Alignment and Injuries,  Ashtanga Quotes,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy

The Magic Happens When Your Yoga Practice Sucks

Unfortunately, the magic happens when it sucks. This is why the yogis and Patanjali told us to practice consistently. They knew that we needed to come face to face with the suckiness and often.  I am not talking about pain from injuries. I am talking about the suckiness of being uncomfortable. The suckiness of wanting to be anywhere but on that mat. When it sucks, the biggest opportunity for transformation occurs. History shows us this. When we hear stories of huge internal life shattering transformations, it is usually prefaced by a heart wrenching story that sucks.

For something to transform, it need to hit its “boiling point”. The boiling point is where the pressure to remain the same is equal to the pressure to change. It is impossible to stay at that point. The pain of it is too much. Like water at its boiling point, you either have to transform  into vapor, something lighter and more unified with the air around you , or you step away from the heat and return back to being plain water.

Our practice is there to take us to the boiling point. The point of transformation into vapor and than gas. The air we breathe is made up of gases. The air we breathe cannot be seen with the naked eye but its power cannot be denied. We cannot live without it but it is one with everything and even without being seen maintains its strong impact on the world.

Our practice is asking us to be like air. Powerful but not forceful. Important on its own but unified. Light enough to move through the world gently but still being impactful.



Yet, there is fear in being that light. Indeed water is powerful in its current state. Why not steer clear of the boiling point and still be great? Because the fact that the pressure is there means that it is time to be ligther. It is time to let go of the bondage of conditioned thought, samsara hala hala, and experience the world with a lightness that comes only from being non attached.

“Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet


The pain is not coming from the practice. The pain is coming from the attachment to the practice. The pressure and the pain is the bonds of the attachment. Like when someone is bound by rope and they fight against it until the skin is chaffed and bloody. This is the internal struggle of attachment. The bonds are psychological but still just as painful. When we come up against this, we have two choices. We can surrender to the process of transformation or we can go back to being the same.  We often feel that going back to our same life brings us happiness. I will give you a hint.  The fact that this is arising within you shows that change needs to happen. If something is not bothering you, emotions won’t arise within you. Emotions, like the turn signal on a car, are directional indicators. That is why we have them.



Times When You Hit the Boiling Point in The Practice

  • When you are standing on your  mat taking extra breathes because the thought of the next pose that is coming and the  attachment to how it is supposed to look are not the same
  • When you avoid getting on your mat because the pressure of the practice looking a certain way clashes with what it actually looks like
  • When you are pressed for time and the thought of how much time you should spend practicing clashes with how much time you actually have
  • When you want the next pose but your teacher is  not giving it to you
  • When you don’t want the next pose but your teacher is giving it to you
  • When you have had an injury and your thoughts of your old practice are clashing with the reality of this new one
  • When you have convinced yourself that the practice is not for you because the picture in your head does not match what your body is doing
  • When you are debating switching styles of yoga because the pain of being on the mat in the Ashtanga class is just too great
  • When you are sore and the thought of what your practice is going to look and feel like clashes with the story of what you think it should look like
  • When your thoughts of what people are going to think about you are clashing with what you want people to feel about you
  • When the way you feel right now is not in line with how you wanted to feel when you got on the mat
  • When your teacher/pose is taking you deeper than you thought was possible and you don’t want to feel the intensity

The magic happens when your practice sucks. For the transformation to continue, surrender to the discomfort must happen. Then comes grace.  It is indescribable but when you feel it, you know. It is a feeling of openness and receptivity bordering on bliss. It is usually followed by the realization that you actually made it through the thing you felt would crush you and that it was not as bad as your mind made it out to be. You realize that who you are is so much stronger than you ever knew. You know that if you could make it trough that moment, your strength is beyond even your comprehension because life is going to continuously bring you those moments. These moments is what the practice is about. Don’t run from them. Invite them in.

When you realize that every stressful moment you experience is a gift that points you to your freedom, life becomes very kind-Byron Katie



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


  • J. Brown

    I can’t help but take a moment to offer another possible viewpoint. It’s just that your ideas about practice hear are so unforgiving and far from what it is to me.

    You say that my practice needs to take me to a boiling point in order for me to be transformed. But why do I need to be transformed? And into what? I was once a single cell. Then, I multiplied and divided and formed and came put into the world. Now, I am a thinking, feeling being who is having a life. And it is utterly amazing. It is such a wonder that it is beyond my ability to fully comprehend it.

    So, what more do I need to be transformed into?

    Also, I think to make a blanket statement that “the pain is not coming from the practice. The pain is coming from the attachment to practice.” is irresponsible. Because it is absolutely possible to practice in a way that is causing pain. And simply continuing to practice in the same way is not going to undo that. In my experience, that sort of thinking generally leads to hip replacement surgery down the road.

    But more than that, your descriptions of dread and loathing on your mat and having to get through it in order to receive the grace and bliss are, to me, incredibly limiting. I want to suggest that there are other possibilities. That your practice does not need to feel that way.

