Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yes, Virginia, Gurus are Real

That baby and the bath water. A common defense in the yoga community. If you are not familiar with it, it goes something like this.  The bath water is dirty. The baby is in the bath water, therefore the baby is dirty. Conclusion, the baby and the bath water have to be  thrown out.


Someone got hurt from an assist,assists are bad.  Conclusion, no one should be assisted.

I don’t want to be touched. If I don’t like being touched, there may be others that do not like being touched. Since we don’t know who these people are,  no one should be touched. Conclusion, no one should be assisted.

I got hurt in a headstand. Headstands are bad. No one should do headstand.

This alignment cue worked for me. It is a good alignment cue. This must be the right alignment cue for everyone. Conclusion, I will teach this for everyone.

With the news about the allegations at the Satyananda Yoga Center, the argument is back and it goes like this.

That Guru was bad. If he was bad, then other gurus are bad. Conclusion, all gurus are bad.

That Guru was not real. Other gurus must not be real. Conclusion, there are no real gurus.

Why is this argument not true? One,  it is circumstantial. Two, there is a component in the argument that is not intrinsically dirty or bad.  The circumstances and the way in which it was used is what brought about the result. You can use a hammer to put a nail in a wall or to bash someone over the head. The hammer is not bad. The way it was used caused the harm.  The hammer was innocent. One bad use of a hammer does not make all hammers bad. Abuse of power by one does not mean that everyone is abusing it.


Guru means someone who brings you from the darkness to the light. They shine their light on truths that were previously hidden from you.  You absolutely could possibly figure these truths out on your own, but  a good teacher can do it in half the time.  I never forget when I first started working on horse stance/vatyanasana.  I was given it by a teacher who stopped teaching shortly after and I was on my own.  Every time I would do the pose, I would fall on my face.  I struggled with balance for over a year.  The original teacher, who gave me that pose, started teaching again and I went to her class. She watched me struggle with the pose and she told me to turn my foot and, boom, I balanced. She fixed in 30 seconds what I could not figure out in a year.

Sometimes, we have not experienced the light so we have no idea that it is possible for us. A Guru can show you that. There were people who were born slaves and slave owners who could not even fathom that there was another way to live. Great abolitionists and teachers showed them that there indeed was another way to walk in the world. They took them out of the darkness when they didn’t even realize they were in it.


I have had a handful of  gurus in my life.  The majority of them are amazing morally upstanding people and are still my teachers. One was not. Even though this  person’s actions were reprehensible, the information I gleaned from him was correct. Once I found out about  this person’s character, I cut off all ties to him and the organization he is affiliated with. How  low was his character? He is currently incarcerated in a high security prison with no chance of getting out alive.

It would have been easy for me to become bitter. It would have been easy for me to shut down my heart to all spiritual teachings and all spiritual teachers.  I kept my heart and mind open even though I had experienced great loss. I chose to let go of shame. Instead of throwing out all that I learned,  I chose to re evaluate the validity of each and every teaching and keep those that rang true and use them to grow. The information I learned and the experiences I had changed me to my core. I would not be who I am today without them.


Walking through life with a closed heart slows down your growth and it cuts you off to the beauty of this world. You cannot fully experience love.  You cannot fully experience joy. You cannot fully awaken to who and what you really are. The avoidance of pain and lose is the avoidance of life.

The magic word is discernment. Discernment takes work. It is much easier to make a rule and apply it to everything so we don’t have to think about it. It is easier to say there is no such thing as a Guru then it is to meet someone and use discernment and see if their life and words are true.  The world is not black and white.  Back to the hammer example. If you have that hammer and someone has broken into your house and is trying to harm your family, are you still not going to hit them with it?  The hammer is innocent. You are innocent. Through discernment, is this a situation where using the hammer as a weapon may be the best choice?

The answer is not to discount all Gurus as low life, snake oil sellers who want have sex with you and take your money. Just like the answer is not to ban hammers. The answer is discernment. If you come across someone who seems to  have information that can dispel some darkness within you, keep not only your heart and mind open but your eyes as well.


Discernment is true seeing. This is why the Yoga Sutras tell us to be present. Let go of your thoughts. Be fully aware and see what is going on in front of you. If through the eyes of pure awareness, you see something  that does not sit well with your soul, you move on.

Back to my fallen Guru. Just because he was not a great human being does not mean that his information was not right. Discernment. I know so many people who have stopped practicing yoga because of one crappy teacher. The yoga is innocent. It is the tool. It was welded in the wrong hands.

Yes, Virginia, Gurus are real. There are people on this earth who want nothing but the best for you. They are full of love and they want to envelope you in it. They have knowledge and they want to share it with you. When we shut ourselves down to these people because of the bad deeds of others, the bad people win and we lose.  We lose our ability to grow. Our ability to love. Our ability to trust. Our ability to feel and be felt. Our ability to be free.


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 shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.