Tag Archives: klesa

Fear effects our thinking, actions and relationships


There are times when we must endure life-threatening situaitons and fear is a part of our mechanism for survival. There are also times when something in our life feels threatened, and this, too, can arouse fear and the host of symptoms that go along with it. When fear is operating at the lower levels of the spectrum and the symptoms are more subtle, we may not even be aware of the effect it is having on our thinking, actions, and relationships. But it is. Fear is powerful.

There was the time when my manager thought we should change my class schedule and drop one class. I freaked out. I couldn’t even consider the proposal. I started to worry that I was less popular than the other teachers and no one would come to class ever again and how would I make up the income… I put all my energy into fighting to keep things the way they were. I couldn’t see it any other way.

Since the election, the same thing’s been happening. I’m freaked out, and I keep feeding this fear with news, news, conversations about the news, and more news. It has been obsessive and I’ve been distracted by it. I must also be uncharacteristically short tempered because last week my girls both asked me if I was mad at them. This made me stop and think about my tone of voice and my lack of patience. I pulled them in close and apologized and told them a little bit about what was going on (none of it is their fault). Then I turned off my NYTimes alerts on my phone and started to wean myself off of talk radio.

The yoga sūtras give us a list of five ways that we can incorrectly perceive something, the kleśas (YS II.3-8). Patañjali says there is a general misperceiving, avidyā, we mis-identify, asmitā, we let our likes or preferences decide for us, raga, or we let our dislikes to determine what we do or don’t do, dveṣa. The last one in the list is abhiniveśā, or fear. Patañjali describes this version of misperceiving by saying that when we experience it, it’s like it mounts us and tells us where to go. The rider is directing our action and behavior. The rider is fear and our body, system, mind, responses… those are the horse. (YS II.9)

And that’s totally how it is. That’s what this obsessive behavior feels like. Part of me is watching while I read another alarming article and it’s like the watcher has almost no power to stop the doer from doing it. Something else is in charge. The fear.

So what do we do about it? Patañjali offers two very useful suggestions:

  1. If you see a kleśa, take action! Do something to oppose the symptoms when they are small and make some effort to come back into balance (II.11). This might be yoga practice, taking a walk in nature, disconnecting from devices and connecting to a person you love, or taking care of something – your garden, your pet, your house, someone in need.
  1. Meditate on something that is appropriate (II.12). When you give your full attention to something, as with meditation, your whole system benefits. The appropriate thing might be something that helps you feel connected, safe, or loved. It might be something that gives you hope. If you have a prayer practice or a connection to higher power, this can be very helpful.

I’ve finally had some breakthroughs with my most recent fear. I’m starting to notice a cycle and a process that I go through when something seems new and threatening and that cycle takes time. Neither of the solutions above are instant fixes. They are ongoing and helpful practices. As I start to feel a little less afraid, the concerns haven’t gone away, but the fear-based responses have less of a grip. I imagine they aren’t gone for good, but I find it so helpful to remember and connect with these teachings from the sūtras. I hope you do, too.

Innocent misunderstandings still have consequences: YS 1.24


Please don't misunderstand my micro-expressions...

Please don’t misunderstand my micro-expressions…

This is blowing my mind this week.

In the first Chapter of the yoga sūtras (I.24), Patañjali describes this cycle. It’s one we all know well.

Kleśa – misperception

So, we are in a situation, and for some reason, we don’t see what’s happening clearly. Maybe we are in a bad mood or we spaced out for a second and were thinking about pizza instead of what our friend was telling us, or we got flooded with memories of the last time we were in these stupid circumstances, or we plainly misread the situation. The point is, there are lots of times when we misperceive what’s happening. We don’t even know we are doing it, and then based on that misperception, we take an…

Karma – action

Because we misread that tone of voice as angry instead of afraid, we respond with aggression instead of compassion. Or even though something isn’t right about that job, we take it anyway because it seems like we should. We do something based on the misperception and that give us a…

Vipāka – result

One of the things I tell my kids is, “there’s a consequence to every action you take.” You don’t clean your room, you lose tv privileges (parental consequence). When you choose to go outside without wearing a coat in the wintery morning, you’ll be cold (natural consequence). Some consequences or results aren’t so obvious at first, but they’ll show up in some way, eventually. And every result leaves an….

Āśaya – impression

Something remains with us. We have 2 glass walls in our shower and for the first 6 months that we lived in our house, I’d shower, leaving the water droplets clinging to the wall. Slowly, the gla  residue from our hard water would build up and the glass would get cloudy and ugly looking. And it was so hard to get off! It took one of those flat razor blades and chemicals and a lot of elbow grease to get is clear and shiny again. (Now I have a squeegee and it’s much easier to clean, but I have to take a minute at the end of every shower.)  Impressions and residue is part of this misperception-wrong action- result cycle. The things we experience leave something with us.

But this is only the first part of this sūtra. The second part is even more exiciting, if you can believe it. The second part says…

Aparāmṛśṭaḥ – unaffected (by kleśa karma vipāka āśahaiḥ)

The sūtra we are talking about here comes after I.23, in which Patañjali introduces an incredibly helpful thing we can have or cultivate along our yogic path: A belief in a higher power. This doesn’t have to be God, but it could be. Because yoga is experiential, it can be the force that jives with your way of thinking of the world – universal order, an inner wisdom, divine being. Something that helps you to see that you aren’t in charge of everything that happens in your life. I.24 sūtra describes Īśvara and says that this higher power is unaffected by this cycle of misperception.

Puruṣa – soul or person

Viśeṣa – special

Never misperceives? That is a special being or soul.

Īśvara – this is being described. This is the name Patañjali uses for higher power.

There’s a chain of events that’s set off when an action we take is based on a kleśa or misperception and the end result is a residue that’s left behind. That residue then influences how we perceive the next thing that comes along and if we’ve got too much buildup on our glass, then it’s harder to see the next situation clearly… or the next.

But there’s something that’s unaffected by this cycle and that has always had clear perception. Maybe it’s an inner voice or a special being or a system out there in the universe. And if we can find ways to link to this puruṣa-viśeṣa, then it will help us along the way. It can help us to have less of the misperceiving and more of the seeing clearly, so that the impressions that remain are of a different kind. A kinder kind.


Special thanks to Chase Bossart for teaching the sūtras in a way that continues to make them so very meaningful to me. I’m so grateful.