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My New Year Wishes For the Yoga World

Forgiveness:  Jack Kornfield can say it better than me.

“Like the practice of compassion, forgiveness does not ignore the truth of our suffering.  Forgiveness is not weak. It demands courage and integrity. Yet only forgiveness and love can bring about the peace we long for. As the Indian sage Meher Baba explains, “True love is not for the faint-hearted.”

“We have all betrayed and hurt others, just as we have knowingly or unknowingly been harmed by them. It is inevitable in this human realm. Sometimes our betrayals are small, sometimes terrible. Extending and receiving forgiveness is essential for redemption from our past. To forgive does not mean we condone the misdeeds of another. We can dedicate ourselves to make sure they never happen again. But without forgiveness the world can never be released from the sorrows of the past. Someone quipped, “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.” Forgiveness is a way to move on.”

“In Buddhist psychology, forgiveness is not presented as a moral commandment; thou shalt forgive. It is understood as a way to end suffering, to bring dignity and harmony to our life. Forgiveness is fundamentally for our own sake, for our own mental health. It is a way to let go of the pain we carry. This is illustrated by the story of two ex-prisoners of war who meet after many years. When the first one asks, “Have you forgiven your captors yet?” the second man answers, “No, never.” “Well then,” the first man replies, “they still have you in prison.”

“We may still be suffering terribly from the past while those who betrayed us are on vacation. It is painful to hate. Without forgiveness we continue to perpetuate the illusion that hate can heal our pain and the pain of others. In forgiveness we let go and find relief in our heart.”

“Forgiveness sees wisely. It willingly acknowledges what is unjust, harmful, and wrong. It bravely recognizes the sufferings of the past, and understands the conditions that brought them about. There is a strength to forgiveness. When we forgive we can also say, “Never again will I allow these things to happen.” We may resolve to never again permit such harm to come to ourselves or another.”

“Finding a way to extend forgiveness to ourselves is one of our most essential tasks. Just as others have been caught in suffering, so have we. If we look honestly at our life, we can see the sorrows and pain that have led to our own wrongdoing. In this we can finally extend forgiveness to ourselves; we can hold the pain we have caused in compassion. Without such mercy, we will live our own life in exile.”

“For most people, the work of forgiveness is a process. Practicing forgiveness, we may go through stages of grief, rage, sorrow, fear and confusion.  As we let ourself feel the pain we still hold, forgiveness comes as a relief, a release for our heart in the end.  Forgiveness acknowledges that no matter how much we may have suffered, we will not put another human being out of our heart.”- From The Practice of Forgiveness by Jack Kornfield

Love: What most people see as love is really just intense attachment. The biggest sign that, what you see as love is just attachment, is that you need the person to act a certain way in order for your love to be sustained. Some people say love is a verb but that gets us into a place where we need certain actions to feel love and to receive love. This can also lead us to mistake certain actions such as affection and gifts as pure love when really we are just being manipulated. True love is not dependent on any behavior, cannot be given and cannot be taken away. It just is. It is a pure way of being.

Like the sun gives light to anything in its path, love is all inclusive. Like the sun, pure love shines on good and bad people. Even when we go into the shade or indoors, the sun and love is still there. We don’t get the full brunt of it but it is still warming up the house and providing light. Love carries us even when we are not directly in its path. The sun does not need us to acknowledge it or to give it anything. It shines. Pure love works in the same way.

 Compassion:  Compassion does not mean feeling sorry for people. Compassion is seeking to understand someone’s situation and shining our love on them unconditionally. Compassion allows us to understand why someone is the way they are. In most situations, if we would have had the same upbringing and the same series of events happen in our lives, we would have turned out the same.

When we say, “I would never do that.” We are right because we are looking at the situation through our upbringing and our own experiences. However, the other person did not have that same upbringing and those same experiences. What were their experiences and how did they lead them to the place they are today? One thing different in someone’s life can lead them down a trajectory that you could not fathom for yourself but makes sense for them.

An Understanding that yoga teachers are humanThis does not mean that you don’t hold teachers accountable for their actions. It means that everyone can fall . Even Yogis. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is full of warnings about powerful yogis falling. Even yogis, who have found samadhi, or the ability to connect with the soul in a direct way, are susceptible to darkness and harmful acts and behavior.

A bad deed does not negate everything else the teacher did or mean that all their information is wrong. Look at your own life. Have you ever did something wrong? Should people write you off forever because of that one act? Have you ever told a lie? Has everything else that has come out of your mouth since that lie been a lie?

Martin Luther King Jr allegedly cheated on his wife. That does not negate his part in the Civil Rights Movement. Without him, Black people would not be where they are today. Gandhi allegedly was a racist. This does not negate his work in getting independence for Indian people. Your teacher can turn out to be a complete asshole but it does not mean that her information on meditation was not accurate. Take what works. Give credit where credit is due and leave the rest.

A teacher is not forever. We choose a teacher because we resonate with what they are putting down in the moment. You learn from them for as long as it makes sense. The student is supposed to outgrow the teacher. They are supposed to get to a point where they no longer need the teacher. If you no longer resonate with them or approve of their actions, you leave the teacher. Point. Blank. Period.

An understanding that shame does not work.   Trying to make people feel shame about their actions, their short shorts, their handstands, their grandfather’s actions, their sexual abuse or about supporting a certain teacher, does not work. Either the person hunkers down and stands firm, they withdraw even further from you and what you are wanting them to do or they become totally dis-empowered.

If you feel that the yoga world needs to change, the worst thing you can do is try to shame people into action. It has the opposite effect. They are dis-empowered and they have no idea what to do. They are just lost in indecision. They are left suffering and miserable and feeling like they are idiots who don’t have the ability to make good choices.

