Are we Giving Up on Yoga as a Spiritual Path?

I got this comment today on my sister blog, Wellness From Inside, and it saddened me. This is just a piece of a bigger question on spirituality and its place in yoga.

 I practice a lot because I enjoy it, and have to if I want to get anywhere with ashtanga. I think I gave up thinking it is a path to enlightenment a long time ago. Take a look at most teachers, clearly not enlightened.

So many things came up for me. One of them was

Are we as  teachers failing our students?

When I first started practicing over a decade ago, it was understood that yoga was a physical and spiritual practice and that teachers were either on the 8 limbed  path or striving to get on it one day.

Picture from twosistersjourney.wordpress.com

Now that is not the case. Many teachers are completely physical and have no desire to embark on that path.  Now many students are not being exposed to the other limbs at all. For those that are being exposed, many students do not view them as important because they are not important to their teachers.

Are we really teaching yoga if we don’t talk about the other 7 limbs? If we are not teaching our students how to silence the ego and overcome it, are we really teaching yoga? If we ourselves are not working to get rid of our ego, are we really yoga teachers? Are we really failing to teach our students yoga?

The second thing that came up is, are we giving up on the spiritual path? 

That would be even worse.

If people of the world maintained these five basic principles it would be a very different place, free from violence, terrorism, corruption, addiction and sexual abuse.From The First Limb of Patanjalis Noble Eight Fold Path

Every single scandal in the yoga community could have been prevented just by adherence to the yamas and niyamas. Go ahead. Try and come up with one thing negative going that has nothing to do with the yamas and niyamas.



The Yamas and Niyamas are the checks and balances of the system of yoga. There is tremendous power even in the physical practice of yoga. The Yamas and Niyamas ensure that the power is directed properly. Giving up on the spiritual path of yoga is giving up on balance in yoga.  It is welcoming all the negativity in with open arms.


What do you think about these questions? Comment below

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The opinions of the author are not necessarily the opinions of APP contributors.

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.

One Comment

  • Scott

    I’m glad somebody brought this up, it’s a bit of a thing with me.

    First of all, I think you’re absolutely right, none of the major scandals would have happened if people had followed the yamas and niyamas.

    I am a solitary practitioner, so I’m only exposed to what people say on these blogs, but I do disagree that people aren’t talking about this. I think lots of them are talking about the 8 limbs. That’s the problem, they’re just talking about it.

    When I started in the 1970s, asana was widely considered as a way to prepare the body for meditation and spiritual practice, to release the tension and tone the muscles so you could sit. And of course for lots of people, it was about being healthy, fit and attractive of course. Now, though, especially with Ashtanga, it seems to be an end in itself. If only I could get past kapo… People seem to think they and their problems are real, and not only are they unable to transcend them, they seem to be unaware that they could trancend them, or that there’s a reason to.

    I think Yoga, and especially Ashtanga, can give one a tremendous boost in their spiritual practice, but if that’s all there is, I don’t think so. Not that everybody needs meditation, but for most of us who aren’t spontaneously awake, we need to do the work. And exercise just won’t do it, by itself.

    I don’t doubt the tremendous talent and genius in the Jois family but I’ve seen no indication that they are particularly awake, or even care about it. I feel that much of the rhetoric surrounding Yoga is “spiritual lite,” it sounds good, but doesn’t get much beyond platitudes about living one’s life. And so, people who are largely fixated on their bodies remain so.

    Perhaps I’m too harsh, and I”m not immune to all this, but I see little indication of true spiritual intent in the Ashtanga community. Maybe I expect too much.

    Just my two cents.

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