Ashtanga Adaptability,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras For Modern Life: Staying Excited About Yoga Practice

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:24-The cause of this union is ignorance. 

Defining the Sutra:

When we become identified with our thoughts, our body, our money, our circumstances and/or the things we own, we become unified with them. When the object we become unified with shifts, we shift with it. It becomes our master. The cause of this union is ignorance. Not ignorance in the sense of being stupid. Ignorance in the sense of not knowing the truth.

Modern Day Application

Money, thoughts, our body and the things we own are not the problem. It is our entanglement with them or attachment that is the problem. Here is a simple example. My shoestrings keep my sneakers snugly on my feet so that they are comfortable and safe when I walk and run. If I get a knot in my laces, the shoestrings are not the problem. They are still doing their job. It is the knot that is the problem. The knot is what needs to be worked out.  There is a misconception that non attachment has to mean giving up everything and not enjoying life or material possessions. This is not the case. It is the knot that keeps you permanently tied that causes the problem.

In reality, we actually enjoy things more when we are not attached. Have you ever noticed how playful people are when they first come to Yoga? Do you remember how playful you were? Every class is an adventure. Every pose is an exciting exploration.

However, over time, the practitioner starts to create a story. Instead of “Yay, I get to do Marichyasana today!” It becomes, “how come I couldn’t do Marichyasana today?” They become attached to the story that they are supposed to be able to do Marichyasana.  The practitioner starts to get frustrated and disenchanted. They start to loathe Marichyasana.

However, Marichyasana is not the problem. It has not changed. It was the story that changed.  It is the story that brings the unhappiness, not Marichyasana. This is the ignorance of which Patanjali is speaking. If the Yogi stays unattached and present, they stay curious about Marichyasana.  Because in the present moment, it is possible that Marichyasana will happen today!   Each present moment gives another opportunity for Marichyasana to happen! That is the beginners mind. The thought, stays, “Yay, I get to practice Marichyasana today!”

Because the Yogi is not unified with Marichyasana or the story of the pose, they understand that it is not something they have to do. It is something they chose to do and get to do.  This distinction is important.  When we see everything in nature, or the things we own, or the people in our lives as a treasure that we get to take part of, it makes us thankful. We appreciate what we have. We appreciate the people in our lives. We appreciate our yoga practice.

When we feel entitled , which is another way of saying attached, to the story that we are supposed to be something, do something, have something, are something, that is when we suffer.  This suffering is caused by unifying with the thought, “I am supposed to”.  Yoga tells us that, this type of unification happens when, we are ignorant of who and what we truly are.

Why It is Important

Avidya (ignorance) is seen as the mother of all afflictions because all suffering (not to be confused with pain) starts from false knowledge. Everything in your reality, that you view as evil, started with false knowledge. Think about it.

Photo by Wanda Koch

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