Also known as the cause of suffering, the Kleshas are 5 mental obstacles found in Yoga Sutra 2.3-2.9 (you can purchase my favorite translation on Amazon).

Sutra 2.3 AVIDYASMITA RAGA DVESABHINIVESAH KLESAH

5 Kleshas

Translated to English, "Ignorance, egoism, attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles." The Yoga Sutras (2.4 - 2.9), provide instructions to destroy each Klesha or obstacle. These things sound pretty human to me. How can you control something of which you have no knowledge? The chances of you changing something you're unaware of is probably a big fat ZERO; however, consider the idea that doing something over and over forms a habit, and your habits turn into your deeds, and your deeds into your destiny. The simple act of awareness will allow you to slowly identify when and how these obstacles can affect you. When they do, through that awareness you are able to reflect on how your mood can be affected and those around you. In this 5 Part Series, I take a closer look at each Klesha and explore how you can become aware of these obstacles in your yoga practice and everyday life.

Avidya (Ignorance):

Avidya literally means "not seeing." This reference is specifically the separation of awareness (Purusha) and consciousness. Our awareness and senses are not the same, why do we have a difficult time separating the two? Our Self never changes, it remains the same, but our avidya (blindness) accepts these objects as truth. "I am...," fill in the blank is attaching the Self to feelings and concepts that have nothing to do with the Self. Mahatma Ghandi said, "You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind." No one can change, destroy, or damage the Self, if you understand and become aware of avidya, you will have true freedom. 

How to overcome this obstacle on your mat?

Understand that without study and practice, we are unable to remove avidya. Which ultimately means, we are unable to realize the Self is unchanging, and accept the pains of the world and truth. Avidya shows up in our asana practice when we say, "I can't do yoga, because I'm not flexible." Your body isn't flexible, but you are not your body. Your mind is flexible, remember the practice is less about being able to achieve a pose/final destination - but the journey which helps to reveal the Self.

How to overcome this obstacle off your mat?

That's easy (in theory) - stop defining yourself with labels and reflect on who you are, at your core. YOU are unchanging. Notice feelings of anger, sadness, or longing and try to let go without attaching them to your identity. Don't accept conditions and qualities of the body (ie. my back hurts...) as part of your identity. If your back hurts it is actually your body that hurts, not you, and your body is ever changing...you (the Self) are not.

...only the light of understanding will remove the darkness of ignorance.
— Sri Swami Satchidananda

By: Virginia Traylor

Want more? If you are a student of yoga, pull out your Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Sri Swami Satchidanada and read the story of the snake and the rope on page 88.