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Reflections on the 5 Kleshas – Roots of Pain and Suffering

It is February 2nd and we have made it halfway through the winter! February 1st-2nd is celebrated as a Celtic holiday called Imbolc that marks the peak of winter and the halfway point between the winter solstice in December and the spring equinox in March. Many of us have experienced a deep inwards time in the last couple of months. We may have been at home with a lot of thoughts and little and/or big processing and transformation. In Ayurveda, the Five Kleshas are the roots of pain and suffering and we can examine them in relation to our lives as we evolve. As we begin to think about emerging from this stormy wintertime, we can think about what we want to send towards the springtime energy that is around the corner. We are forging tools this winter made of awareness of ourselves and our intentions. The Five Kleshas can sound daunting, but they are a gentle framework to sharpen our awareness and fortify our happiness.

The Five Kleshas are:

~Avidya – ignorance

~Asmita – egoism

~Raga – attachments

~Dvesa – aversions

~Abhinidvesa – fear

The kleshas mean different things to each one of us. At different times in our lives, they may strike a different chord and they can be revisited as a check in on how peacefully we are feeling and living. There are different levels of ignorance as well as awareness in an individual’s life. We may be aware of some attachments or fears, but not aware of larger ones that take a lot of deep work to touch down on. It is great progress to have any awareness, as it is the catalyst for more.

In Ayurveda, health is addressed as lifestyle medicine that includes wholesome food, proper timing, herbs, pranayama, meditation, etc. A main concept is that food is medicine and the body/mind/spirit is addressed daily. A huge part of our wellbeing hinges on our mental & emotional health, which is affected by the five kleshas. They can cause poor habits or patterns, which require awareness and willingness to reflect on in order to change. All facets of our health and wellbeing can be affected by being in poor eating habits, emotional addictions, hooks of social media, fear of failures, fear of change, judgments of ourselves and others, being very reactive, etc.

Our sense of self is connected to our nervous system and the nervous system regulates much of our bodily functions. In order to be nourished, we need our digestive system working well which points to the nervous system almost every time. Whether we are eating at the wrong times of day or foods that cause inflammation, many of these habits come from an emotionally charged standpoint. If the kleshas are deregulating our nervous system and affecting our emotional health, imbalances will occur in our physical bodies. Other than affecting our digestion and nourishment, effects of the kleshas may keep us spiritually asleep and in the energy of tamas (lethargy and dullness). The opposite of tamas is sattva (purity), which we want to cultivate more of for our highest good and purpose. The kleshas may also be interfering with the ability to connect with others and our capacity to learn and let go.

Here are some suggestions on how to counteract the five kleshas and the effects they have on our health:

*Assume the best in people. Trade judgments for compassionate thoughts and actions towards others. Don’t take things so personally; most people are dealing with struggles that are completely unknown to us

*Let go of what people may think of you. Notice if there is a pull to be right or prove yourself, which may come from a wound of not feeling like enough. There is a healthy ego that takes care of the self and makes sure it is heard and seen from a strong sense of self

*Contemplate healthy attachments. It is normal to be attached to people and places and things. Strong attachments may blind us from change and stunt our growth. Remember that everything is impermanent and ever changing

*Lessen all big reactions to aversions that cause negative emotions. It is one of the most basic and profound meditative practices to remain equanimous when facing aversions. Reacting less in uncomfortable situations and learning to be patient is a practice for life

*Fear may keep us in a vibration and energy that is limiting and taxing on the nervous system. There are many situations in life that promote fear and there is healthy fear/caution/awareness to be had. Sometimes our fear is someone else’s worry we carry that doesn’t serve us. Dr. Lad has a helpful quote relating to the emotion of fear:

“[F]ear is my projection, my resistance, and my own reaction; so it is me. The moment we realize that I am the fear and the fear is me, that realization kindles pithara Agni [fire in cell nucleus] and starts burning the toxic molecules of fear. Then our cellular chemistry changes and fear matures into pure awareness and love.”

There are many Buddhism based principles for how to overcome suffering. We can practice taking care of our bodies and our loved ones, being attuned to emotions, cultivating empathy and compassion, speaking the truth and so forth. As an example, we can look to The 10 Paramis. They are the “ten perfections of the heart” that are a helpful guideline in living with compassion and an open heart each day. These can be practiced and cultivated in everyday life, challenging situations, meditation practice and yoga. They are:


-Moral Conduct









We can work on counteracting the kleshas and keeping our nervous systems happy for sustained wellbeing. We can continue to increase our awareness and check in on ourselves as we slowly approach the emergence of spring. Check out our article from January on The 3 Main Causes of Disease & Pratyahara to read more about supporting mental and emotional health.

May we have the energy and awareness to reflect on our lives and our truth and be happy & joyous!


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