Ashtanga Adaptability,  Ashtanga Quotes,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Practice, Practice, Practice

I saw a post today where someone was going through a very emotional experience and wondered “how the limbs of yoga could help them now?”

I will use an analogy.

Soldiers don’t wait for the battle to start preparing for it. They train beforehand so that, when they are in battle, their responses become automatic and they know what to do.

We also train our bodies and minds to respond a certain way to certain situations. For most people, this training is done unconsciously.  As they go through situations in life, they form habits and act on those habits.

The practice of yoga is the CONSCIOUS act of reprogramming ourselves to respond to life in positive, life affirming ways.  Once this programming is solid, we are able to explore the higher limbs of yoga. Eventually,we get rid of the programming all together and just are yoga.

If you want to be prepared to respond to the hardships of life in positive ways, you have to practice it NOW.  When you are under stress, your mind usually defaults to the easiest response that gives it release. It is going to default to your most frequent response. Your dominate response. Your practiced response.

This is why it is important to use your yoga practice as a training ground for dealing with and overcoming negative responses, emotions, stories and habits.  That way, when it happens off the mat, you have a trained response that your mind uses as a default. For instance, if you feel anger come up due to being “stuck” on a pose, you can work through that anger and train your mind to have a more compassionate response.  Than when you get angry off the mat, your mind will default to the compassionate response you have cultivated day in and day out on your mat.

This is why the yogis told us to practice everyday. Not so we can do Karandavasana. Not so we can Handstand. Not so we can float. We practice everyday so that we discipline our mind and body for life and the higher limbs of yoga.

Patanjali lists 4 characteristics of a perfect asana:



We can meditate on the infinite while doing it

We are not effected by the play of positive and negative

If we develop these characteristics, nothing in life can knock us from our center.  To be clear, Patanjali is not saying find easy poses that allow you to do this without effort.  We need to be able to do this in any seat we take. Taking an asana, that challenges us, is a better training ground then choosing one that comes easy to us.

Also be clear that this does not mean that the yogi does not have feelings or reactions.  They just know how to find sukha in the midst of life’s trails and tribulations. They understand that, “this too shall pass.”   Yogis describes sukha as having the spokes of a wheel being harmoniously placed around the center.  When this happens, the ride is smooth. Lets use this analogy with a modern day tire.  When you have good tires, designed for the terrain you are traveling through, even though you can feel the bumps, the water, the rocks, or the snow, you travel over them with no problem.  You know your tires can handle it and you are confident that you will get home safely. However, if your tires are not sukha, if they are threadbare or not designed for your terrain, you might hydroplane, get a flat, or get stuck in mud and snow. Your journey is stalled.  Your car looses its center. You cannot continue on. You may even crash resulting in your car falling completely apart. Because the Yogi has disciplined his mind, he knows the right response for the terrain of his life. He can feel the bumps and not be stopped by them. She will not crash. She will not fall apart.

When emotionally charged, it is best to reach for the nearest positive good feeling thought or activity you can. Crying it out, talking to a friend, watching a funny movie, or taking an asana class would probably be more effective then trying to reach samadhi at that moment. Just do something that allows you to get yourself moving in the right direction again.  Get on your mat everyday without any expectations. Allow the emotions to be with you as you watch your breath. Once you have practiced yourself back into a comfortable, steady place, where you can meditate on the infinite and you are no longer distracted by your emotions, maybe then samadhi.




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