Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

A letter to Those Disenchanted by the World of Yoga

“Many of us get involved in spirituality and find our path, and then, without our being aware of it, the ego starts to co-opt that path. We begin to place more attention on appearing to be spiritual and talking about spiritual things than we do on the real heart of spirituality, which is about our connection to the transcendent mystery of existence-our own existence and existence as such. We should never forget that this is what spirituality is essentially about; everything else is window dressing”.- Resurrecting Jesus by Adyashanti


Yoga calls this, maya. Maya is the magic that conceals the truth. It is a necessary illusion. We are either here on this earth for experience or liberation.  Maya gives us the ability to get completely lost in our experiences which gives them tremendous depth. This is the path of most. The path of the yogi is different. The yogi is here for liberation. They have experienced the world, gotten lost in maya, and are now ready to understand the method behind the magic trick. You are where you need to be.

Have you ever watched a movie, went to see a play or watched the ballet with someone who had behind the scenes knowledge of how things worked? Some insiders are still just as excited as you to see the show, they just watch it from a different perspective. Knowing how things work gives them even more respect for the actors, stunt men, dancers and directors because they understand what it takes to create such magic.  Some insiders grow cynical.  They pick everything apart. Instead of seeing the magic as a wonderful show of maya’s skills, they see the participants as trained monkeys.  The yogi is the former.

As practitioners, if you practice long enough, a time will come when you you will start to see what is behind closed doors. You will see how your teacher, your studio and everyone in the yoga world performs the magic. You can either grow cynical or you can use this time to go beyond the magic show and into the transcendent mystery of existence.

This is supposed to happen. This is a good thing. Yoga is supposed to take us beyond the 5 senses, beyond the window dressing and beyond the magic. It is supposed to connect us to the consciousness behind the magic.

When the facade of the yoga world falls away, you have a wonderful opportunity to finally connect to the heart of yoga. When you are having trouble being inspired, you can now connect to that which never needs to be inspired. When you are having trouble finding a teacher, you can now connect to that which needs no teacher. When you are having trouble with a pose, you can now connect to that which needs no poses.  Use these times of great turmoil, not to get cynical, but to discover the deeper essence of yoga.

Look behind the curtain of soft lights, pretty music and choreography. Look behind the curtain of tight abs, nice hair and handstands. Look behind the curtain of the man who stands before you as teacher. Look behind the curtain of yoga shorts, fancy malas and yoga wheels. Find the heart of yoga.  The pain you feel in your heart is an invitation. You feel it because something inside of you knows you are not connected to the heart of yoga. Find the heart that is already inside of you.

Take the invitation to go deeper. The magic is still beautiful even when you know how it is done. You just have to change your perspective. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:22 says that, even though the illusion is destroyed for the yogi, it still exists for those that need it. Yoga Sutra 2:21 says that, everything exists for the seer. If you are perceiving something, it is existing for you. What is your purpose in that existence? Why are you perceiving it? It is there either as an experience or for your liberation. To experience the karmas / repercussions of your actions or to liberate you from recreating those actions.

When we are on vacation, my husband loves using blackout curtains.  He wants to block out the light and sleep as long as he can. When you start to see behind the magic, don’ t close the blackout curtains!!!  Let the light in. There is a story in the Bible where Jesus becomes transfigured and is just glowing light and the disciples get super afraid. Even though they have seen Jesus do miracles. Even though they know who he claims to be, they are still afraid.  Jesus, on the other hand, is super calm and even tells them, “don’t tell anyone about this until after I die and am resurrected. ”  He accepted the light/truth, the death of everything he has known and knew that he would resurrect or come through it in the end. He accepted that there was a time to totally let go of the illusion and that time was not yet upon him. So he said, “don’t tell anyone just yet.” He knew that he needed to get on the other side of it first.

Take your time and get on the other side of it. Sit with it and fully explore and understand the illusion for yourself first. Allow yourself to process what you are feeling and what you are seeing going on around  you.  You are embarking on the death of everything you think you knew. You will come out better on the other side but the process cannot be rushed. Using the story of Jesus, he could have showed up, did a few big miracles, died right away and resurrected in a few days and been done. That was not enough. The magic trick needed to hold longer then that so that the act of going beyond it touched enough hearts to change the world.  The magic trick of the modern industrial yoga complex has expanded wide enough for the act of going beyond it to touch many hearts. You can be the one to do that.

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@ashtangayogaproject.com.


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