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

Whose Ashtanga Should I Practice?

The topic of Ashtanga needing to evolve is all up and in the intewebs today.


Here is the question.


Who says when it is alright to start making changes and how does one know that person is not coming from straight ego? Who says what should evolve?

What I have witnessed, is changes coming from ego and changes coming from a place of profit. What I have witnessed is super confused students because different teachers are telling them different things and each one has an anatomical scientific reason for why their method is correct. What I have witnessed is dis-empowered students whose practices are not moving forward because they are listening to 15 different voices in their head. I have witnessed students confused because one authorized teacher is saying Guruji told them this way and another authorized teacher is saying Guruji told them another way. I have witnessed people who are not even on the path of Yoga. They are on the path of asana because they are so busy fussing with their bodies that they have completely missed the point.

I am down for innovation but if you look at our planet, innovation done wrong, causes destruction instead of growth. If this innovation comes from ego, in the long run, it will do more harm then good.

I am sorry, just because someone has been practicing for 30 years and they originally practiced with Guruji, does not mean that their innovations are not straight ego.

I practice Ashtanga because a set method makes things simple.  If I have to sit around and debate about whose modifications or changes I should use, then that leaves little time for the cessations of the fluctuations of my mind.

Yoga Sutras 1:30-1:39 talks about the obstacles to practice and says that they can be overcome by choosing an object of meditation.


The practice of concentration on a single subject [or the use of one technique] is the best way to prevent the obstacles and their accompaniments. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:32


What are the obstacles ? Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:30

  • vyadhi = disease, illness, sickness

  • styana = mental laziness, inefficiency, idleness, procrastination, dullness

  • samshaya = indecision, doubt

  • pramada = carelessness, negligence 

  • alasya = sloth, languor, laziness

  • avirati = sensuality, want of non-attachment, non-abstention, craving

  • bhranti-darshana = false views or perception, confusion of philosophies (bhranti = false; darshana = views, perception)

  • alabdha-bhumikatva = failing to attain stages of practice (alabdha = not obtaining; bhumikatva = stage, state, firm ground)

  • anavasthitatva = instability, slipping down, inability to maintain

  • chitta-vikshepa = distractions of the mind (chitta = mind field; vikshepa = distractions, diversions)

  • te = they are, these are

  • antarayah = obstacles, impediments


These are the accompaniments Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:31

  • duhkha = pain (mental or physical)
  • daurmanasya = sadness, despair, dejection, frustration, depression, anguish
  • angam-ejayatva = shakiness, unsteadiness, movement, tremor of the limbs or body (anga = limbs or body)
  • shvasa = inhalation, inspiration (implying irregular inhalation)
  • prashvasah = exhalation, expiration (implying irregular exhalation)
  • vikshepa = distractions
  • sahabhuva = companions, accompaniments, correlates 


Going back and forth about how Ashtanga should and should be taught will definitely have you stuck in the realm of obstacles. I am not saying you should not question. I am saying, don’t get stuck there. Like don’t get to the point where you can’t see the forest because the trees are blocking your way. The ultimate goal of Yoga is beyond props vs no props, straight legs vs bent knee jump troughs, handstands vs no handstands, Guruji teachers vs Sharath teachers. Move forward in your Yoga practice. Pick a teacher, be happy with your choice and don’t judge everybody else’s.


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


  • Jen

    I have tried about 15 teachers most of them authorised By Guruji or Sharath. I´m stuck in primary series for 10 years. In my case it´s not so much they all say different things, it´s the lack of assisting or teaching! I take courses, lessons bla bla and learn a great deal about OTHER things in yoga than asana. My problem is I´m a bit too fat around waist and shoulders stuck. I cannot reach for half lotus-grip. I think if they assisted me with Prasarita C it would help. Then comes marichis b-d where i need hands on assisting EVERY time! NO teacher will do that. I usually get assistance with one of them, or have to beg or wait for help. They put my do this matsyendra instead of mari D. (it happens around here with auth. experienced teachers). I also can´t do parvritta parsvakona properly, but about a year ago one good teacher showed me a way to start working on it. Still working thou. There is no way how to learn/concuer marichiasanas alone however, and that´s very frustrating. I have to do a lot of home practise during the summer. I can also not get in and out of bhujapida and kurmas properly. How could anybody help me out? Not much assistance there. But as strange as it sounds, navaasana and the asanas after suptakurma are as easy as anything for me. Not setubandha. So I do all them. Some teachers say I´m not allowed due tho the major problems I have with the earlier poses. Yes yes, I fight with all the basics, chaturanga, jumps that´s not a million voices in my head, that´s clear. But these problem-asanas I have, there´s not one single teacher taking them seriously. And I do wonder. WHy is it so that ppl who do secondseries EVERY DAY are assisted in back drops, supta vajra, and almost every day with pincha and kapota. This is an international trend not just where I live (indeed a lot of auth. ashtanga teachers). The one struggling 3-6 times a week with primary gets no attention while the ones in second series take all the teacher´s time. WHY? Can they not do those damn backbends every other day on their own? To me it seems clingy…. I cannot move fwd in my asanapractise, but on the other limbs yes. No-one has ever told my the anatomical point of not being able to do bound half lotus, twists in the roughly ten years I´ve been a yogi. Tried iyengar for a copule of yers and sure it was good but we just never reached the more advanced asanas 😉 But I learned alignment of trikona and many other useful small things about asanas. I think it´s my fatty waist and my hard shoulders hindering me, but the fat won´t easily go away althou Morning mysore is a good cure. But the shoulders? They are not frozen in that sense it hurts, but stiff. My arms do not have a wide range of motion. And I´m either not strong enough or not centered/balanced enough to perform tittibhasana. But there are no yoga props in the world to help that one out.

