Ashtanga Quotes,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy

Spiritual Laziness: Active Body, Lazy Mind or Active Mind, Lazy Body

“Anyone can practice. Young man can practice. Old man can practice. Very old man can practice. Man who is sick, he can practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except lazy people; lazy people can’t practice yoga.”
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Pattabhi Jois may have only been talking about physical laziness or maybe he wasn’t.  Spiritual laziness is also an epidemic.  Spiritual laziness is the unwillingness to take a good hard look at who you are. It is wanting to feel good more than wanting to know the truth.

This sometimes looks like physical laziness.

A yoga teacher in my area used to do a workshop to help people find a healthy weight through Yoga. She didn’t try to move them fast or turn the heat up to burn calories. She didn’t put them on a cleanse or make them do abs.  Her process was an inquiry into what the food was replacing.  She believed that people over ate to fill up some aspect of their life where they felt empty.  As long as this emptiness was there, all diets and physical plans would fail.  The mind was active and filled with thoughts like shame, self hatred, emptiness and unworthiness and these thoughts kept the body stagnant. The premise was that if you truly loved yourself, you would not eat to the point of self harm or himsa.

It is an interesting premise.  I know that I eat sweets every day out of a need for pleasure. What If I could find that pleasure in ways that were less destructive to my joints and teeth? Why haven’t I tried? Laziness. I ate cinnamon sugar graham crackers while writing this. I wasn’t hungry. One of my Ashtanga teachers told me that my Pasasana would be much better if I laid off the sweets. I still ate them.

Quitting Yoga can be a sign of spiritual laziness, even when it seems strictly physical.  Whenever someone gives me a physical reason for why they cannot practice Ashtanga, I say, “that’s okay. We can make changes to fit your body.”  The conversation usually just trails off after that or they change the subject. The physicality was never the issue, the unwillingness to deal with their own perceived limitations was.

Laziness can also look like intense activity. I am specifically referring to activities where the mind does not have to be used. Busyness is spiritual laziness.

Busyness serves to create walls that prevent intimacy and starves any connection between us and others. It pulls us deeper into anxiety and guilt and is insatiably fueled by its evil twin, “Not Good Enough.”  Kim Richards


This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave. Omid Safi


What’s this all for? Why?

My answer: so we don’t have to feel.

Feel what?

Feel the urgency, the pain, the beauty, the joy, the fleeting moments and the passing years. Our temporary nature. Feel what we see in the news. Feel what is going on with the family down the street we know battling cancer. Feel our parents aging, our kids growing.

We are fearful of missing moments with our children so we fear how sweet, beautiful and temporary all the fleeting moments of true connection are. So in a panic we manufacture 10,000 moments for the fear of sinking too deeply into just that one that will pass us by too quickly, reminding us once again of our humanness.

In our relationships we are fearful of the silence and loneliness with another in which we are barren and exposed, so we fill up our moments madly. We fill our calendar with couples and parties, alcohol and food, sports and shows, sexy distractions and vacations in sun shinny places.

Stillness is telling. Silence stirs the truth. We are afraid to be still. Afraid of what we will hear if we brush aside the noise and instead pick a few beautiful, slow, still moments to witness in full depth, full glory.

We are afraid of our lacking worth so we spin around in circles distracting ourselves and everyone around us, proving our worth futilely in our busy lives while our real life is slipping right by us… unnoticed quietly tiptoeing right around us waiting for us to be still enough, brave enough to have our souls stirred to their core.-Dawn Hafner

Yoga classes are even going down the road of spiritual laziness. Many classes have become purely physical because all the chanting, Sutras, Oms, and other spiritual mambo jumbo makes people feel uncomfortable inside. They can deal with simple physical discomfort like burning thighs in Warrior I because that is external. Also, if you don’t want your thighs to burn, you can avoid that too and take a rest break. If it is a huge class, you can just straighten your leg. The teacher is not going to hound them because the student paid good money for a comfortable level of uncomfortableness and they don’t want to lose them.

When I took my first hot Vinyasa classes, back when Abraham Lincoln was president, I remember teachers making everyone hold until every single person was at least attempting to bend a knee. Yes, you could take  Child’s pose, but If you were still standing up, you were accountable for all the feels. I hated those classes with every fiber of my being. I miss them also…a little bit…maybe…not really.  I needed them though. They made me strong. I am thankful for Mysore style Ashtanga because I am only accountable for my own knee. Is it laziness? Could be.

Yoga, not the asanas, but the system of inquiry that results in stilling the mind and letting go of what is not true,  cannot be done by the spiritually lazy person or the physically lazy person. Anyone who is unwilling to change what is needed to see the truth, whether it is physical or mental, will suffer from the disease of busy-ness. This busy-ness may be in the mind or the body. Stillness unlocks the door to seeing. If water is rushing over rocks, it is hard to see the bottom of the river. When the river is still, we can see.  The same is true for us.

You breathe life into your ego in the form of emotional addictions. Emotion is the very life-force of ego. So the point of detachment isn’t to detach from things, but to detach from your emotional bonds with things. And you don’t simply let go of emotional bonds; you burn through them with investigative awareness. You see them for what they are: prisons, false structures holding you in spiritual infancy. You may think that I am being a bit harsh—which I am, but awakening to truth is a harsh business. The bottom line is “What do you want more: to feel better or to realize the truth?” Sure, truth realization feels really good, but no one gets there whose driving motivation is simply to feel good. Feeling really good is a byproduct of the awakened state; it is not the state itself. The state itself is reality, and it’s won at the hands of unreality. Simply put, ultimate truth comes at a cost, and the cost is everything in you and about you that is unreal. The end result is freedom, happiness, peace, and no longer viewing life through the veils of illusion.- Adyashanti


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


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