    My practice feels like my favorite pair of jeans. My practice is an unconditional friend that is often more caring towards me than I would normally be towards myself. It says: “There is nowhere you need to get to. There is nothing in particular that needs to be done. Lets just see how you are today and what we might be able to do to steer your experience in the most favorable direction we can discern” Sure, there are days when my practice also says: “Hey man- you’re slacking. Get it together.” But my practice is my friend and I never dread spending time there.

    Yes, magic often does happen when things are sucking. But practice for me is about being able to have some way to make things suck less. I have found that there is infinitely more magic in the absence of suckiness.

    Perhaps a more nurturing sentiment would be beneficial.
    OM OM

    • admin

      Thank you for your response. By going through the suck on the mat, things do suck less in your real life. The more you deal with your stuff, the less this stuff becomes an issue. Than the stuff dissipates and than you have no stuff. Yoga is a method to deal with the stuff that blocks who you really are so you can get rid of it. After that process is over, you no longer need yoga anymore. It is not self abuse. It is used in the world of therapy all the time. It is called cognitive behavioral therapy and it has an amazing success rate.. If someone is OCD or has a phobia, the therapist purposely puts them in situations where they have to deal with their fear. The reduction in rates of OCD are amazing. Yoga does the same thing.

      You say your practice is your friend. Well a friend lets you know when you are not at your full potential. A friend will be honest with you even if it is painful. That is what the practice is doing.

      • J. Brown

        First, I never used the term “self abuse.” That is coming from you. I merely wanted to suggest that this idea you have about yoga is not the only idea. That there are other possibilities. I also think that you are never going to arrive at place where you “have no stuff.” I think we are always going to have stuff to deal with. And your comparison to cognitive behavioral therapy is a bit of a stretch (pun intended.) I agree that it’s about addressing patterns in ourselves. But CBT is specifically a psychological treatment. And if you are already OCD or a-type, doing more practice that is the same way does not change the pattern. We are also in agreement that friends sometimes have to call you out and hold you to account. And practice does that for me too. But where we part is on the process of how practice does that and this idea of “full potential.” Some people think of yoga being a “cessation” of “mental fluctuations.” And our full potential is to be found there. But others see it more as being able to go in a chosen direction with consistency. Potential does not need to be accomplished. In any case, we don’t have to agree on this. But perhaps you might start replacing the words “we” to “me” or “I” because you just can’t say what yoga is for anyone else. No one has the definitive answer to any of it. And life sucks enough already. Maybe our practice doesn’t need to follow in the same vain. p.s. Maybe you can find a way to let folks subscribe to follow up comments. I decided to check back but would not have know that anyone responded. 🙂

        • R.C

          Interesting conv.

          I’d like to offer that I love the author’s honesty.

          I love my practice but in the cold light of day sometimes it’s harsh…no amount of new age thinking or affirmations of self love are going to transmute the occasional moment of doom.

          I don’t often feel dread but when I do, those thoughts are as real and necessary as the unconditonal thoughts you mention.

          The author is merely acknowledging and bringing everything to the surface to be worked with.

          If your practice is always your friend – great!

          If not – great!

          It’s all necessary.

          Today mine was a challenge – hence the need to re-read the above. 😉

  • Shanna

    Thank you for putting this together in such an entertaining and truthful manner! Well written and very usful to pass along to others struggling in the suckiness.

  • Chris Conn

    From my perspective, this yoga is a process. J. Brown seems to have the first aspect down. Isvara Pranidhana. Surrender to the good, accept what is. It’s primary and sets the context for the next aspect.
    Hatha yoga. Balancing opposites. By it’s very nature this process goes against the grain. It can be uncomfortable and challenging. The article is written from the viewpoint of someone struggling with that process and J. Brown’s comments seem to dismiss this as self abuse.
    His challenging of the “no pain, no gain” ethos polarizes him to the other extreme.
    My question to J. Brown: If your yoga practice is like slipping in to an old pair of well worn jeans then why not ditch the asana and just hang out in your friendly jeans sipping a chai latte?

    • J. Brown

      No. I am not dismissing the authors process of finding balance as self abuse. I am suggesting that there are other, perhaps more resourceful, ways of meeting the challenges that practice presents. Often, there are uncomfortable things that are addressed in practice. But the mindset of dread and powering through is a pattern. And I have found this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is just me though. It is likely different for others. Which is what my point was really about. To your question: Yes. Sometimes my practice is just hanging out and sipping a chai latte. If I am doing well and my life is going in a good way then I don’t necessarily need to do breathing and moving exercises. The jeans metaphor is flawed. But I know for a fact that I can do the same poses in the same order everyday, with the same level of technical precision, and on some days it heals me and on some days it hurts me. And the difference is not the technicalities of the forms but the subtle nuance of what is happening in my experience. This consideration of mindset is where I think the balance is often struck. Before we even get on the mat.

  • carolee

    Hey people… This is very silly to me. It is what it is and if you know how to teach it to others and they think it is helping them more than hurting them we all win. Right???

  • Magdalena

    I could not have put it into words any better than this… this is exactly my experience of having a daily Ashtanga practice. It makes you face your demons, your shadows… and often it is very painful being face to face with who you are… but it’s a huge chance for change!
    Thank you so much for this article:).

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