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Who Is Showing Up To Do The Yoga?

I follow Thug Yoga on Facebook because the posts make me chuckle. It’s funny…to me. This morning, Thug Yoga posted the above picture.  The first thing that came to my mind was, “hell yeah” but then I went into inquiry mode. So as not to bore you. Inquiry is a yogic contemplation technique.

The inquiry was, “who is the you that is showing up?”  Para Yoga teacher, Rod Stryker, says,

Yoga can make you more neurotic or less neurotic depending on how you practice it.


Not only is it important to show up on the mat, but it is important to show up on the mat with the right attitude and intention. The yoga practice is going to give you what it is in your heart. It is a mistake to think that yoga is just physical. In my 13 or so years of getting on my mat by myself doing my own practice, practicing beside others in studios and watching others practice as a teacher, I have witnessed that a person’s mental state on the mat is a doorway to the nervous system. The nervous system is the gate keeper of the asana practice.



 Personality Traits And The Affect on the Practice


Rigidity/Hardness-A person who has hardened their heart, usually in an attempt to protect themselves from getting hurt physically or mentally, usually has trouble with flexibility. In an attempt to protect, the body becomes overly stiff and the deep openings that need to happen, for example, in the shoulders for binds or in the upper thoracic for backbending, are a challenge.  If they harden their heart against humans, the relationship with the teacher is usually one of  distrust or skepticism. This causes a slow adaptation of the teacher’s advice or a shunning of assistance and touch which may cause a slow progression in the practice. On the flip side, they excel in strength and have very stable practices.

Emotional- A person whose emotions are  unpredictable and uncontrolled usually has a problem with knowing when to be strong and when to soften.  Their practice is totally at the whim of how they woke up that morning…..that is if they get on their mat at all. If they are sad, the practice falls apart. If they feel weak, their practice lacks stability. If they are angry, they throw themselves in and out of postures with no regard for alignment, breath or bandhas. Everyone has good and bad days and most of us spend our practice days somewhere in the middle place of not perfect but in the end it feels good and it got done. For the extremely emotional person, their bad days are really really bad and their good days are really really good. They don’t have much of a middle. If they land on their mats in a good place more than bad, the practice progresses well.



Driven-A person who is extremely driven is intent on conquering the asana and progresses quickly. However, they often have a “by any means necessary” type of mindset that results in  taking short cuts like jumping back on the finger tips, shallow breathing  and bypassing certain openings and relying on their work ethic to get where they feel they need to be.   They do a lot of extra poses and  “after noon” practices and experience excessive soreness and or frequent little tweaks and or injuries. Though they progress quickly, when they do hit a road block, it is huge and almost practice destroying.  The road block usually occurs because they bypassed the skills in previous poses, that are needed for the ego crusher they are stuck on. It is practice destroying because instead of softening and going back to get the needed skills, they continue to push and wind up with a major injury. Often they quit and move on to something else because anything they can’t push through is “obviously not for them”. If they continue in the practice without softening, the injuries are frequent and they take a long time to heal. Driven people often have injuries that last for years.

Shame/Unworthiness- People who hold a lot of shame or feelings of unworthiness around their hearts tend to put their teachers on pedestals, wrap their practice in a blanket of shame and have problems figuring out the right amount of  effort and surrender for the practice.  If they are lucky, they have a good teacher who will use the relationship as an opportunity to guide the student to a place of strength and confidence. If they are unlucky, the teacher will take advantage of them. They need constant reassurance and feed back from the teacher. If they don’t get assisted or touched, they feel that the class was not worth it. After practice, they often talk about all the things they didn’t do right. Their disappointment is palpable in the room. With a good teacher, they find confidence and progress easily because their teachers words are gospel and they follow them without question. With a bad teacher, they spiral deeper into the depths of shame and usually quit the practice. Even if the teacher is good, if the teacher shows too much of their humanity, the student feels let down and spirals as well. In extreme cases, they demonize yoga or the role of yoga teachers in a very public way.


Analytical- Analytical people are very similar to driven people. They often progress very quickly but wind up hitting a road block because the non physical dimension cannot be analyzed. Analytical people understand alignment and anatomy and often have stable, beautiful practices. Eventually, they come in contact  with a pose that defies their logic or that they logic themselves right out of.  Ashtanga has some crazy poses. Analytical people need for all the poses to make sense from a physical level and a lifestyle level. They need the poses to translate to what they feel are logical needed results. However, yoga is meant to touch you on the energetic  and spiritual dimension.  An Ashtanga teacher once said, “what if being impossible was the whole point?”  What if the point is to go beyond the realm of the mind and approach it from the infinite realm of energy and spirit? Analytical people often experience road blocks at the really crazy poses that require deep hip opening like Leg Behind the Head or deep backbending poses like catching or Kapotasana. They often can’t get beyond the mental idea that these poses are unnatural and unnecessary which creates a block in the nervous system. Analytical people often hold themselves back when the teacher actually wants to move them forward in the sequence.  The poses they actually do, are often beautiful and look effortless because their analytical minds have them fully figured out!! This is that person who has the most amazing Primary or half Second Series you have ever seen and you totally don’t understand why they aren’t doing more. This is why.

Balanced- The balanced practitioner has a healthy relationship with themselves and the world around them. They believe that the world is intrinsically good but people in pain are capable of doing bad things. Instead of hardening their hearts, they keep their eyes open for signs of foul play and take action accordingly.  They are not afraid of emotions because they understand they are natural but they don’t fall apart easily.  They are enthusiastic and set goals but they know when to go back to the drawing board and  formulate a plan b. They pick teachers that they can trust enough to surrender too. However, they stay present and are aware when the boundaries of the teacher student relationship are getting blurred and address it accordingly. They are confident but not cocky.They are smart about how they practice but don’t over analyze.



Yoga Sutras Verse 1:3 states, “then the seer abides in his own true nature.”  In a perfect world, we would get on our mat as the Self, an empty vessel present to receive the gifts of the practice. We would abide in this and know that every practice was exactly what was needed because it can’t be other that what it was! Ashtanga teacher, Kino MacGregor, once said in a workshop,

“if you could do the pose, you would be doing it.”

She went on to explain that if the pose is not happening, there is something that is keeping it from happening. Keep practicing intelligently and with an open heart and it will be revealed to you.

For us mere humans, it is not always possible to step on the mat with that level of openness.  The next best thing, is stepping on your mat anyway , regardless of how you woke up that morning…with the exception of fever…then practice is contraindicated.  The next step is becoming aware of how your thoughts effect your nervous system and the outcome of the practice. The next step is using that awareness to allow change to happen within you. Slowly you discover how to not just show up on the mat but to truly show up as YOU, the infinite, the being that understands Lila, or the play of life. Joyfully embracing the practice and everything that goes with 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

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