Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

To Be of Service

“Do what you can to uplift and enlighten people, but never forget your path.”-Babaji, At the Eleventh Hour by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D.

“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and with all earnestness.” Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:14

When many practitioners become teachers, studio owners, and activists, they slowly, over time, stop practicing or practice very little.

This is the worst thing we can do. As leaders in the community, we need the practice more than ever.  When dealing with customers and students, we absorb their energy. We are effected by their stories.  The stories and experiences of our students and community, began to blur with our own. Our practice provides the opportunity to untangle ourselves from those stories. It is an opportunity to detach ourselves from that energy. It is an opportunity to make sure our actions are coming from a clear place.

The Yoga Sutras tells us that, the one who has mastered the Self, practices non attachment. They actively create opportunities to connect to who they are without the burden of other people’s stories. Without the burden of studio overhead. Without the burden of having to save the world.

Without this unburdening, teachers and community leaders run the risk of losing themselves.  In the process of trying to serve others, you don’t serve yourself.  Ultimately, you can wind up not serving anyone. As your mind gets burdened, your actions no longer come from a pure place.  Every yoga teacher, studio owner and activist I know, started out only wanting to be of service.  At some point, bills, competition, scandal, class numbers, and branding starts to overshadow this.  This is usually when the practice starts to fall by the wayside.  An extraordinary amount of energy is needed to shore up the false self, to keep up appearances and to retell our stories over and over again.

The world is ever changing. A lot of energy is needed to fight the reality of change. A lot of energy is needed to keep our image the same in a world where nothing stays the same. To do that, we have to attach to a story and continuously retell it. Yoga is the opposite. This means that if the yoga community comes together through a collective or joined experience of pain, at some point, the relationship should evolve away from a reliance on past events, to one that is rooted in the present moment.

Our practice dislodges everything that is stuck within us. This is also another reason, often unconsciously, practices get dropped. The practice shows you where you are fighting change. If we don’t want to see this, the practice becomes the enemy. It becomes an unwelcome disruption. We are too busy. Too busy maintaining and building our story. Too busy maintaining and building a life that we need to run away from. That we need a vacation, a massage, a Netflix marathon or wine to get away from. We want to get away from it because, we know deep down, that this story is not us. If it was you, you wouldn’t be able to get away from it. To get away from it, means there is two. The story and you.  This dichotomy makes us feel splintered, disjointed and unhappy. The union of yoga is life with no dichotomy.  This is why yoga is a path to happiness. When what we say, do and think is in harmony, we are unified and happy.  We are clear.

Without clarity, we cannot truly be of service. It is like cleaning with a dirty cloth. We smear our own mud in with the mud of others. At first, it seems to work. As our dirt combines, we bond. However over time, we both just wind up more dirty, more bound, and more stressed out.  Not only do we have our own original problems, we have picked up someone else’s too. Together, we become a pile of putrefying , toxic sludge. Codependent.

Codependent relationships are common in the yoga world.  The yoga community often bonds  and unifies over toxic events and environments. Yoga means “union” right?  Not in that context. The Yoga Sutras says that, “at times, the Self appears to take on the appearance of the mind stuff (1:4). This is prevented by practice and non attachment (1:12).  In order to clean up the yoga community, we have to start with a clean mind. Again, you cannot clean effectively with a dirty cloth.  We have to get on our mats and combine practice with non attachment.  From this place, we can be of service.


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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