Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

The Golden Walls of an Unhappy Life

“You don’t have a problem, you have habits.” Mel Robbins

“The state of restraint is when there is a disappearance of outgoing self limiting habits and the appearance of restraining habits. These emerge in the mind at the moment of restraint.” -Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 3:9

Yoga practice lays down new patterns that make us fit for liberation. That make us fit for happiness. That make us fit for peace. If you have embarked on the path of yoga and you are not finding freedom, happiness and peace in your life,  look at your habits.

What we do on a daily basis sets the foundation of our lives. What are you building on? Our negative daily habits become our future suffering. They become our future problems.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:16, “Pain that has not yet come should be avoided.”

How do we keep our negative daily habits from becoming our future problems? The Yoga Sutras say, restraint. Restraint is a common theme in the Yoga Sutras.  People handing us what we want or things changing of their own accord is a rare event.  Usually, when something seemingly falls into our laps, it was actually acquired because of the work of someone else.

What is more of a sure thing, waiting for someone to hand you something or changing your own habits to receive it? Do you really want to put your happiness into someone else’s hands?

Yoga teaches that while we are planting good seeds, we have to dig up the bad ones. We can’t leave the weeds in the garden. They will take over.  We must restrain or weed the garden first.

For lasting positive change, we have to establish lasting positive habits. To establish positive habits, we must restrain old ones.

I know. Restraint sounds horrible. It sounds like the opposite of freedom. However, it is a temporary but important measure that brings huge results. The Yoga Sutras take the yogi from a path of extreme restraint and discipline all the way back to a place of total freedom. Somewhere in the middle, the yogi’s bad samakaras/habits are replaced with good habits. At this point, it becomes easier for the yogi to get themselves into a good feeling place. If you do the hard work of weeding your garden, the beautiful flowers that you planted, spring forth. Your life is no longer being choked by the results of bad habits. The beauty of your hard work comes to life.  After that point, all it takes is a little bit of maintenance.

However, we want to skip that. We want to go from horrible habits, unhappiness and suffering all the way to peace and happiness with no effort. However, it was our habits that got us there. How can we keep the same habits and get different results?   Life rarely works that way. Yoga does not work that way.


Yoga’s Promise

Yoga says, ” You are an amazing being with extraordinary potential. You do not have to suffer so much. I can help you have a direct experience of your soul and connect you to the pure joy that  is your birthright. For me to do that,  you have to take out the trash first. It is going to be hard because you believe that the trash is valuable. You have grown attached to it. You will not want to let go.  Be steadfast and diligent with these practices and I will show you how to let go.”

The usual answer to Yoga is,  “Experiencing my soul sounds nice but I am not really sure that is possible.  I have lived my life being intermittently happy and I am pretty used to that. I tell you what, I will do these practices as long as they are easy, fun and challenging in a way that I enjoy.  I will get rid of only the trash that I want to let go of. If you ask me to get rid of something I am uncomfortable with, I will change you, Yoga, instead of myself. Yes, I may not find peace and quiet in my life but everyone lives like this so I am cool with it.  I am content with the fleeting sensations I feel after a good yoga practice.  My suffering is too important to me. It defines me. I will not completely let it go.”


Gold Plated Shackles

Sadhguru, “Don’t gold plate your shackles.”

Forget, just gold plating the shackles, some of us have gold plated the whole entire prison. Instead of changing our habits, if we can just make them look pretty, we can hide the fact that we don’t feel good. We can hide behind the golden walls of an unhappy life.

Yoga tells us that if we can just get past the initial discomfort and build good habits, these good habits will supersede the bad and our lives will change beyond our wildest dreams.  This takes effort and practice. Through this effort and practice, the good habits emerge when we need them at the “moment of restraint.”  All it takes is a yoga practice that is well established, attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.

Yoga Sutras 1:14-“A yoga practice is firmly established when attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.”


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 shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.