Klesa-s: Mental-Emotional Afflictions


Mental Emotional Afflictions

Seeds of unhappiness

Sources of fear,

Cause of conflict and strife.

Roast them with the flame of awareness

And clearly hear,

The inner essence of life.

Nicolai Bachman



Emotions and thoughts are inextricably tied to one another. Whatever you think stirs emotions in your being. It is physically impossible to think negative things and be happy, and vice versa. One thing my yoga practice and meditation practice has taught me is to be aware of emotions that are occurring within my being that I otherwise never would have been aware of. Emotions run deep and can be extremely subtle, and when low-vibrational emotions occur all the time, it is easy to not notice them or to believe that they are a natural daily occurrence.

They don’t have to be.

This chapter delves into the yoga sutras commentary of mental-emotional afflictions and their affects on our lives.


Here is what I have covered thus far in my posts reviewing Nicolai Bachman’s book, The Path of the Yoga Sutras:


  1. Atha: Readiness and Commitment
  2. Citta: Heart-Mind Field of Consciousness
  3. Purusa: Inner Light of Awareness
  4. Drsya: Ever-Changing Mother Nature
  5. Viveka: Keen Discernment
  6. Abhyasa: Diligent, Focused Practice
  7. Vairagya: Non-attachment to Sensory Objects
  8. Yoga as Nirodha: Silencing the Heart-Mind
  9. Isvara: The Source of Knowledge
  10. Karma and Samskara: Action and its Imprint
  11. Parinama: Transformation
  12. Duhkha: Suffering as Opportunity
  13. Samyoga: False Identification of the Seer with the Seen
  14. Vrtti-s: Activity in the Heart-Mind
  15. Pramana: Correct Evaluation:
  16. Viparyaya: Misperception
  17. Vikalpa: Imagination
  18. Nidra: Sleep
  19. Smrti: Memory
  20. Antaraya-s: Obstacles that Distract

Klesa-s specifically speak to negative emotions that arise when we become triggered. There are five klesa-s: avidya (lack of awareness), asmita (egotism, feeling more or less than you really are), raga (desire for previously experienced pleasure), dvesa (aversion to previously experienced pain), and abhinivesa (fear of death; the will to live, instinct to survive).

We all have these five klesa-s existing within us to various degrees and they are all present to us at differing times throughout our lives. When these thoughts are awakened in our being, they cause all sorts of negative reactions and emotions.

Bachman emphasizes that all of these mental-emotional afflictions are fear-based. From the meditation seminars I give, many studies have shown how the lack of meditation in people’s lives allows the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, to grow out of proportion, thus creating more drama in people’s lives and an inability to exercise problem-solving measures.

Bachman defines the basis of all five of the klesa-s:

  1. Avidya is the fear is borne of ignorance.
  2. Asmita is the fear the ego has of losing decision-making power or things it has become attached to.
  3. Raga arises when we are afraid a certain pleasure will not be experienced again.
  4. Dvesa occurs when we are afraid we will experience a certain pain again.
  5. Abhinivesa is the deepest fear of death.


The klesa-s are arguably the hardest part of ourselves to confront. I know that in my life experience the fourth klesa, dvesa, occurs for me the most intensely in many aspects. My personal focus on dvesa could also be working to obscure how the other four occur for me, in that perhaps I am actually affected more by one of the others but I do not notice because I am focused on avoiding decisions that will cause me to re-experience pain from my past.

Weakening and ultimately liberating ourselves from these klesa-s is the work of both yoga and meditation. Like the Buddha says, “Just as the snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past over and over again.”

The Sanskrit word for negative thoughts is klista-vrtti-s and this causes suffering in our lives. Remember that suffering is not in and of itself “bad”, it is only “bad” if we choose to make it so. It is only out of great suffering can great strength emerge. To suffer is part of the human condition. It is where we have the opportunity to overcome and prove to ourselves what we are capable of achieving on this planet.

