Adventures in Mysore India,  Alignment and Injuries,  Ashtanga Adaptability,  Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized

The Gift of the Local Ashtanga Teacher

From Christina Sell’s Blog Post, the Process Works


“Q:What is the definition of an expert?
A: Someone who lives out of town.

Given that the majority of the teaching work I do these days involves me getting on a plane to go teach, I enjoy the “expert” status that comes along with being a teacher from “out-of-town.” I figure that means that the students are typically a little more patient with my long-winded explanations, detailed demonstrations, and slow-paced teaching style than they might be if it was Wednesday night class and we shared the same zip code.  “


This phenomenon is so interesting to me.

People who argue when their local teacher, who sees them every day and is familiar with their body, tells them to do something but say, “how high” when an out of town teacher says the same thing.

People who travel across states to see a teacher but don’ t come to their local programs.

People who move mountains to get an out of state teacher in but can never find the time to make it the local mysore.

People who get inpatient when their local teacher tries to slow the class down and teach them something but will take two hours working on chataraunga when an out of town teacher comes.

People who all of a sudden want to meditate and do pranayama when an out of town teacher comes but gives the local teacher the side eye when they try and add 1 minute of alternate nostril breathing at the end of practice.

I am talking about myself, too.

My Ashtanga journey has had many ups and downs. Programs have come and gone and I have spent a lot of time practicing on my own and having to seek out traveling teachers for help. We have a solid program in my town right now and it has something in common with my 19 year marriage. Something that bouncing around spending a few weeks here and a few days there with a traveling teacher cannot teach me.


My yoga studio family and my home family do the most amazing thing. They trigger me. They don’t allow me to pretend that I am spiritual or that I have it all together. They don’t allow my proclivities to go dormant so that I can spin an imaginary tale of how I have overcome my ego.  My local Ashtanga family, my husband, my daughter, my mother in law won’t let me go back to sleep or wallow under the covers of unconsciousness.

When we practice with out of town teachers, we are often present and conscious. You have probably heard of Mysore magic, right? It is a combination of adrenaline and being present that allows the practitioner to drop their story and actually do what they are told LOL.  However, when we practice with the same teacher, day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, we stop being present. We think we know them. We weave a story around their words. We show up on our mats with all our baggage. We set up this comfortable relationship and we start to have expectations. We don’t want to spend 2 hours on chataraunga or do pranayama because that is not what we have come to expect out of this relationship. Who is this person? We don’t do meditation on Wednesday! How dare they!

The out of town teachers get the best version of us. The one that is super present, open, excited and woke. Wow, how my life would be different if this version of me showed up every day!!! But she does not. If she did, I wouldn’t need yoga.  To be open and present to life is the end goal of yoga. Game over. Just sitting around in and out of daily life and Samadhi.  Ready to die when the good lord takes me. Glorious.  However, after the workshop,the girl with the baggage shows up. This is the girl that yoga is for. The one who has, as the Yoga Sutras says, “assumed the forms of the mental modifications” aka letting my negative thoughts rule my life. This is the girl that my local teacher has to deal with.

In order to study with Sharath, you have to go to Mysore for a minimum of one month. This is brilliant. Because, towards the end of the month, is when the inner bag lady comes out.  I went for two months and my bag lady had my brain looking like an episode of Hoarders.  There were many days when my bag lady was convinced that Sharath was the devil incarnate. It took awhile for me to realize that I was being triggered and I can only be triggered if the stuff is still there.  The same thing happens with my local teacher. “How dare she?” Well, the dare only happened because my bag lady placed a bet. My super chill Mysore magic lady is like, “do you boo” and she does not take bets.

Have you ever given advice to someone close to you, they blow it off, then go to the “expert” , who says the same thing you said, and then they try to tell it to you like it’s new information? OMG.   What is that? My husband, who is a yogi even though he never touches a mat, is telling me stuff all the time and I am like , “umm hmmm.’ Then I read it in a Byron Katie book and I am like “ding, ding, ding.” So crazy. So closed off. So not present. So Bag Lady.  Local teacher says, “tilt your head forward”  and we go “ummm hmmm.” Traveling teacher says, “take your head forward” and we are like “ding, ding, ding, Eureka.” Traveling alignment “expert” dude is like “protract your shoulders” and then spends 2 hours with a skeleton and slide show explaining what that is and we are like blown away. Local teacher, who knows no alignment words says, “push into your hands, draw the shoulders away from each other and dome your upper back” and we say, “they don’t know what they are talking about, they don’t know alignment.” LOL. So funny but so enlightening.  Why?

