The Kleshas: Removing obstacles for a more inclusive future

FOM July-August 2023

written by Caroline Hughes

“I see a world where we keep exploring how to serve others, how to care for
them, and how to love our human family.” – Steve Gleason

Imagine your life if you became a wheelchair user. Imagine the places you frequent that don’t have wheelchair lifts, ramps, or elevators. Your home, loved ones’ homes, your regular restaurants, favorite shops, fitness studios. All of these places may suddenly become inaccessible to you.

Imagine how life would change if you suddenly weren’t able to reach for items off the top shelf at the grocery store or swipe your card through the credit card machine that sits high up on the checkout counter. Imagine the inconvenience of not being able to use Lyft, Uber, or hail a taxi because they don’t have a safe way for you and your wheelchair to access the vehicle. Imagine needing assistance to get in and out of bed everyday.

If you’re considering using the phrase, “I can’t even imagine,” I urge you to reconsider. When we actually imagine what it’s like for our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, we tap into an inner power that reminds us that we are all capable of making a change. We can all contribute to removing obstacles for a more inclusive future.

Shortly after becoming a physical therapist assistant I learned of the profound difference in access between able-bodied people and people living with disabilities. When I went to Mardi Gras with my friend who is a wheelchair user we encountered outrageously busted sidewalks, several inaccessible restaurants due to a single step entry, and non-handicap people using handicap parking spaces. She also told me about the complexities of traveling by plane and how 29 wheelchairs get broken by airline companies every day. Did you know that the airline industry is not required to meet accessibility standards to accommodate disabled passengers?

I work at the Split Second Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) that provides
wrap around services for families impacted by physical disabilities. We are
the only adaptive gym in the state of Louisiana. Working here has opened
my eyes and soul to the disadvantages wheelchair users face every day. It
makes me angry, sad, and disappointed because we have had the tools and
resources to make our buildings, infrastructure, and society more efficient
for people with disabilities. But we have failed them. They are not invited to
dine at our tables simply because they cannot reach the door.
Life can change in a Split Second. Mark Raymond, Jr., founder of the Split
Second Foundation, knows this statement to be truer than most. He was on
a boat with friends in Lake Pontchartrain on July 4, 2016 when he dove off
the boat and fractured his C5 spinal vertebra. The fractured vertebra severed
his spinal cord classifying him as a C5/C6 quadriplegic. His healthcare team
told him he would probably never walk again. An accident like this could
happen to any of us. Life is precious, fragile, unfair, beautiful, and cruel.
After becoming medically stable Mark attended various rehabilitation
programs where he learned to navigate the world with his new body. He
wasn’t sure how to move on with life after rehab. There were very few
resources available to help him continue progressing towards his therapy
goals physically, mentally, and spiritually, especially in New Orleans. Mark
decided he would be the change he wished to see in the world by creating
the Split Second Foundation.
I have the unique and rewarding opportunity of teaching yoga at Split
Second and creating their yoga program. The last Wednesday of every
month we practice together in community. Kindness, equanimity, and
compassion flood the gym like a tidal wave on those nights. We are all there
assisting, listening, and lifting one another up as high as the threshold will
allow and beyond. During our practice, we are all free.
I feel so honored to share the potent teachings of yoga with folks at Split
Second. These teachings remind us that we are whole and complete just as

we are. They remind us of our inner power, our inner force, and our inner
guide. Making these teachings accessible is a huge goal of mine and I hope
you’ll join me on this path as opportunities at Split Second evolve.
When I reflect on accessibility issues and ways to make this world a more
inclusive place, I think of the kleshas that are mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga
Sutras.
The word klesha translates to poison or affliction. The kleshas are
considered causes of suffering. They are veils that hide us from our truest
and most beautiful selves. Through studying them, we can work towards
removing obstacles from our lives and the lives of others.

1. Avidya: translates to misunderstanding, lack of knowledge, or
ignorance.
Avidya can cause us to create stories of misconception and delusion. In a
time full of misinformation, it is our duty to research between truth and
non-truth. We may experience avidya when we don’t understand, or have
to consider the accessibility needs of others.

1. Asmita: translates to egoism.
Physical, emotional, and mental aspects of our being can be mistaken as our
soul. Ego can be thought of as a person’s self-importance. When we step
away from our self-importance, we step towards an all-encompassing
society.

1. Raga: translates to attachments.
These attachments can be to worldly possessions and self-pleasure. While
pleasure is an important aspect of being human, too much pleasure can lead
to isolating and addictive behaviors. How can we inspire our materialistic
society to let go of our attachments to things like power, greed, and
superiority?

1. Dvesa: translates to aversion, dislike, or hate.

In modern life our personal identity is defined by things we like and don’t
like. Our ego loves to judge and misconceive. Dvesa pulls us from the
present moment and deep into the judgmental mind. When we let go of
hatred and divisiveness, we take a humble step towards togetherness.

1. Abhinivesa: translates to the fear of death.
All of our lives can and will change in a split second. We mustn’t fear the
future. During this lifetime we must try our best to be at  peace with our
mortality. When we worry about the future, we rob ourselves of the beauty
that exists in the present.

We are all doing the best we can with the resources we have available to us. I
remember hearing Maya Angoulou say, “when we know better, we do
better.” We experience opportunities to reflect on our lives when we study
the kleshas and other important concepts from yogic philosophy. Yoga is
the bridge between our suffering and our freedom. It reminds us that we are
both already whole as we are and also that we always have work we can do.
Many of us have been touched by disability, whether temporary or
permanent. We have all seen how injuries, illnesses, and chronic conditions
can be some of our most powerful teachers. When we become mindful of the
reality of suffering that exists in the world, we can show up with more
compassion, more empathy, and more inclination towards inclusivity.
Imagine a world without obstacles for people with disabilities. Imagine a
world where we all have access to the same things. Imagine the world you
would want to live in if your life changed in a split second.

Teacher Ideas:
1. Poses: Grounding poses like Tadasana, Utkatasana, and Goddess Pose
to get people grounded into their body.
2. Help your students tap into deeper rest for savasana with extra props
like a bolster under the knee and a rolled blanket under the ankles.
3. Study each klesha for a week or two and reflect on your relationship
with each of them.

4. Activism work: Search for disabled activists on social media platforms
to gain a perspective into their life
 Check out the vlog, “Roll with Cole and Charisma” on Youtube
 Follow @markraymondjr on Instagram
 Read the book, “Waking: A Memoir on Trauma and
Transcendence” by Adaptive Yoga Teacher Matthew Sanford
5. Tell stories of Ganesha and his role as the remover of obstacles.

Music:
Enjoy some new music recorded by my kirtan band, Rad Bhav:
The Beauty Way
Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya

Quotes:
“Change never happens at the pace we think it should. It happens over years
of people joining together, strategizing, sharing, and pulling all the levers
they possibly can. Gradually, excruciatingly slowly, things start to happen,
and then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, something will tip.” Judith
Heumann
“I see a world where we keep exploring how to serve others, how to care for
them, and how to love our human family.” – Steve Gleason
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and
endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Christopher Reeves
“A feeling of aversion or attachment towards something is your clue that
there’s work to be done.” Ram Dass
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s
a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well
can we be present with the darkness of others.” Pema Chodron
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” – Eckhart Tolle

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