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Yoga For When the Pain Speaks

Yoga teaches us the difference between speaking from pain or from our soul. Everything “bad” going on in the world is a result of decisions made through pain. Pain is deceptive. Way after the experience that caused the pain is over and a smile is on our face and a bounce is in our step,if we are not careful,  we will continue to make decisions from that place of pain.

Decisions made from a place of pain cause more pain or they cause fear. Decisions that are made from your soul, make you free. Notice I said free and not happy. Freedom is the ability to live, speak, see and act from a place of truth. When the truth is in direct conflict with your current life, for most people,there will be some suffering. If there is a commitment to truth, the suffering is temporary and instead of causing more pain or more fear, it causes less pain and less fear. For example, maybe the truth is that you need to get a divorce. Leaving your spouse will bring up pain,  but in the end, it will result in more freedom and the ability to live a life that is true. An example of making a decision from pain is, you feel pain because your spouse is not paying attention to you. You cheat on them with someone who does. Instead of freedom, you now lie, sneak around, feel guilt, and shame. If your family finds out, the pain and damage will be way more then it would have through divorce. It brings more pain.

How Yoga Keeps Us From Making Decisions From a Place of Pain

The key to this is understanding the fluctuations of the mind. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali says  “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. Then, Patanjali goes on to list the 5 fluctuations and says that they either are painless or painful. The three fluctuations to look out for, to ensure we don’t make decisions from a place of pain are:

Misconception-When knowledge is not based on its true form it is misconception. Example: A woman walks into a yoga class for the first time. The teacher walks around calling out poses. When students do good poses, the teacher says, “good job Robert”. The teacher gives detailed instruction on anatomy, alignment and safe pose execution.  At the end of the class, the teacher announces workshops on handstands and boot camps.  The student assumes, from what they have seen, that yoga is about doing poses well. This is misconception because the student’s knowledge is not based on the whole picture of yoga. It is based on what they saw.



Misconception is so common that, without being fully present, it is impossible to go 15 minutes without doing it. “Other successful people live like this, it must be right. “Men act this way. Women act this way.” “Baby girl, pink. Baby boy, blue”. Misconception runs deep  and often forms the bedrock of our daily actions. It frames how we experience the world. It’s the reason why nude pantyhose only match White skin or sexual predators are always pictured as creepy weirdos when they can be as innocuous as the business man next door. It is the reason why teachers on Instagram who have nice bodies, beautiful poses and live on the beach, get  propositioned for opportunities.  It is the reason why the average looking, average weight yoga teacher with beautiful poses who takes pictures under the yellow light in their kitchen does not. Misconception is based on stories we have accepted and experiences we have had that were not rooted in truth.

Verbal Delusion-An image that arises upon hearing mere words is verbal delusion. Verbal delusion is filling in between the lines with imagination or pain. Example: Remember when this sentence got added to the KPJAYI website, “Students who are applying for Sharath’s class must have studied at least 2 months with any of our Certified/Authorized teachers (mentioned in our teachers list) before coming to study with Sharath in Mysore. (**)”. Based on that one sentence, the internet went crazy.It was totally clear…from that sentence…for some people….that Sharath was trying to create some elitist organization that was intent on keeping the working class from practicing Ashtanga.  The only problem is…. that is not what that sentence said. Classic verbal delusion.

Verbal delusion is the reason why, when Kino Macgregor said she injured herself, people assumed it was because she was “over stretching” or it was because of her “extreme” practice.  It is the reason why when, “Shequanda Harris” or “Jesus Gonzales” is written at the top of a resume, some people throw it in the trash.

Memory-We need it. You cannot function without it. It is only a problem when it blocks our ability to see what is in front of us. Example: a yoga student is hurt by an Ashtanga teacher. They immediately distrust all Ashtanga teachers. This is the reason why many well meaning teachers, who have been hurt in certain yoga poses or witnessed their students getting hurt in a certain yoga pose, demonize those poses. Faulty memory, that is not recognized as such, causes false imprisonment. Painful memories, that we can’t let go of, cause self imprisonment.

My favorite technique for seeing the truth in my own lies and discovering when I am acting from a place of pain  is, The Work, from spiritual teacher Byron Katie. Byron Katie’s 4 questions, when done with an open mind, get right to the heart of lies that are so deep, we ourselves cannot see them.




Lets use a popular misconception example to illustrate this.

“The teacher posing in the bikini on Instagram does not understand the true meaning of yoga”

Is it true? “From that picture, she can’t possibly understand the true meaning of yoga. So yes. It is true.”

Can I absolutely know that it’s true? ” I don’t know this person so I don’t know if it is absolutely the truth”

How do I react when I think that thought? ” I get angry and mad because it bothers me that people are misrepresenting yoga”

Who would I be without the thought? I would not be angry. I would not be mad. I would be happy or content. I could get to know bikini yoga teacher for who she really is instead of seeing her through the lens of this thought. I would be able to see her heart instead of her bikini.

These four questions point to the places in our mind where we are not free. They show us how our fluctuations are effecting our thoughts and actions.

Yoga uses several different methods to stop the mental fluctuations that perpetuate pain. They can all be summarized into “be present”. Asana, pranayama, meditation, concentration, and the samadhi techniques force us into a state of presence which is a place where our  mental pain does not exist. Think about it. When you are stewing about something, where is the fuel for that stewing coming from? For example, the very moment you walk in on your mate cheating on you, most people feel surprise and shock. It is not until a few moments later that pain and betrayal come in. They come in because we want the present moment to be something other then what it is. Our mate is in bed with someone else. However, our mind goes to the vows they made in the past and we get mad because this moment is not in line with the past. I know. Not easy to swallow. There is a reason way people prefer to just practice asana instead of the other limbs of yoga. That ish is hard.



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