Too busy to goto class: Avidyā

I recently went to London to visit a friend. While I was there I attended Evensong at Saint Paul’s Cathedral and at The Westminster Abbey. Being there was lovely and strangely inspired me to delve back into the Philosophy of Yoga.(Kind of a long story). As I skimmed different books about Yoga philosophy and the Yoga Sutras, I was drawn to the section about Avidyā . I ended up doing some really awesome journaling after, and I would like to offer you an opportunity to look inside yourself and do the same. Again, I am not a scholar of these matters, this is simply my take of really old wisdom as I understand it. I welcome more information, especially if mine is flawed, and respectful debate. AvidyaWhat is avidyā? Avidyā  is, as T.K.V. Desikachar explains, incorrect comprehension. It is an understanding of ourselves and the world that is not centered or clear. With Avidyā we miss the point. We often miss the fact that our sight is so cluttered and we mostly notice Avidyā when we have cleared our perception of it.  In our yoga practice we seek to understand and overcome these misunderstandings. We can allow ourselves to move from the superficial to the subtle and profound and cultivate a clear and honest understanding of ourselves and our situation. asmita

  • Asmitā– Ego, when you insist that you have the answer even when you are mistaken or actually clueless. Also when you put yourself above another person.


  • Rāga– Attachment to things you think you need, and forgetting that moderation is so much better than too much of a anything. Like, the chocolate cake tasted good yesterday, but I don’t need to eat more today. The attachment to that one experience limits you from moving forward to another thing and from finding balance.


  • Devsa – Refusal, when we reject things that are unpleasant just because we don’t like them or assume that they will bring us pain. Not that learning from past pain is bad, but this should not be a block. This keeps us from experiencing new knowledge and growing. A perfect example of this is prejudice on any level. Weather it is racism or just an unwillingness to try something again, even if you anticipate you won’t like it.


  • Abhinivésa – Fear. When we doubt ourselves or get paranoid about what others will think when they don’t matter or some other irrational fear. For me, this is a big part of the other three aspects of avidya.

Journal exercise  I offer this because I found it helpful. Ok, now settle in with a journal or a piece of paper. This most likely won’t take more than 10 minutes of your life, but if you really get introspective, feel free to delve deep and get really honest with yourself. You have nothing to lose. Make sure you are in a comfortable position. Take a moment, place your hand on your heart and your other hand on your belly and feel the breath full and deep between your hands. Create the space within yourself for clarity and affirm that you are able to move forward on this path.  Having created this safe space and clear intention write the branches of Avidyā on your paper. They can be in a list or a web, inscribed on a tree – what ever you want. Feel free to doodle in the margins, I always do. Ask yourself :

  • How does asmita impact my life?
  • How does raga impact my life?
  • How does devsa impact my life?
  • How does abhinivésa impact my life?

As you write, you may realise that the branches of Avidyā are connected in some way. Maybe your fear triggers your ego. Maybe when you deny yourself the things you need you over compensate later. Maybe you notice that you constantly compare yourself to others in class or in your life. Try to list at least 2 things under each one. Remember you are just another being on a journey so cut yourself some slack. By noticing these things, as you go through your day to day life, you may notice, oh! there is that ego again, maybe I can check in to that. (Most of my information came from the book The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar, the revised edition. I highly recommend it.) May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free from all suffering. May you share your gifts with the world, and may you know your true self in this lifetime. 

Kayla Ankeny, SahajaSoma

*Vinyasa Yoga * Aerial Yoga * Acro Yoga JAMbassador * Dance * Therapeutic Massage* World Music * Capoeira*




A few of my students have asked me what the name of my blog means, so here is what the words mean, and what I mean.

सहज (sahaja)

I am not a Sanskrit scholar. As a student of yoga, I have heard the word sahaja employed to describe the spontaneous movement that arises from within. Wikipedia has a pretty interesting article about sahaja, and provides a definition of “spontaneous, natural, simple, or easy”. In my very subjective and personal understanding of sahaja it is flow. It is entering into a state of being where you are open to the impulses within your body or life, trusting that there is some innate intelligence you possess that will allow you to navigate whatever is before you successfully. This state of being is the essence of improvisation, and is much like mindfulness in action. Tuning in to spontaneity of the body, and of life, is one of the most blissful and fulfilling experiences life has to offer. (If you have other information about Sanskrit or culture that I am missing here and should be aware of please feel free to let me know). As a yoga teacher, I hope to offer my students a basis for aligning themselves, their bodies, and minds, so that they can move forward with intelligence into a state of flow. When I became a dance student at Temple University, I was endlessly frustrated. At the beginning my proprioception (my sense of my body in space) and my ability to recall a movement phrase were utterly under developed. The process of cultivating these senses and that intelligence was astounding and so fulfilling; one that I hope to continue for the rest of my life. As a teacher, I hope to facilitate my students journey as well. Soma means body. In latin…I think. Nope! Just looked it up, folks, soma is Greek.