Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga, Take What You Want and Leave The Rest?

Take what you want and leave the rest. Right? Not necessarily.  Depends on who is talking.

The premise of Yoga is that we have built an identity so solid that we can no longer see beyond it (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:4). We begin to experience the world through a veil that obstructs us from seeing anything that doesn’t fall in line with that identity. Don’t believe Patanjali, this is science.  Your brain has a spam filter that blocks anything it does not  see as relevant.  Most people’s spam filter is a self written program that filters based on their current identity.  Seeing reality outside of that filter is hard. That is why we have the science of Yoga. This is also why we have to question our assumptions.

When using inquiry for transformation,the first question is always, “who is the one who is saying this?” When we come across a teaching, technique,  or philosophy and we want to take what we want and leave the rest, the first question should be who is saying this and why?

Modern Yoga has become  “take what you want and leave the rest”. I often call it “choose your own adventure” Yoga.  For the young ones, there used to be  “choose your own adventure” books with several different endings. At the end of a section, it would say, “If Bobby should go down the hall, turn to page 35. If Bobby should go into the woods, turn to page 56.” In the case of Yoga, “if Bobby just wants to work out, go to this Yoga class. If Bobby just wants to stretch, go to this Yoga class. If Bobby, is interested in spirituality, go to this Yoga class”. This is all very convenient and modern and Bobby will benefit….but which part of Bobby?

If the purpose of Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is to be present so that we can see ourselves in the light of truth (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1-4), the question is, “who is wanting to leave the rest? Who is having the adventure?” Many times, the part of Yoga we want to leave out, is the part we need the most.




It is always the really busy person, who needs to take rest the most, that leaves right when the asana is over.  It is usually the person whose body is the stiffest and needs to move the most, that is the least consistent. It is usually the person who is suffering from emotional trauma and pain, and needs to look inside themselves, who doesn’t want to study spirituality.

The Yogis knew that Yoga needed to be a methodology. If we just choose an adventure, will we be present enough to  know who is doing the choosing?  Is the pain choosing? Is the fear choosing? Is the shame choosing? Is it the part of us that is afraid to change, choosing?  Is the part of us that is unwilling to trust, choosing? Is the part of us that wants to be pretty, choosing? Is it the part of us that wants power, choosing? Is it the part of us that doesn’t want to work, choosing? Are we present enough to know?



I wouldn’t say fight yourself, but definitely question yourself.


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.


  • Jennifer Daniels

    Hi from Savannah ga. I just wanted to say how much I love reading these posts. Not sure how I ran across it, but it’s now part of my daily morning routine before my run and asana practice. My style of asana does vary but one thing that doesn’t is my hearts desire for more wisdom and guidance from the Divine….the Sutras are my lifebook. Anyway..Namaste. it’s Thanksgiving. I am thankful, today that I don’t have to be perfect or great or beautiful or popular, I just have to do the next right action without attachment…and here is Life. Simple. Om shanti!!