Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras for Modern Life: Have You Reached the Top of the Yoga Ladder?

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:1:51 –The mind reaches a state when it has no impressions of any sort. It is open, clear, simply transparent. This is called Nirabija Samadhi. 


Defining the Sutra: This is the final Samadhi or the highest Samadhi. In this state, the mind is 100% under the Yogi’s control. For example, I keep my computer on 24/7. I never unplug it or turn it off. When it is idle, it goes into power saving mode. When I am ready to actively engage with my computer, I wiggle the mouse or tap the keyboard, put in my password and I start working.


Like a computer, the yogi only engages with the mind when there is an activity where thought is needed. They only pull from the memory, when they need to reference back to complete a task. They only think about future when doing activities like setting appointments, planning events or purchasing airline tickets.  When they don’t need the mind, it goes into power saving mode or nirodhah. The fluctuations in the mind field come to stillness.  This is permanent and unattached to an object or technique.

Modern Day Application

The most important aspect, of this Samadhi, is that it is objectless. No techniques and no yoga practice is needed to maintain it. There is no backsliding. It is there to stay. This is what some people term as enlightenment. The Yoga practice is not over until this state is achieved.


A laziness often comes about when people feel they have reached the pinnacle of Yoga. Now that they own a Yoga studio, have certification/authorization, conduct teacher training, can Handstand or open up Light on Yoga or Dharma Mitra’s 608 Yoga poses and do anything that they point to, the path of Yoga becomes hazy. The mind says, “that is for them. I can do what I want.” However, the path of Yoga does not come to an end until this permanent cessation occurs. This is the only state in which we are liberated from being controlled by our thoughts, our environment, our emotions and other people.

Why It is Important?

Yoga can make you more neurotic or less neurotic, depending on how you practice it-Rod Stryker

If we have not reached this state of Samadhi where we recognize that our peace is not tied to our thoughts , other people’s thoughts of us, the past, or our material possessions and we don’t stay vigilant, the ego’s hold usually tightens. I am convinced that this is the reason for all scandal in the Yoga world.  When Yoga teachers, Yoga celebrities and studio owners reach, what they feel is, the pinnacle in their popularity or their asana attainment, they stop doing the inner work.  Like an untended garden, the weeds take over.


This is why the Yoga Sutras tell us to have a Guru, an object of meditation, a power greater then ourselves, a teaching or to read the ancient texts. A fire is not capable of burning itself. When we are consumed by our own self created drama and hype, 99.9% of the time, it takes an outside force to turn the movie off long enough for us to see the blank screen it is playing on.

Many people say that we  don’t need a teaching. We can be our own teacher. We only need to look inward. That is true. However, if we could maintain that state, we would be doing it already. We would just be free. We would just be.  To be in this world and to stand completely in  our truth, by ourselves, with no help, takes living in a state where our attachment to thoughts, the past, other people, emotions and our fear of death and loss is suspended. This is  Nirbija Samadhi. Without maintaining that state, there is always a chance of getting lost. The Yogi is trying to reach this state in the shortest time possible. Which takes the least amount of time, just making random turns until you reach the mall or asking someone for directions?


Most people stop following a teaching, stop studying, stop meditating, stop practicing, right when they are at the most crucial point of their transformation.

“Enlightenment is a destructive process. It
has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the
crumbling away of untruth. It’s seeing
through the facade of pretence. It’s the
complete eradication of everything we
imagined to be true.”



We get to a point where the power of Yoga becomes a huge wave that is poised to destroy all untruth. Instead of allowing that to happen, we try and harness the energy of it and channel it into egoic pursuits. We build a surf board and ride it. We build a power station and make electricity with it. The beauty of the ocean is underneath the wave. It is at the lower depths. We have to be willing to get off our surf board and dive in.

Instead we get caught up in our siddhis, (super powers) that Yogi’s receive from having a strong Yoga practice. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali strongly cautions against this. The purpose of the practice is not a hot body, fame, fortune and power. Anyone who stops here and sees six pack abs, being on the cover of Yoga Journal, certification, a mega studio, money and fame as the pinnacle, certainly stepped off the path of Yoga long ago or maybe never got on it.  These are side effects. These side effects are modern day siddhis. Though the practitioner is certainly worthy of these fruits and should enjoy their sweetness, it is not the end. When the practitioner no longer fears the loss of power, fame, fortune, a hot body, certification or the hottest yoga studio on the block, they are more likely to be closer to the pinnacle of Yoga.

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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