Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: Teach Me About Your Faith by What’s In Your Heart


Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:41-Purity brings clarity/luminosity, happiness, concentration, mastery of the senses, and the capacity for Self awareness.

Defining the Sutra: 

Purity of the mind and heart makes us clear, luminous and happy which results in the ability to concentrate, master the senses and become self aware.

Modern Day Application:

Ashtanga Yoga teacher, Sharath, says that, if we practice the first four limbs of Yoga, the last four happen automatically.  Patanjali is saying something similar here. If we are pure in heart, thought, body and deed, we become fit for awakening to the Self. Some of the signs of Saucha are happiness, clarity, the ability to concentrate and mastery of our senses.

The purpose of Ashtanga Yoga is purification. Fancy asanas and poses are not the hallmark of a dedicated Ashtangi. We can tell, that an Ashtanga practice is working, because the practitioner is luminous, clear, happy, focused and has control over their responses to sensual stimuli such as food, drugs, and sex.  Your Yoga teacher should have these traits or at least be actively working towards attaining them. How can they give you something they don’t have or are not working towards themselves? If you just want pretty poses and a hot body, I guess you can just pick those traits. However, Patanjali is clear that this is not the purpose of Yoga.  These are just side effects.

Why It is Important

Can you remain luminous in the face of suffering? Sounds impossible right? Nelson Mandela did it.  When he was imprisoned for 27 years for fighting against apartheid in South Africa, he could have totally become despondent and given up. He could have stopped fighting for equal rights for people of color in Africa. He could have become dark and evil. Instead, he won the Nobel Peace prize and became president of South Africa.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear-Nelson Mandela

Maya Angelou was a prostitute, a teenage mother, and a victim of domestic violence. She went through darkness but she did not lose her luminosity.  She became a lauded American poet and author. Take a moment to watch the video below. Maya Angelou talks about Saucha in her own words, “Just Do Right” and how it effects the world and our lives.


I used these two examples because, when many people think of “happiness”, they often envision a life that can only be obtained in advertisements, romantic comedies,  commercials or Hallmark cards.  The Yoga Sutras are very clear that most of us are going to deal with our fair share of dukha/suffering.  However,  luminosity is an inside job and not dictated by our external circumstances. This luminosity or “sattva suddhi”can still be within us when everything around us is falling apart.

Have you experienced it? Have you seen the person who has cancer or a serious illness but yet they shine like the sun? The video below is of a homeless man in Charlotte, my neck of the woods, named Moses. Moses made it his personal ministry to let people know that someone out there cares for them. It would have been easy for him to lose his luminosity but he made a different choice.

Teach me about your faith by what’s in your heart-Moses

I am not saying that any of these people are Yogis. Maybe they are. Maybe they are not. However, we can all enjoy the side effects of  “just do right” or purity. We can make our hearts luminous and become agents of joy in the world.


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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