Alignment and Injuries,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Tales Of An Ex Ashtanga Whiner

The joy of whining
Before starting, a question: Will it help?
Like holding a grudge, or like panicking, whining rarely helps. If anything, any of the three make it far less likely that you’ll make progress solving the problem that has presented itself.
And, like knuckle cracking, it’s best enjoyed alone- Seth Godin 
 I used to be a huge Ashtanga whiner. Everyone had to know about my every ache and pain, all my perceived short comings and the list of reasons for why I couldn’t do the pose. Whining also includes nervous giggles, weird sounds, bizarre body movements,  and crazy breathing all aimed at demonstrating a certain level of duress.  

I am not saying I am totally rehabilitated. However when I do it, I immediately recognize it for what it is. My whining rehab began when  I started teaching other whiners.  I realized that the whining was all about the ego.  The whining lets everyone in the room know why their practice is not where they want it to be. This makes the whiner feel better about what they feel is a sub par practice. 
Holding in my whines become a huge spiritual practice of non reactivity.  By resisting my urges to whine on the mat, I learned how to resist the urge to act out negatively in other areas of my life. I do this same therapy with other yoga whiners. The therapy is…drum roll….focus on the breath and just do the damn pose. A traditional Led practice is awesome for whining rehabilitation. Because it moves so quickly, I don’t have time to whine or make up a story. This is where I learned that I indeed can get through a practice without whining and If I didn’t have time to bind in Marichyasana D, the world didn’t end. I also discovered that I didn’t have time to think about some of my perceived pains. Without the story, my body often let go of the pain which I would then proceed to pick back up in Mysore when I had time to bitch and moan. I learned that many of my aches where nervous system related. They were real at some point but now they were perpetuated myths.
The worst part of whining is that it reinforces whatever it is you are complaining about. A big part of yoga is nervous system cleansing and removing thoughts and habits that keep us from living our best life.  The samskaras, mental grooves in our minds that cause us to be reactive instead of proactive, get deeper when we whine. Whatever you are whining about gets stronger and settles in deeper.
I will tell you a secret. You may even be holding yourself back with your whining. If you whine every time your teacher comes over to do drop backs with you, why would they give you Intermediate Series when the backbends just get harder? In the worse case scenario, your teacher may stop helping you in that pose altogether and let you work it out on your own and then you are really stuck.
 In Ashtanga, you don’t get to avoid poses. Whether you whine or not, you have to do the pose anyway. The whining does not help. It just prolongs the inevitable.  It is just a few moments of wasted breath and energy.

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


  • Kelly Hills

    AY-MEN! Well said, friend! Although, I’d also challenge the “your teacher may stop helping you in that pose altogether…” line. If the student needs some time to “hash the pose out on their own,” that’s one thing, but if, perhaps, the teacher’s ego is involved…whole ‘nother (ugly) point. Oh, the Ego. Such a delicate place to find balance… !) Peace! Hope to see ya soon!!!

    • Shanna Small

      Thank you for your reply. I look forward to seeing you again soon. As far as the teacher not helping, it is not ego. It is just the act of not enabling the person. If you give someone attention for their improper behavior, they will sometimes continue to do it.

  • Emma Hudelson

    Such good points! For me, the whining/grunting/huffing and puffing is just another symptom of clinging. It may be hard to remember why I need to let go of clinging while I’m grunting my way through Kapo, but really, I practice yoga to help me not be so damn clingy.