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4 Causes of Suffering in Our Lives

Lisa Mitchell
December 3, 2012
Lisa Mitchell
Registered Yoga Teacher
By Lisa Mitchell
Registered Yoga Teacher
Lisa Mitchell is an ERYT-500 Yoga-Alliance-certified instructor. She owns a hot yoga studio in Pennsylvania where she teaches 200-hour teacher trainings and helps children with autism practice yoga.
December 3, 2012
Image by Guille Faingold / Stocksy

The amazing thing about the universal teachings in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is that the 196 threads (sutras) pertain primarily to the mind.

It explains how we can eliminate incorrect thought, referred to as kleshas, or cloudings of the mind. One main facet of the Yoga Sutras is the discussion of perceptions.

If we can witness how we perceive situations, we can then learn how we often create our own issues. We can free ourselves of problems once we better understand our perceptions.

The Yoga Sutras define two terms, avidya and vidya. Avidya translates to “incorrect comprehension,” or false perceptions.

The opposite, vidya, is defined as “correct understanding.”

Avidya becomes so engrained in our way of being, due to habits and unconscious actions that accumulate over time.

These habits and accumulations are our samskaras, or imprints, that cover our minds with incorrect understanding.

The goal of yoga is to peel away the branches of avidya, so that we can notice when our perceptions are wrong and create a clear lens through which to view the world.

Here are the four main causes of our suffering, as defined by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

1. Asmita, the ego. The ego creates the idea that we must be better than someone else, and/or we must always be right. I see this often in a yoga class, when practitioners compare themselves to others, or push themselves too hard, as if to prove a point. This element of ego can create feelings of inferiority, when in fact the practice of yoga is intended to make us feel content and calm.

2. Raga, wanting what we don't have. 

This is the branch of avidya that makes us want something today because it was pleasant yesterday, or even just imagining that something may be wonderful, creating a sense of desire. Overall, it is the sense that we want things that we don’t have, even when those things aren’t good for us. It is the feeling that what we have is not enough, a sense of overall dissatisfaction to our blessings. Raga can also be evident in our not wanting to let go of what we already have.

3. Dvesa, a sense of rejection. 

Rejecting things in which we are not familiar. The inability to step out of our comfort zones. Dvesa also becomes apparent when we are afraid of an experience because at one time it brought us pain. Maybe your heart was once broken, and now you are afraid to love again. That is dvesa.

4. Abinivesa, fear. 

Often abinivesa is the most secretive of all the branches of avidya. It is our feelings of doubt and uncertainty.

If we can recognize when avidya has affected our mind states, we can then make more sound judgments. We can tell when we are seeing things correctly, because we can notice peacefulness inside of us. Only when avidya is in action do we feel tension and agitation.

Take some time to notice avidya when it creeps in. Become a witness to your mind. The wonderful thing about yoga is that it makes avidya more apparent. With a consistent yoga practice, you may even notice more vidya coming to surface.


Lisa Mitchell author page.
Lisa Mitchell
Registered Yoga Teacher

Lisa Mitchell is an ERYT-500 Yoga-Alliance-certified instructor. Mitchell owns the hot vinyasa yoga studio, Dana Hot Yoga, where she also directs 200-hour yoga teacher trainings. Mitchell completed her doctoral studies in special education and utilizes her knowledge to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder practice yoga. She currently resides in Pennsylvania and when she's not teaching yoga, she serves as an adjunct professor in the graduation education department of St. Joseph's University and is a mother to two daughters.