Because I have had to question my assumptions. Question my biases. Question my Bag Lady. I have had to work with my stuff. The stuff that does not come out when Mysore Magic Woman is here.  The stuff that does not come out during the honeymoon period of my relationships.  You best believe that, if you only see your teacher a few times a year, you have probably never left your honeymoon suite. The only way I can do that is by working with the same teacher day in, day out, week after week, month after month, year after year.  I have to leave the 4 star honeymoon suite and go to the roadside motel with the roaches, no air conditioning and a bag of stale pretzels and see what’s up.  Will I still love you then? What a gift. Not everyone has that ability. Not everyone has someone in their town to help them with this.

One of the big hallmarks of modern yoga is that many teachers no longer ask their students to hole up in a cave. They tell them to go be in the world. Many of the old rituals had resulted in ego maniacs who thought that they had let go of the Bag Lady, but really she was in the closet waiting to jump out.  They hid behind their impressive practices and yogic super powers but really were just as messed up emotionally, or maybe more so, than the people they claimed to be helping. Before I go on, I need to say this, please understand that you can go into altered states, stop your heart and perform yogic miracles and not be enlightened or a good person. Just like you can smile, do handstands and talk alignment and still not be a good person or really know that much about yoga.  I digress.

The world is our teacher. With the support of your community,  let it show you what you are still carrying deep inside.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking the out of town “expert”. Hell, sometimes I am that person LOL. Please feel free to e-mail me to do a workshop in your town LOL. I love workshops because they light me up.  Even if I don’t learn not one new thing, they help me to remember my Mysore Magic Lady and they reignite my passion to find her and make her a permanent part of my life.  I had one of the best “svasanas” I have ever had with an out of town teacher. I seriously think I was in some state of Samadhi for like half a day. Glorious.  And yes, sometimes people can say things in a way that is new and different and I have a breakthrough. Sometimes, people find their teacher that way.  However, I always keep in mind the beautiful lessons I learn from having to show up day in and day out to the person who makes my bag lady have to search through her Glad Super Strength trash bag and take an honest look at why she is being triggered. That is my daily yoga practice and I love it.


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


  • Sonia Sharma Jauhar

    Your posts always delight with rays of truth.
    Please consider doing a podcast as I would tune in regularly! It’s important to have a voice like yours that serves up a good old dose of common sense, a practical and real mirror to our own daily practice habits, fears, hopes & misconceptions. And I’d love to host a Shanna workshop in my home one day!
    Thank you,
    Sonia S. Jauhar MD

  • Christine

    Co-sign w/ Dr. Jauhar re podcast! When I read your posts, I am reminded of the comedienne, Ali Wong, who often will voice things that everyone is thinking but no one says out loud and she has me stitches while she’s doing it while “YASS!”ing.

    When [insert name of famous yoga teacher] visited our city for workshops (which is rare, my teacher tries to keep things small and intimate, which is fantastic and we are, after all, on an island), I was jazzed and excited. Surprisingly, after [famous yoga teacher] left, I was more than ever motivated to visit the shala and didn’t want to do my isolated home practice as much. Since then, I’ve gone back to mostly at home practice and I’ll visit the shala for my weekly “tune ups.” I also get excited seeing [other famous yoga teachers and even THE guru] doing workshops in other countries and I think it would be great to visit those countries to take those workshops but then reality kicks in: practicing in a different time zone? spending money on flight/hotel/food and 3-4 days with a teacher who does not know my challenges when i can walk 7 minutes down the street to practice with the teacher who knows when i’m inhaling or exhaling? So you pointing out that one must spend at least a month with paramguru in Mysore absolutely makes sense.

    Practicing day in and day out makes me aware of what kind of Bag Lady I am (my mom is a real-life hoarder so I’m all too aware of how this acts on the mind and physical surroundings) – what extra, non-necessary physical movements & thoughts invade what can otherwise be a simple task. Routine is underrated.

    Love this post much.

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