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

Good Guru, Bad Guru, A Guru, No Guru

According to the Jois Yoga Schedule, tomorrow is Guru Purnima. To most everyone else in Inda, it is July 31. For information on how Jois Yoga calculates moon days, go here.

What is Guru Purnima?

It is a day where people traditionally honor their teachers or Gurus. This post is about Gurus.

What is a Guru?

For many students in the West, the Guru principal is hard to swallow. This is usually because of verbal delusion and misconception.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1: 8-9 Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form. An image arising upon hearing mere words without  any reality (as its basis) is verbal delusion.

Gu-darkness. Ru-dispeller . A guru is someone who dispels darkness. It is that simple. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states that liberation is available to all seekers. However, the more intense the practice and the conviction, the quicker the results. The Guru adds intensity to the spiritual practice by providing knowledge, a spiritual process and devotion.

A Guru can be a principal, a school of thought , a person or anything that takes the spiritual seeker out of darkness.

Guru vs Teacher

There is a difference. Guru comes with devotion.


Pattabhi Jois, father of Ashtanga yoga


What is Devotion?

Devotion is another word that does not sit well with many people, however, it is mentioned numerous times in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as an essential component of a well established yoga practice. Devotion is the act of becoming self less or letting go of the false self. When devotion is applied, everyone and everything is seen as the beloved. Someone with a devotional attitude treats the homeless man and the President both the same. They treat the person who can do nothing for them and the person who holds their life in the balance, the same. Meaning that they are fully present for every moment and they don’t attach a story to any situation. They simply do what is right in the moment from a place of deep love and compassion.

Devotion is important for the yoga practice because the journey of yoga is long and winding. If one is not devoted, ie they are not fully invested in the process of yoga  and treating every aspect of it with equanimity, they will not reach liberation. Any storm that comes their way will knock them off the path. If the student temporarily lets go of control and puts total faith in the process, ie is devoted, when the storm comes they stay with the process because they know that this too shall pass.



The Yoga Sutras allude to a yoga fast track. This is a path where success is quick. On this path, the student is fully convicted. When fully convicted, there is no doubt that the yogic path provides liberation. This is devotion. It is the letting go of doubt. The doubt is attached to the false self which is what the yogi seeks to get rid of. When applied to the right person or principal, devotion is safe.

In a perfect world, you could develop a devotional attitude just by living life. However, just like many people need physical asanas as a door way to the spiritual, many people fast track devotion by having a physical being to relate too. In an act of devotion, they give up the false identity to the teacher. The closest relatable example of this is the relationship between a small child and the parent. The child trusts that the parent will provide for their well being. This creates an environment where the child grows and thrives because the burden of making life decisions is not on their shoulders. They give that up the the parent. Children in a loving stable home are essentially care free happy beings. As the child matures, the parent slowly gives them the tools to live an independent life and be a well adjusted adult. They than have responsibilities of their own,  but because of their sound upbringing, they can meet them with confidence.


Sharath Jois and Pattabhi Jois

A HEALTHY traditional Guru/teacher relationship works in much the same way. The student puts their trust in the teacher and the spiritual process so that they have the freedom to grow and thrive without the burden of trying to figure everything out on their own. As the student matures, the teacher gives them the tools to be independent and continue the spiritual process on their own.

Just like the yoga practice, a guru is a stepping stone. Eventually the yogi reaches an enlightened state and they no longer need either.

Do You Need a Guru?

Depends on who you talk to. Many people feel that life is a good enough Guru.  Life can absolutely be your Guru. However, the problem is that we see life through the mirror of our inner darkness. Being your own Guru is akin to the drug addict who is his own drug counselor.  There absolutely are people who kick drugs on their own, however, this is rare and most people need help. The drug counselor, using the 12 steps and other processes, helps to shed light on the addiction, thereby, empowering the addict and providing the tools to live a drug free life.

The Guru does the same. They provide the spiritual aspirant with tools to cut through the darkness of a mind full of non essential thoughts that keep the seeker from his well being. Instead of fumbling their way to happiness, a Guru can provide a clear straight shot.

Many people approach the practice of Asthanga in this way. The Ashtanga method is completely laid out and there is no guess work. While some people see this as confining, for many, it is freeing. They don’t have to worry about what comes next or figure out where to inhale or exhale. Is is all laid out for them. Through the study of the other 7 limbs that make up Ashtanga yoga, they don’t have to think about the internal path either. The Yoga Sutras says that during practice, the yogis mind should be on the infinite. Having a clear cut path frees the Ashtangi up to do just that.



The Real Vs the Fake

There is something called “doubt,” and there is something called “suspicion.” Suspicion is sickness, because you are assuming that something has to be wrong. A suspicious mind is always a sick mind. Doubt is different – it means you do not know. It is not a crime not to know. If someone says something and you have trust in that person, you can invest some time, energy, and resources to explore and know. If you do not have trust in that person, you cannot invest that time and energy, because time and energy are limited.

You need trust, but you should neither try to trust nor to distrust. How do you come to trust? One thing is if it makes sense to you. Another thing is if it has worked. Even if it has not worked for you, but it seems to have worked for everyone around you, you can invest some time to explore, not to believe. If you explore with the necessary keenness, you will see. -Sadhhguru

Be careful of the “baby with the bath water” type of life. A life where just because you cannot be sure of something with absolute certainty, you throw out the whole idea. The good baby gets thrown out with the dirty water. A yogi approaches life with an open mind and heart because it is the only way to fully live and experience the world. If you meet a teacher who lights up your heart, maybe you take them on as your Guru, maybe you don’t. Make the decision from your heart and not with fear. You may get hurt but that is true for any relationship. The flip side is that your heart may burst wide open and you may embark on the ride of your life. The choice is yours.

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