Adventures in Mysore India,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Ashtanga: The Power of Community

Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement shows how people working together can change the world. Blacks had individually yearned for these freedoms for years, it took people working together as a group, in peace, to get them.

In order for an Ashtanga community to grow, a peaceful and powerful group needs to gather. Over the years, in two different cities, I have witnessed Ashtanga communities shattering over differences that really have nothing to do with the core of the practice. Maybe you are a part of one of these communities.

Many people think that I am pretty radical. I am a big proponent of sticking as close to the method as possible. Which to many, makes me look like a yoga Nazi, which I get. But it is kind of funny because I also teach hot vinyasa. However, I don’t mix the two. I am that way because I have witnessed first hand the power of this method to change lives and lead to awakening. I have also witnessed the confusion that ensues when people cling to the community, or the name of Ashtanga, and do whatever they want in the name of Ashtanga.

copyright wanda koch photography


The Yoga Sutas in Book 1 vs 30 talks about the distractions that lead away from the path of Yoga. One of these is doubt. Which is different from not knowing. Doubt comes with fear, dread, distrust.


verb (used with object)

to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.


Archaic. to fear; be apprehensive about.
verb (used without object)

to be uncertain about something; be undecided in opinion or belief.

a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.

a state of affairs such as to occasion uncertainty.

Obsolete. fear; dread.


Doubt is something that eats at the heart.  Someone mired in doubt is not stable, happy or free. The purpose of yoga is to be all three.



Not knowing is very simple. I don’t know how to do brain surgery. I am totally cool with that. If I want to know, I can learn it. Doubt is the doctor who does brain surgery but fears their ability to be effective. Not knowing is ” I don’t know how to do Marichyasana D.” Doubt is “I don’t think I will ever be able to do Marichyasana D”. They have a different feel and a different effect on the heart and the nervous system. Say the sentences out loud and witness the heaviness of the second statement. Imagine carrying that heaviness with you all the time. Maybe you do.

To not know and to do your research is fine. You shouldn’t approach yoga as a dogma. However to sit in doubt, constantly shifting attention, is a obstacle on the path of yoga.


Look at the frog: wherever he sees a mosquito, he goes there. Maybe he starts off in one direction, going after something, but if he sees a mosquito in the other direction, he goes that way. If another appears somewhere else, he starts going in that direction. If you go like this, you will not get anywhere. At the most you will fill your belly. If filling the belly is the only purpose of life, then wherever there is food, you will go sniffing there.

Once you are on the spiritual path, once you have seen the goal of your life, this sniffing around should stop because there are many things that smell good along the way. Wherever something smells good, if you turn in that direction, you are not going to get anywhere. Even a man who wants to simply fulfill his material requirements works with undivided interest in what he is doing. Even a man who wants to make money or pursue pleasure goes with hundred percent involvement towards what he wants. If that is so, when you are seeking the highest, you know how you should be-Sadhguru

Not knowing is fine. Doubt cuts deep. I have witnessed the impact that doubt has on the community. Doubt in the method. Doubt in the teacher. It is never good. It does not lead to freedom or peace. It leads to turmoil, division and dissolution.

copyright wanda koch photography

I look at the Jois family in Mysore who have managed to keep Ashtanga growing and strong. The Shala is so busy that they have to turn hundreds of people away. People talk about Mysore Magic. The magic flows through the group. It is the effect of having a clear teaching being practiced by hundreds of people in one room working towards a common goal.

Many fear that  yoga gurus  and teachers can use this magic in a negative way and many do. To worry about that  is to live in fear. It is to totally miss the magic of yoga and the magic of life. It is to miss the power of a group together for one purpose. It is to miss the magic of yoga.


“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”-Albert Einstein

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail