Adventures in Mysore India,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

The Dance of Yoga: Two Steps Back, Three Steps Foward

Have you ever experienced the below scenario?

You are doing your practice, running out of energy and you still have a lot of poses to go. Your teacher comes up to you and stops you to work on a pose. You think to yourself, ” I don’t have time for this. What does it matter if my toe touches the floor when I jump back? I already have so much more to work on! Does she not see that I am tired?” Do you commit to working on the pose your teacher pointed out or do you only work on it for that day and go back to your regularly scheduled program the next practice?

How we handle this situation shows how we handle life. Life will show us places where we could be stronger. Places that we have neglected. Areas that need more of our attention. Places we need to grow.

Sometimes, in order to continue growing, we have to be willing to take two steps back so we can then go three steps forward. Taking two steps back means that we stop and take a look at the places in our lives and in our practice where we have accepted less than what we are capable of.

When we are stopped by life, when we are stopped by a good teacher, that is their way and life’s way of saying, “I know what you are capable of. I see your potential and I want you to rise up to it. I want you to be the lotus flower that raises up out of mud. It feels icky to be stopped here. To have to do this pose or go through this experience over and over again. Dig deep and rise up out of this. Don’t play small in this world. Be as big as you can while you have this body. ”

Urdhva Mukha Paschimattanasana (2)123

Something I know for sure is that all the baggage that I don’t empty out, I continue to carry on my back. I can ignore it for a time. I can make myself strong enough to carry it for awhile. I can integrate it into my personality. I can make excuses for it. I can put perfume on it. I can cover it up. However, eventually, I fall under its load. Instead of stopping on my own choosing, I am now forced to stop.

Maybe you find a teacher that gives out lots of poses. One who does not stop you. One who just looks at what you are capable of right now. Maybe in life, you only put yourself in situations that use your strengths. When situations that point to your weaknesses come up, you just say, “this is just the way it is, That is for other people,This is how I am” and you avoid looking any deeper. This is a path.

The yogic path is much different.  Not even 5 verses in, the Yoga Sutras starts talking about pain.

There are five kinds of mental modifications, which are either painful or painless.- Yoga Sutras 1:5

The Yoga Sutras talks about pain and suffering more then it talks about asana. Patanjali is very clear that while we are on the path, we may deal with some intense painful things. Yoga is not the path of avoidance. Avidya, or avoidance/aversion, is actually seen as an obstacle on the path of yoga (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2: 8-10). If the amount of times suffering is talked about in the Sutras means anything, it is way more important to deal with our feelings on suffering then it is to get new asanas.

The only way that Yoga can have a deep lasting change is for us to take the lessons from Yoga into our life.  What happens on our mat is just the beginning of our lesson. When we apply it to our life, we complete our lesson.


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