The klesas, or obstacles, are most obvious in challenging and risky poses. I find them tied closely to insecurity or a lack of self-confidence. I think I can’t do a handstand (there’s my avidya, misapprehension – I’ve done handstands, I know I am physically capable of doing them) but I also feel that I have been practicing a long time and that I ought to be able do it effortlessly by now (that’s asmita, ego). I would rather practice headstand, since that’s a pose I feel confident in (ragas, attachment) than a handstand where I struggle (devesha, aversion). Ultimately, I know what’s holding me back is abinivesha, fear, and frankly, expectation. I hold tightly to my expectations and generally get what I expect. If I expect, even for one small moment, somewhere deep within my subconscious, that I won’t be able to get up – the deal is sealed. It’s not happening. The physical body is not where the obstacle resides; it’s in the mind.
What’s most frustrating about the klesas is that simply identifying them isn’t enough to conquer them. In fact, yoga philosophy teaches us that these obstacles are always present; it is my reactions and state of being that are variable. The obstacles aren’t going to magically disappear one day. Here is where the gunas, qualities of nature, come into play. If I’ve had a long day before getting to class, I might feel tired and sluggish (tamasic), which already plants that small seed of “I can’t” in the back of my mind. Maybe I’m feeling very energetic and having a strong practice (rajastic) – these are the days when I feel most likely to tackle challenging poses. But too much of that fiery energy can lead from a few tries quickly into frustration and disappointment. What I’m searching for is sattva, luminosity and equilibrium. What I haven’t figured out yet is whether sattva leads to doing the pose effortlessly, or not worrying about whether I can or can’t do the pose. Or whether not worrying about it leads to doing it. It all comes back to sutra 1.12: to quiet the mind, we must practice and detach.