Panch klesha: The Ancient Definition of Stress

In Patanjali Yoga Sutra Pancha klesha are the five afflictions or misery that disturb the mental and physiological balance and trigger a chain reaction further deteriorating our state of normal health and well-being. Knowledge of klesha can help us to relate with & understand the modern day stress problem along with the ability to overcome that.


Stress is a demanding situation which causes bodily or mental tension. The influence of stress is such that it disturbs the inner equilibrium and leads to misery. It is very well known that stress brings imbalance in various physical and mental functions, making us prone to disease and infections. But our modern understanding of stress has no clear-cut answer as to where is the real beginning of stress and hence no total solution to its problem.

Yoga can be of great help to us in finding some of the intriguing questions related to stress. The concept of panch klesha that we find in Yoga Sutra can give us a clear mechanism for the emergence of stress. Klesha highlights the fundamentals of our very existence or a false existence that we assume for our self. Just as stress, klesha also represents imbalance. In our original state we are stress-free with perfect balance and no trace of tensions, worries or fluctuations. The first imbalance occurs with the emergence of ignorance or Avidya, the first klesha. Ignorance leads to the emergence of fluctuating thought patterns. These fluctuating thought patterns than condensed in the form of identifications. From our original, expanded and unbounded state, we start identifying ourselves with limiting adjuncts. This constriction of personality slowly leads to the buildup of stress.

Now Adivya leads to the emergence of next klesha i.e Asmita, the ego or ‘I-ness’. Ego is deep rooted identification with body, mind, intellect, thoughts, actions, objects and possessions. In the state of ‘I-ness’ (identifications) we are dragged towards attachments leading to likes and dislikes or Raga and Dwesha, the next successive third and fourth klesha. In the state of like and dislikes there is emotional imbalance with speed-up mental activity. Excess speed brings imbalance and large amount energy is spent deteriorating the quality of life.

The formation of impressions caused by likes and dislikes become the basis for performance of selfish actions which give rise to clinging for life or Abhinivesha, the fifth and last klesha. Attachment and hatred becomes the norm for daily life translating into a continuous stressful life, leading to frustration, disease and misery.

Therefore in yoga the concept of stress is presented in the most comprehensive way from the starting level i.e. ignorance to its most apparent manifestation where actions are performed in reaction because of fear to any situation that threatens life.

With such a comprehensive understanding of stress, yoga naturally provides a holistic solution to the problem so stress. Yoga brings balance at all the levels of personality i.e. physical, vital, mental and intellectual dimensions of our being. By using the techniques of yoga we learn to expand our horizons which we have constricted due to ignorance.

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