    • Shanna Small

      I am so sorry to hear about your struggles in your practice. I think you still have not found your teacher yet. Yogis tell stories of spending years searching for the right teacher. It is common to have to go on a search for the right one. When you find the right one, visit them often and stick with them. Don’t give up the search!!

  • Jen again

    I´d like to hear opinions. The thing is, after more than ten years of regular yoga, mostly ashtanga – if I stop at the first obstacle (asana needing adjustment or props) which then would bee arda baddha – my tranining time would be about half an hour. And some teacher say then you do VERY SLOW breating in headstand, halfway up and down, pranayama at the end. SO yes come to think of it there are a million voices in my head. The problem just is, if I stop at ardabaddha or Marichiasana B or C which somedays are the last ones I can do properly or with assistance then I have noticed during the years that the teachers lose total interest in me and never encourage me to do anything, go further, next asana. Meaning I would be stuck in HALF PRIMARY for ever. And this had been the case even thou I was going to the same teacher regularly for months of time. Problem is modern teachers in the west go on Holiday, go for 1-2 months to mysore, give retreats elsewhere, have maternity leave. It´s almost impossible having the same teacher 6/365!

  • Karen Elaine

    BEAUTIFUL and thorough article! Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts Shanna! Jen, I am “new” to Ashtanga (2-1/2 years) and am elated to have learned the entire Primary sequence. Along the way, I have been studying with two main teachers who have been GENEROUS with their attention, guidance, and especially assistance in poses. The Mysore class I take has a rare substitute, and everything you mentioned comes true when they are in the room- only the more advanced students get any attention.
    My observation of your dilemma- you need to find a teacher who is right for you. Keep up your daily practice, maybe your home practice will be less discouraging until you find that teacher. OR keep going to your regular class and share in the beautiful energy of the other students.

  • Marge

    Does it really matter whose instructions you follow as long as you are with a teacher that you have a good relationship with? I’ve been seeing my teacher consistently several times a week for 5 years now, and I may never progress beyond primary (I’m old) and I’m perfectly OK with that. I’ve been to workshops, and traveled to a lot of different Mysore rooms, but in the end I follow my teacher’s instructions (or at least test them) because he knows me better than anyone. And being with him makes me happy, even if he doesn’t have all the answers all the time.

    • Shanna Small

      That is only a question you can answer. All my teachers have always taught pretty close to lineage. I have had a few teachers that do things a bit different but not so much that they were way off. If I had a teacher that was doing things radically different, I would want to know why. It may not change my opinion on anything and I would probably still study with them, but I would definitely want to understand why they are doing things radically different from most people in the lineage.

  • Jean

    Jen, I am not sure this is universal, though I understand your concerns. As an authorised teacher, I teach as Guruji and Sharath taught me, and actually I adjust people (the same people) every day in Marichyasana postures. Eventually it comes, but sometimes it is 3 years of regular practiice and adjustments. However I understand why other teachers may not, as I have needed a lot of physio in order to deal with the tendonitis I have from doing it every day with people. Also for me – I believe students must make other lifestyle choices and delicate themselves to daily practice for me to also put the energy in. It seems like you haven’t found the right teacher for you – the million voices can be so confusing and frustrating. I haven;t seen sharath stop anyone at the first seated half lotus in primary. Usually people stop at marichyasana. That is still a lot to work on! I was stuck on a posture for 4 years, it taught me the postures are not really that important, they are only part of the process. Best of luck

  • Bella

    to Jen: fifteen teachers over 10 years is a LOT of teachers! you raise some interesting questions. It seems to me that you have already identified the physical blocks (fatty waist, tight shoulders) that are stopping you from binding in primary. Are there things you can do to address these? a pre-practice shoulder opening sequence perhaps? and finding if there is anything diet wise that is causing inflammation in your body? My advice would be similar to that above: find one teacher and stick with that teacher alone. That doesn’t mean for a few months, but for years! This is the way we learn trust, perseverance, patience, relationship and all the other things that come from a strong ongoing student teacher relationship. You mentioned that in the past teachers “lose total interest in me” if you stay at the Marichis. Sometimes with teaching these postures teachers will wait quite some time to observe any changes in the students’ body before giving further postures. So although it may feel as though you have been forgotten, part of yoga is learning patience and perseverance and again trusting your teacher to guide you even when it can be frustrating! So again we come back to a good relationship with one teacher over many years. There is much in the mind that can be learned when we are ‘stuck’ at a particular posture! If it is possible for you to attend mysore classes and /or workshops with the very senior teachers, John Scott, Dena Kingsberg, etc, or even someone with the Anatomy knowledge such as David Keil, you may be able to find further answers about your practice. There is so much to be learned in primary, and it can be easy to overthink it. Sometimes i remind myself that breathing and moving can be enough some days, although letting go of attachment to the outcome (posture perfection/achievement) can be easier said than done! Namaste x