Ashtanga Quotes,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Yoga Philosophy

Is Yoga A Feel Good Practice or a Force For Change?


When I first started teaching,I was  told me that we just have to teach the physical practice and people will change inside on their own with time. There was a voice in my head that doubted this, but it sounded good so I believed it. As I continued to teach, it became apparent to me that this was not the case.  People who were sweet  got sweeter. People who were searching for the spiritual side, found it.  Those who were ego maniacs  just became bigger ego maniacs.

Newtons First Law: The first law can be stated mathematically as

\sum \mathbf{F} = 0\; \Leftrightarrow\; \frac{\mathrm{d} \mathbf{v} }{\mathrm{d}t} = 0.


  • An object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it.

  • An object that is in motion will not change its velocity unless an external force acts upon it.


People need an external force to change. Sometimes that force is a deep seated feeling of unhappiness. Sometimes it is an injury. Sometimes it is the voice of a teacher imparting the spiritual aspects of yoga. If a person feels that what they are doing is totally right, they are not going to change.

You get what you put into your practice. If you enter the yoga world with a defeatist attitude, you will experience more and more defeat. If you enter with a happy disposition, you will enjoy more happiness. Like a microcosm of life itself, yoga is best understood as a playground where you test out your deeply held thoughts about yourself and see what kind of results you get from thinking the way you do- The Power of Ashtanga Yoga by Kino Macgregor

For instance, if someone was taught that outdoing others in competition is the key to happiness and success, they will come to yoga class with that same philosophy. If they are naturally gifted and excel in yoga asana, this philosophy will not change. Especially if they are given lots of praise for their poses or enjoy popularity in the yoga community because of their physical practice. If people test their beliefs in yoga, and yoga proves them to be true, they will not change.


Change needs an outside force. I will never forget this episode of Oprah Winfrey where this girl, who was chronically late, came on the show and she claimed that she had tried everything. Dr. Phil, the psychologist, was visiting that day and said, “it must be working for you. People don’t continue to do things unless it is working for them. What are you getting out of being late ?” The woman didn’t like this response and gave several reasons why her life was chaos because of it. Dr. Phil stood his ground that something about the chaos, the feeling of being late, the feeling of control, the attention or something of that nature was keeping her in that pattern. She was getting a payoff.  If someone is getting a payoff, they are not going to change without an outside force.

We can do yoga as a simple feel good practice or we can let it be an outside force for deep internal change. The choice is ours.





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

One Comment

  • Kristi

    Nicely written, my experience as a whole is that it’s a changing force like you say. What wasn’t touched on were the days that are sprinkled in, sometimes lasting a day, sometimes lasting a month, when getting on the mat is a chore. I can only speak for myself even the days that are a chore are mixed with an ugh thank god I made it through that and I’m glad it’s done! There are also the days and weeks I can’t face my mat. Then there is the opposite side of the pendulum everything feels great and breath is smokin. Then there is everything in between. With this said I think the question resorts back to why do you do yoga? Also I do firmly believe that although I have had wonderful teachers, the practice is the ultimate teacher (with the human teacher there for irreplaceable guidance and support) so a good teacher will provide the tools necessary for the student to “get it” on their own time. Thanks for letting me share my two cents 🙂

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