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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: When You Have Doubts About Your Yoga Practice

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali  1:30: Obstacles on the path of yoga are sickness, dullness, doubt


Defining the Sutra

We will continue to look at the sutra on obstacles and move on to doubt. For previous sutras, please go here. There is nothing wrong with not knowing. There is nothing wrong with researching. There is nothing wrong with trying and experiencing many different options.  However, to make any gains, you eventually have to settle on something.  For example, if you doubt your career choice  and you go back to school and study business a little while, law a little while, and then education a little while, you will have interesting experiences and learn a lot, but you will never get a degree unless you settle down and finish a program.

Doubt keeps us from receiving the full benefit of our yoga practice because we stay in a state of non commitment, waffling and uncertainty. In order to receive the full benefits of the practice, you have to trust it.



A conversation on doubt has to come with a conversation on faith. The yoga sutras is very clear that yoga cannot happen without faith.

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

Yoga Sutras of Patajali 1:20 Samadhi is proceeded by faith, strength, memory, contemplation or by discernment.


The type of faith that yoga asks for is faith that comes from direct experience. Yoga asks us to practice long enough to build faith. How  do we grow in faith? Here are a few words from Sadhguru of Isha Yoga that I love.


Faith is not something that you can cultivate. If it happens to you, it happens, if it doesn’t happen to you it doesn’t happen, that’s all. Does it mean to say ‘I have to just sit and wait and someday it will fall upon me’? No, it is just that if you understand the fundamentals of living here, in this existence you will see, for anything to happen, you must create the right kind of situation.

You want to grow cotton, you must understand what are the right conditions for growing cotton. If you go sit there near a cotton plant and pray to God, cotton will not bloom! If you just learn what are the right conditions for the cotton plant to grow, how the soil should be, how the manure should be, how the atmosphere should be, how the water should be, if you understand these conditions and create them, cotton will grow.

This is the basis of everything that is happening in the Existence – if you create the right kind of conditions, it will happen. If you do not create the right kind of conditions, it doesn’t matter how much you struggle, it’s not going to happen. So, if faith has to happen, for that also you must create the right kind of condition.

What is the condition necessary for faith? Jesus said, ‘Come follow me’. That’s his teaching, if you really look at it, all the other things don’t matter. The most fundamental of his teaching is: ‘Come, follow me’, that’s all. When he said this, the great scholars of that time, the intellectual, the educated, the powerful, did not follow him. It’s only the fishermen, and the farmers who followed him, because the thinking minds cannot follow anybody. They cannot, it’s not possible. Only the simple and innocent could follow him. Even these fishermen, these simple folks, even they walked a few steps behind him and then, they said ‘My father is dead, I’ll bury him and come’.

Jesus sounds so arrogant. For people who don’t understand, he is very arrogant. He said, ‘Leave the dead to the dead, you come.’ Your father is dead, this man speaks like this. When your father is dead, what a thing to say! But, that’s what he said. So, only the very simple and innocent followed him. Others ignored him. Those who could not ignore him, crucified him. That’s all that happened.

Faith is only for the innocent. Don’t believe that you are innocent. The moment the modern education has entered you, you have a thinking mind, a questioning mind, a doubting mind. With this you cannot follow the path of faith. Does it mean to say faith is impossible for you? No, but don’t start with something that you don’t have, start with something that you have right now.

Whatever is dominant in you ‘ right now you’re a thinking person, let’s use that; right now you’re a very physical person, let’s use that; right now you have a very strong sense of energy, let’s use that; lets say right now you have lots of emotions in you, let’s use that. But all the four need to be cultivated and used. If you come to a certain level of experience, then devotion becomes a natural part of you. If you try to be devote you will become deceptive; this devotion is just deception.

Faith is something which is within you. It’s your quality, it is something that you become, it is not something that you believe in. Faith is just a deep falling back into the Existence; you as a person have fallen apart; you have just become like a simple little wave with the Existence. You understand and you experience that you’re just a brief happening here. This moment it’s up, the next moment it’ll be down. It is not an intellectual understanding, it’s a living experience that you just see yourself as a small outcrop of this earth. When you’re like this as a living experience, then you are faith, until then there is no point talking about faith.

The faithfulness that you’re talking about is simply loyalty. That’s for slaves and idiots. People who talk loyalty are always people whose vested interest is how to hold you. It’s a device to hold you. Faith is not a device to hold you, faith is about liberating you. Faith is not about holding you, not about being for this group or that group. Faith is just to become a part of this Existence. That is not something that you do, that is something that you become.


Modern Day Application: The Effects of Doubt on a Yoga Practice

Below are a few behaviors that happen when we doubt and the price we pay in our yoga practice.

Jumping from teacher to teacher-I can’t speak for all teachers, but in the Ashtanga tradition, Ashtanga teachers have a clear concise path for their dedicated students. The teacher understands the student’s weakness, strengths, body, injuries, and mental state and comes up with a long term plan to help them thrive in their practice. When you jump from teacher to teacher, each teacher has to learn your practice again and come up with another plan. This slows down progress.

Jumping from one style of yoga to another-When we jump from one yoga style to another, information starts to conflict and we wind up with even more doubts.    Is headstand bad for me or not? Do I need to sit and meditate or is asana a form of meditation?  Should I micro bend my knees or keep them straight?  Is forward folding after a backbend bad for my back? Should I practice in a hot room or a cool room? Is yoga a workout, a religion or a science?  The more doubt we have, the less likely we are to commit to the process and see the full benefits of yoga.

“Many teachers, crazy making, one teacher, shantih is coming.” Pattabhi Jois


Picking, choosing and combining elements from different styles, series, methods and teachers.

Trying to combine different methods is like trying to combine different medications. Without a through understanding of chemistry and the human body, combining medications can lesson their potency or worse, result in serious adverse effects. The same is true for yoga. Each method  is arranged to systematically and safely lead us through the path of yoga. When we change things without a full understanding of the energetic and physical effects and how they holistically work together with the breath, other poses, the body, the nervous system, and our mind, we can experience adverse effects.


“One doctor curing, two doctors deathing”-Pattabhi Jois


Over Thinking 

Doubts cause over thinking which zaps the joy from our practice and our life. When we over think, we lose the ability to be fully present for the experience. It it hard to enjoy a relationship, when we have doubts about our partner. It is hard to enjoy cake when we have doubts about it safety. It is hard to  fully experience our practice and receive all of its benefits if we don’t even believe that it works.


Why It is Important

Doubt is a healthy part of the self discovery process. Being in a place where we feel comfortable with not knowing everything can actually help us to be more present, humble and accepting of situations outside of our control. Being okay with not knowing can open us up to experiences that only those with a non cluttered, innocent and curious heart can see.  Not knowing is fine. In this Sutra, doubt goes a little deeper then not knowing.  It is talking about the unsettling kind of doubt you feel when you think your lover is cheating on you or your preacher is lying to you. This type of doubt cuts deep and eats at us like a cancer. It steals our joy and holds our life hostage. This is the type of doubt that needs to be uprooted if we are to progress in our yoga practice and in our lives.  This is the doubt we have to remove if we wont to be happy, free and feel love.


 Don’t Forget the Love of Food and Yoga Giveaway. Learn how to eat in a way that supports your practice. Giveaway ends October 21, 2015

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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