Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Dealers or Drug Dealers

Used to be curious
Now the shit’s sustenance

All this time I swore I’d never
Be like my old man
What the hey it’s time to face
Exactly who I am

I can see, yeah – (wish I couldn’t see at all)
I can feel – (wish I couldn’t feel at all)
Hate to see – (wish I couldn’t see at all) [2x]
Hate to feel – (wish I couldn’t feel at all)

Hate To Feel by Alice N Chains

I recently watched, Prescription Thugs, a documentary about prescription drug abuse. When a specialist was asked why so many people were abusing and dying from prescription drugs, the answer was, people do not want to feel.


The same thing is happening in the yoga world. Many people are using yoga to run away from their feelings and as a distraction. I am no stranger to going to yoga so that I can, “get out of my head”. There is nothing wrong with that…in the short term.  In the long term, it just becomes like another drug or the wine you drink at the end of a stressful day…. another numbing mechanism. Something that keeps you from confronting and dealing with your feelings. Something that helps you deal with your life instead of changing your life or changing the way you perceive life.

The definition of Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” The vrittis or fluctuations can come up at any time. You can’t stop in the middle of an uncomfortable meeting with your boss and do some Sun Salutes. If you start doing alternate nostril breathing at a traffic stop, you might get arrested. If you pop into handstand during a trial, you will be in contempt of court. When we use yoga as a drug, we miss the opportunity to use it as a training ground for dealing with  the day to day stress of our lives.


Just using  asana, pranayama and meditation as a distraction, is like driving a jet instead of flying it.  Driving it gets you from A to B in a stylish way but the purpose of the the jet is to fly. The ultimate purpose of Yoga is to be able to still the mind not distract it. Here is the difference. If I grab the blade of a slow moving fan, it will stop but once I move my hand, it starts right back up again. However, if I unplug it, it runs a few more seconds, but turns off completely. Electricity still exists. I just broke the connection.  Our mind is the fan. Our thoughts are the electricity. The thoughts, feelings and emotions may still exist but they don’t run us. Sticking your hand in the fan or distracting yourself, is a temporary fix.

It is such a beautiful sweet intention to make the experience of Yoga perfect and comfortable. Sometimes we need that. Nothing wrong with it. It only becomes a problem when it is propagated that all Yoga should be this way. That all Yoga should be comfortable all the time. This is not what the Yoga Sutras says. The Yoga Sutras talk about suffering and obstacles and work and burning. It talks about falling off the path and failure and pain. It talks about these because they are common on the path of Yoga. They are things that students deal with and overcome. They are things that students use to grow. Most importantly, they are things that students will have to deal with in their every day life. Is it enough to be at peace for the hour and a half that you are on your mat or do you want it 24 hours a day? Yoga is teaching a 24 hour a day unblocked connection to the heart and a 365 day a year unblocked connection to the soul.


Yoga teachers are not therapists. However, the Yoga practice can give us tools to deal with unpleasant emotions.  The act of holding a pose when it is uncomfortable teaches students that they can feel discomfort fully and completely without losing connection to their strength. The act of learning a pose that is scary teaches how to deal with our fears in life. Falling out of a pose in class and standing back up, even when we may feel shame and embarrassment, teaches us how to deal with failure. Practicing every day, even when we don’t really feel like it,  teaches us how to be disciplined and to persevere in our lives when we feel like giving up. Making time for our practice teaches us how to make time for ourselves in life. This list can go on and on.

When we approach our practice with a willingness to feel and experience every single emotion, our practice becomes a Guru. A good Guru is about the long term development of the student. Everything the Guru does is in an effort to take the student from darkness into light. A Guru is like a stern but loving mother. You are going to eat your vegetables, even though you hate them, because they are good for you. When we use our yoga to placate ourselves and to placate our students, we become drug pushers giving the ego its daily fix.


Now, just because we allow everything to be as it is doesn’t mean that our meditation is necessarily going to stay totally peaceful and silent. The point here is awakening, right? The point is not to learn how to suppress yourself so that you feel better. It’s how to wake up to the reality of your being, and we wake up to the reality of our being by relating with our human nature, not by avoiding it. Not by going around it. Not by trying to pray it away or mantra it away or meditate it away. We wake up by letting everything within ourselves reveal itself, be felt, be experienced, be known.

Then and only then can we move on to a deeper level. This is very, very important and it’s something a lot of people don’t understand. It’s easy to use meditative techniques to suppress our human experiences, to suppress things that we don’t want to feel. But what is called for is just the opposite. True Meditation is the space in which everything gets revealed, everything gets seen, everything gets experienced.


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.