Another result of trying to shame people is that they run the other way. No one likes the feeling of being shamed for what they think and feel. No one wants to be told their experiances are not vailid. They are going to want nothing to do with you.

If you want to see action in the world, you have to empower people. You respect their thoughts, experiences and decisions. You find a common goal that is for the common good. You work together on that.


Throwing people under the bus does not work. This is not the same as stating facts and speaking your truth. We all know the difference between someone speaking what they feel is their truth or when someone is trying to crush your soul. Soul crushing does not work. There has never been a time in my life where someone threw me under the bus and I said, “you know what. You are right.” I was too busy trying to get from underneath the bus, to get air back into my lungs, to get up from the ground and not be crushed. I was fighting for my life. Maybe it was my ego’s life, but I was fighting for it nonetheless.

Instead, find that place of love and speak your truth out of love for yourself and the world. When you love someone, they need to know how they made you feel. They need to know when they are not in the right. They need to incur the consequences of their actions because it is what they need to grow and what you and others need to be safe. It is the same way a parent teaches a child they love through grounding them or taking away privileges. The parent is not looking to crush the child’s soul or to shame them. They want their child to be a responsible citizen and to avoid hardships so they make sure the child pays the appropriate price. They are not trying to destroy the child’s happiness, dis-empower them or put out their light.

You also have to love yourself enough to heal and find your way out of darkness.

An Understanding that Injuries happen. Yep. I said it. Perfect alignment principles and a magical teacher who reads minds and knows how to touch students perfectly every single time does not exist. There are so many things going on with our bodies at any given time that it is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy how something is going to effect your body.


Highly educated people hurting people, on accident, is the third leading cause of death. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. I used to work in the medical industry placing doctors for locums tenens, which is when a doctor agrees to temporarily help a hospital that is short staffed. Part of that process is credentialing or checking a doctors background. Finding a doctor with any kind of time under their belt, who hadn’t accidentally hurt someone, was almost impossible. It was so impossible that it was not a criterion for a locums doctor. A doctor could still be placed even after having malpractice. All doctors have malpractice insurance because it is going to happen. It is a reality.

But yet, we somehow feel that yoga teachers are magical creatures who will not make mistakes.

If we sleep funny, our necks hurt but yet we are never supposed to feel anything in our yoga practice. Just today, I had an old student write me saying that they herniated 3 disks turning over in bed. I have hurt myself…in bed. But yet for some reason, we are supposed to do yoga and never hurt ourselves. I know people who do no strong physical activity who have had both their hips replaced.

Shit happens. This does not mean we don’t educate ourselves and make smart decisions. We still pick the best doctor and yoga teacher that money can buy. We hold doctors and teachers accountable while still acknowledging their humanness. We take the proper steps, within reason, to keep it from happening again. We take care of our bodies to the best of our abilities but to expect to never ever feel anything or to never have anything happen is a fairy tale.

To get over the glorification of the physical body. There is a component of Saucha/cleanliness, one of the observances of a yogi, that is rarely discussed in the yoga world. The practice of Saucha is supposed to result in a growing disinterest in the physical body beyond what is needed for its upkeep. Through taking care of the physical body, the yogi realizes that the body is a transitory part of nature that is always in flux and they put their awareness on the ever present energy of the universe that cannot be destroyed, God, or the soul.

The physical body is the house for this energy or soul. We take care of the house because a comfortable, inviting, cozy clean house makes us feel good. When our house is in order, it frees us up to focus on other things in our lives. However, when someone is afraid of leaving their house, we call them agoraphobic. When someone is obsessed with the upkeep of their house to the point of ignoring other parts of their life, we say they have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When someone judges someone based on whether they have a nice house or not, we might call that person superficial.

These are all seen as negative things and all of these are rampant in the yoga world. People are obsessed with their bodies, afraid of the death of the body (a klesha or impediment to yoga per the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), and pick their teachers based on how their bodies look.

To understand that all change begins with you. Whatever you want to see in the yoga world, you have to either seek out people who do that and support them or you have to create it yourself. It blows my mind when people come to me bemoaning what is wrong with the yoga world, but continue to actively support what they don’t want to see. They line up for workshops with the very teacher they feel exploits women. They continuously go to the yoga “workout” class, sign up for the handstand workshop and skip the meditation classes all while talking about how they miss the spiritual side of yoga. They continue to choose half naked yoga girl and sexy yoga dude as their teacher and to come do workshops at their studio and to work for them and do interviews with all while talking about how yoga needs to represent all bodies. They talk down on teacher trainings while still doing them or having them at their studio.

You have to allow yourself to be inconvenienced for change to happen. You have to go out of your way to support what you want to see until it becomes the norm and is then easily accessible. I do not like getting up early in the morning. I have been doing it for almost 4 years and I still don’t like it. However, in my community, Ashtanga tends to do better early in the morning. Because I love the practice and the students, I allow myself to be inconvenienced until our program grows to a point where it can support later hours.

I purposely unfollowed many big names on Instagram and followed smaller people. Because of Instagram’s algorithims, the big named people were coming up in my feed all the time and the people who needed the extra support and push were being buried.

I share other people’s work, that I want to see more of, on Ashtanga Yoga Project’s Facebook page. I saw a shortage of yoga teachers talking about the other 7 limbs of yoga so I started a weekly Yoga Sutra class at my local studio and a blog that focuses on the non physical side of yoga. I share pictures of my practice so that there is a representation of a Black female, with an average sized body, doing yoga. I practice through personal hardship and injury so that students see that yoga is not just for the able but also for the willing.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

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.

2 Comments

  • Maria Long

    Thank you for writing this. Right after reading I was able to release a big part of my disappointment and resentment. I can only point out that in order to forgive and have compassion it is essential to accept and admit that there is something to forgive. Again thank you for your healing words.

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