The three practices, collectively known as kriya-yoga, we can adhere to to weaken the klesa-s are: tapas (causing positive change), svadhyaya (self-observation), and isvara-pranidhana (humility with faith). Together, these things “…have the power to fundamentally change our behavioral patterns and cripple these powerful afflictions.”

We have the power to strengthen or weaken our klesa-s based on our daily behavioral patterns. It is these klesa-s that the greenmonkey yoga teacher training unabashedly attacks, and why it changed my life so much, and why I love being part of the facilitating group that leads teacher trainings. This work is the most important work your can do in your life, because it is YOU. Yoga teaches conscious actions at all levels and forms of your being, and to do any program reminiscent of a Landmark program is exactly what these klesa-s are speaking to: face your inner demons, and face the blind spots you have acquired over the years of your life. There is no denying you have them: we all live a lie. When you expose yourself to your own lie is the moment you truly begin to live.


“Every action we perform creates a subtle impression that is recorded in our memory. Performing an action over and over, or experiencing a very strong impression from an event (like a trauma), creates a memory strong enough to influence future actions. The stronger the impression, the more it can affect our action or reaction.”


Over time, these memories form habits, which become very difficult to change or erase the longer they are allowed to persist. How Bachman writes of these really landed for me: “…these memories lead us to form habitual patterns strong enough to overpower our conscious mind’s intention to act differently.” The one thing we don’t want as human beings is to live our lives on auto-pilot, which so many of us do. So often we take the same routine routes to work, the same routine routes in the mornings going through the motions of beginning our day, we rarely pause to ask ourselves if decisions like these are really serving our highest purpose.

Understanding where these klesa-s come from and how they were produced is called pratiprasava. This is EXACTLY the work of the yoga teacher training conducted at greenmonkey yoga, without any of the scary Sanskrit words. I understand that if you have made it this far into this post or this series of posts that Sanskrit clearly does not intimidate you, but for many it does, and having the opportunity to learn these things about yourself in language that is suitable for a five year old is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself. Learning my own personal lie in the language of a child, “I am a failure and I am not good enough”, has changed my life so completely and in such a positive way, letting that in to my being has allowed me to create two companies, help them grow, write multiple books, and begin an empowering crystal jewelry line. I know this seems highly contradictory, but being open to your darkest side is exactly what is required in order to grow and expand.

Retracing the klesa to it’s origin allows you to re-experience that memory. For some reason, it is programmed in to the human psyche to heal when we experience negative and traumatic experiences over again, as long as we allow healing to occur. This means allowing us to truly feel the emotion again and understand the WHY of it, rather than hamster-wheeling dwelling on horrible things that happen to us and giving it space to define us. Allowing negativity to define us is the opposite of healing. Giving ourselves the opportunity to feel emotions again and understand why we reacted to past events gives us the space to see things differently, how we could have handled past events differently, and that awareness gives us the power of choice to behave in a more empowering way in the future. Once our emotional reactions to klesa-s are considered inert, meaning we no longer reaction negatively to triggers in our lives, then we are considered healed from those triggers and klesa-s.

“Harmful thoughts and emotions (klista-vrtti-s) are like outer manifestations of klesa-s, and can be reduced my meditation (dhyana).”

So the pattern is this: klesa-s exist, we have all five of them at varying degrees and intensities. We nullify them using kriya-yoga, which are practice causing positive change, self-observation, and humility with faith. We eliminate them when we realize their source, or pratiprasava. Realizing the source of klesa triggers is powerful because it eliminates unconscious reactions, which do not serve ourselves or the world.

Our citta (heart-mind field of consciousness) is clear when our mental-emotional baggage is no longer driving our actions (read: being in a reactionary state) then our attention can move to permanent freedom: kaivalya.




Ignorance, egotism, attachment to past pleasure or pain, and the fear of death all create suffering.


I want to know why I react negatively, then take steps to lessen my reactions.


I will practice kriya-yoga in order to resolve my afflictions and cultivate true inner happiness.


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