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Tough Yoga Practices: When Doubt Touches the Heart

Can you remember a time in your life when you thought you would never get over something, but you did? Do you remember an injury that you thought would never heal but it did? Do you remember feeling like you would never be comfortable in a certain asana but now you are? It is funny that even though we know intellectually that, this too shall pass, we still get caught. For me, the slow falling away of who I thought I was, is in direct contradiction to who I think I am in the moment. The reality is that none of the images are true. The presence inside of me transcends both. Even though I know this, I still get caught. Do you?

Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, knew this too. The  Yoga Sutras of Patanjali gives a list obstacles that the Yogi will face.

Yoga Sutras 1:30:

Vyadhi : disease, illness , sickness
Styana : inefficiency , dullness
Samsaya : indecision , doubt
Pramada : carelessness , negligence
Alasaya : sloth , laziness
Avirati : sensuality , craving
Bhranti darsana : false views or perception
Alabdhabhumikatva : failing to attain stages of practice
Anavasthitatvani : inability to maintain

The doubt, the loss of faith, loss of poses, not moving forward, not feeling good, slacking off, craving more poses or a different yoga practice,  and confusion are all a part of this practice.  Even though I know this, I still get caught up……and It is okay. It is okay for me and it is okay for you.  It is all completely normal. It feels awful but it is normal.

“I will never get the next p0se.”

“My hamstrings will never open up.”

“My knees will never feel better!”

“Why I am a doing this?”

“Am I wasting my time?”

“I don’t understand this lineage!”

“Who should I pick for my teacher?”

“Do I have the body for Ashtanga?”

All Normal!!!!

I often wish that I had videoed myself when I first started Ashtanga over 14 years ago. I couldn’t bind in anything. I couldn’t straighten my leg in Uttthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Then there are the injuries. 2 to the hamstring. A couple of back and shoulder ones. All a non issue now but I still get caught up and it is okay.  It is okay for me and it is okay for you.

I love hearing Ashtanga teacher Sharath Jois, director of KPJAYI and the grandson of Sri K Pattabhi Jois, talk about when he first started and his injuries.  Sharath got serious about Ashtanga when he was around 19.  He used to ride bikes, run and weight lift. This caused his body to tighten up and he had pain in his knee and hamstrings.  Sharath said that he used to do asanas 4 or 5 hours a day and he did not know what yoga was. He had lots of injuries. He got caught up…just like we all do sometimes.

Yogi’s are seekers. We are going to get it wrong sometimes….or a lot of times. We are going to mess up. We are going to have doubts. When we go through these dark times in our practice,  It feels incredibly lonely but know that you are not alone.  This is part of the Yogi’s path. Lakshmish, our Sanskrit, chanting and philosophy teacher at KPJAYI says that once you are on the path, don’t stop until you are done. What is done? You are the only one who can answer that. If you don’t feel done, keep going. Keep seeking.


Picture by Wanda Koch Photography

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