Gita,  Srimad,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Going Through Hell? Keep Going

In Mysore, Sharath said, people who know 1/2 are dangerous. People who know nothing are fine. People who know everything are fine. People who know 10%-20% are very dangerous. I would like to add to this.  It is only dangerous if those who know 10-20% or 1/2, feel that they know 100%.  When we can admit that we don’t have it all figured out, it is okay. When we walk around acting like we do, even when we don’t, that is dangerous.

In the western Yoga community, there is a tendency to deny, bury or ignore emotions that people see as “unyogic”.   It is frowned upon for an active member of the community to be anything other then happy, peaceful and smiling.  Yes, there are a few subjects where Yogis are allowed to get upset like Trump, the death of a loved one or the mistreatment of women and children. But everyday little things like your kids acting crazy or people talking about you behind your back, smile!  To keep up appearances, many bury, deny or ignore the things in their lives that bring up the emotions that don’t fit the narrative of a happy yogi.

Yoga does not ask us to do this.

If you read Yogic texts, the sages, Yogis, gods, goddesses and  lords have really strong emotions! They get angry.  They doubt.  They hate. They lust.  They have shame.  In the Gita, Arjuna was known as a righteous man who had a strong connection with God but he still had doubt, fear, and sadness and still questioned God.

The common narrative, in all these stories, usually goes as follows:

The sage is a really good person.

They get mired in their emotions and go unconscious.

Something happens to wake them back up.

They make amends.

They rededicate themselves to their Yoga practice, Guru,  austerities, mantras or worship of Sri Hari, Brahma, Vishnu or whomever their ishta devata is.  Since they are a sage, a Yogi, a God or a Lord,  they do find enlightenment afterwards. Of course the story is going to end well…like all good stories do.

That is how Yoga works. I know we want it to be a one stop shop for happiness but it rarely works that way and it is dangerous to think that it does.

As we start to practice Yoga and learn about ourselves, things start to come up. We start to get some feels. The fiery gates of hell start to open up. At first, we are strong. We take a few steps in and use the knowledge we learn to start to face our feels and fears.

In Ashtanga, we talk about the 6 poisons.

kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya, and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.

We are walking through hell,using the heat of our practice to burn away poisons.   The heat can be mental, the heat can be spiritual, it can be emotional it can be physical. It gets to be too much. Instead of walking through hell and getting to the other side, you stop. You turn back or take the exit door on the right.  You stop with only 10-20% or half of the knowledge. If you can admit to this, it is fine.  It is also okay to still be right in the middle of a particularly crappy part of hell and admitting that is where you are. This is real. This is honesty.  This is integrity. This is okay. This is a place where growth can happen.


“Yoga can make you less of a neurotic or a bigger neurotic depending on how you use it. ” Rod Stryker

Using the tenets of yoga as a blanket to hide unwanted emotions solidifies those emotions.  Yoga becomes like a drug that hides the symptoms but does not cure the illness. While you walk around with your Yoga high, the emotions are simmering waiting for the boiling point. Hopefully, the boiling point does not happen while you are with your kids, your spouse or your meeting at work. It can also happen within you as illness, stiffness, depression or a failure to thrive.

It can also happen once you are a teacher with your own students.  Teachers who have 1/2 the knowledge but behave as if they have it all, are super dangerous. That is another article.

If we can admit that we are human and have emotions, we can use the practice as a way to bring about the boiling point and deal with it on our terms.

In the stories, the Yogis and sages don’t find enlightenment or bliss by only going half way on the path. As a matter of fact, those are usually the worst moments in the whole story. The sage has a strong practice and people respect him.  He becomes a King. He is a wise man with a beautiful wife, riches, and glorious children who are warriors and sages in their own right. One day, he gets caught up in his emotions and the Yoga goes out the window. His whole life falls apart. If he said, “well, that’s that” and gave up, he wouldn’t be a great Yogi or a great Sage. He keeps walking through hell and becomes the hero in an amazing story and gets enlightenment to boot.

You don’t have to believe in Yoga stories. Get on Google. When you find stories of people doing amazing things in this world, it is usually after going through hell to get there.

Yoga does not give us a ticket out of hell. We get out of hell by doing the work.

You don’t go to a Guru for solace. He is not a tranquilizer – he is there to awaken you- Sadhguru

The Sages in the stories did not act like nothing happened. They didn’t turn to God or the person they fell out with and go, “oh, well. I am human these things happen” and smile. They definitely didn’t turn to the person who was going through some mess, or God or the person they wronged and go, “why aren’t you smiling? We are sages and sages should be happy.”  They didn’t pretend that everything was okay.  They owned up to how they were feeling.  They made amends if they hurt someone. They got back on the path. This is what Yoga asks of us. Yoga is not telling us to pretend to be peaceful. Yoga gives us the tools to see through what is blocking our peace.  We don’t live completely  in peace until the Yoga is fully grounded.

Sutra 1:14


Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness . Source: English translation from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sri Swami Satchidananda)

Yoga Sutra 2:26 tells us that ignorance of who you are, which is the root of suffering, can be removed with  “uninterrupted discriminative knowledge”.

Until we have the clarity to discriminate between the Self and the Ego 100% of the time, we are going to get caught up.  A couple of weeks ago,  my husband was driving and we were on our way to the store. We pulled into the shopping center.  Instead of parking at the store, he parked at the gym. He goes to the gym a few times a week and he was on automatic pilot. He was not present. Once he realized it, he apologized, laughed and drove to the end of the shopping center to the store.

A lot of our Yoga journey is going to be just like that trip to the store. We will stop paying attention and fall back into our old habits.  Instead of going all the way to the end, we will stop when we are 20 to 50%  there. We can stay there or we can ask ourselves for forgiveness. Ask others for forgiveness and move on.

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 [email protected]