are maintaining a balanced and healthy system, then we can hear the guidance that comes through. We can know things, because we aren’t distracted by not feeling great or by the glob of ice-cream in the stomach.

      I drank a simmered milk with sitopaladi for a few weeks, but it made me kind of sleepy. I’m drinking rooibos chai these days AND I’m going to check out Kaffree. Thanks for the recommendation!

      1. anita brown

        I love your words..glad I checked back. I am feeling incredibly LOW today…that awful combo of anxiety undergirded by a depressive stuckness. Yes, we are being called to channel God’s healing and can only do that well with faith through a sturdy trustworthy container. Send me a prayer for centering soon please…thx


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