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What You Don’t Know, Makes You Dangerous

Before you make that statement on social media, before you write that blog post, stop. Ask yourself, do you have all the information? Do you understand the subject outside of your own cultural biases? Are you listening to only one side?

Every day, I gain more of an understanding of why some teachers and Patanjali tell us to pick a method and stick with it. Reason 1-so we don’t dig shallow wells. Reason 2-so we don’t get confused.

Yoga is not one long unfractured story where the facts perfectly follow one after the other. That is like saying that American history is White history and just following the line of the colonizers gives you a complete picture. American history is also Native American History. It is also African American history. At some point, in the telling of the history of America, the story or ocean veers off into many different rivers.

The same is true for Yoga. There is an ocean of knowledge that veers off to many different paths. This is important. Many times, I hear people telling the story of yoga and mixing the paths together or not understanding why the path veered off in the first place.

For instance, women were not valued is a popular statement. I am not going to go into it but here are some things to consider when researching if that story is totally true. Goddess worship. Parvati. Shiva and Shakti. The Yoga Yajnvakya. History of the Indus valley pre-British and Muslim conquest.

Here is another one. Yoga is a hindu religion. Here are some things to look into. Where does the word “Hindu” come from and did the people in that region even use that word before colonization? Ishtadevata. What was the first evidence of yoga? Even before then, when were the first stories of it? What are the various yoga origination theories? Hint: they don’t all start in India.

Last one. Yoga asanas are only like 100 or so years old. Here is something to look at. Yoga Asanas pre British colonization. Caves in India and Egypt. Hatha Yoga Pradapika. Hatha Yoga in general.

When you look at this stuff, make sure you use more than one book or source.

And then there are the people making statements that could easily be answered by going and asking the person they are talking about. Yep. The person is still alive.

So, it is not necessary to do any of this research to practice yoga. However, if you are educating people on yoga, you should. It is important to understand the many rivers and tributaries the path of yoga has taken. You can be busy studying for lifetimes. Sometimes you are going to find new information to prove you and the experts wrong. I know I have and that is okay. It is part of the process.

But please, please please, don’t make blanket statements that are only rooted in your cultural bias.

“Yoga is a workout”. Maybe at your studio but is that true for every yoga school in the world or that has ever existed?

“Ladies holiday is just patriarchal bullshit.” Are you sure about that? Maybe it is but did you do the research? Is it rooted in any other practices that may have gotten corrupted? Where are its origins? Did it have another name? Was women’s fertility cycles ever revered and does this possibly come from that?

“Headstands are bad.” What about the millions of people who do it everyday and the yogis who did it in the past? Are they all hurt? If it was a study, did that study meet the scientific criteria for sound studies? Who funded the study?

Someone having just enough information to sound intelligent makes them believable. This is cool when it is you and something that benefits you and what you believe in. What about the times you have been on the flip side? When people are presenting information that you know is only part of the truth and they have crucified you with it? How did that feel? As part of ahimsa, it is the yogi’s duty to cause the least amount of harm as possible.

This is the information age. There is no excuse whatsoever for anyone to not study and become informed. We can talk to someone on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. There is no reason to just make up stuff based on the tiny bits of the story you have heard. You can pick up the phone. If you don’t have time for the that, you can keep your mouth shut or let people know that this is only based on your own personal experience and only use stuff you directly encountered.

When I write, I mainly refer to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and my own personal experience with Ashtanga Yoga. The Yoga Sutras is the only thing that I have studied at length for a decade and I have practiced Ashtanga for almost 2 decades. Even with that, I have definitely been wrong and that is okay. You will get it wrong and that is okay. But at least get it wrong with something to back up your wrongness other then your personal opinion and a few statements on social media.

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