Ashtanga: the Yoga of Purification.

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Working Through Physical & Emotional Discomfort in the Practice of Yoga.

“The practice of yoga is a slow retraining of our bodies and minds to make ourselves comfortable with the scary places inside and outside of ourselves.”

Yoga purifies the mind and body…by asking you to develop deep self-knowledge.

When you unite with the deepest part of yourself, an incontrovertible understanding of not only your own life, but all life takes root. The highlights along the path of yoga are epiphany moments where your higher self is revealed to you—moments that blossom between your breath, your posture and point of attention. This three-pronged approach is the pinnacle of the Ashtanga Yoga method that I learned from my teacher Sri. K. Pattahbi Jois, whom I called Guruji.

Guruji taught that regular yoga practice cleanses the area around the spiritual heart and removes the six poisons of kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), matsarya (envy) and mada (sloth). He was a believer in the benefits of daily practice as the main method for practitioners to experience the benefits of yoga. In order to remove these poisons, you have to practice with strong determination in order to awaken layers of accumulated patterns.

This is done through daily practice of all the eight limbs of the Ashtanga yoga path. When this integrated approach to spiritual development is in place, the inner fire of purification, called agni in Sanskrit, is ignited and literally burns through unhealthy habits, physical toxins and emotional hang-ups.

Studying and memorizing the Yoga Sutras, Sanskrit words or contemporary philosophy alone will not give you peace. Information is not knowledge. Guruji always emphasized the necessity of experiencing the effects of a daily practice within your own practice, body and life. Only in this way can students integrate the wisdom of the sacred, eternal teachings of yoga into daily life and “get,” firsthand, the empowering self-knowledge that is the essence of yoga.

Yoga transforms us not by demanding change, but by inspiring change from within—and it is daily practice that provides the breeding ground for this phenomenal transformation.

Anything really meaningful in life usually comes at the expense of a little hard work, and yoga’s great promise of transformation is no different.

Most practitioners feel is that yoga is hard and demanding. The reason the exercises, practices and observances are so challenging is because true self knowledge demands it, and our attachments to the six poisons are deeply entrenched. Before the brilliance of life can be felt, there is often a sort of due diligence that needs to be taken through the doldrums of these obstacles. Attachment, anger, delusion, envy, laziness and other detrimental states of being must be understood and transcended before we can know lasting peace. We all have a place inside of ourselves that we are not one hundred percent comfortable with. We have all done things that we are not completely proud of. And we have all fears, insecurities and idiosyncrasies that we hide from the world.

The practice of yoga is a slow retraining of our bodies and minds to make ourselves comfortable with the scary places inside and outside of ourselves. Yoga can be the first step along an arduous path towards unconditional acceptance of all life, including our own.

On many of my trips to Mysore, students would often share their elaborate stories of discomfort with Guruji.

The majority of the time, he would say “Pain good.”

The second book of the yoga sutras begins with an axiom that defines a key element of yoga practice as accepting pain as help for purification, known in Sanskrit as tapah. The only way that the inner fire of purification, agni, works is if you learn to stay in it and not run away. The natural human response to pain is fear, avoidance and denial, yet yoga uses pain as a method of awakening. By learning to accept pain within the safe space of yoga, you learn to create a pause between the stimulus of pain and the response in your body and mind that wants to run away. In that powerful pause you are able to choose your course of action instead of being driven by reactionary patterns from the past. The store of accumulated reactionary patterns amount to what is called in Sanskrit the samskaras and these set ways of being, reacting and running create the negative karma that adversely affects our lives.

So yoga teaches you how to react painful situations as opportunities for growth, expansion and success and thus you learn not to run away. If your tendency is to focus on the problem when it arises yoga retrains your mind to focus on the solution. If you run away from pain yoga teaches you how to accept it and then move through it. While you might not want any type of pain in your life, the truth is that pain is pretty much unavoidable. There will always be a squeaking thing you could do without, a person who aggravates you or a life situation that saddens you. Yoga gives you the unique chance to change your reaction patterns and thereby tap into an eternal, abiding peace. The stability of the dedicated yoga practitioner means that peace is possible to experience regardless of what circumstances arrive at the doorstep. In other words you can lesson the impact of the six poisons and the samskaras by accepting pain and practicing true kriya yoga when pain comes so that you will experience a more peaceful life.

While the acceptance of pain as help for purification is sometimes the most difficult step to take along the journey of yoga it is one that will help you move through pain, suffering and injury into healing, peace and joy. After you maintain a steady yoga practice over a long period of time the immeasurable benefits begin flowing through your life. Yoga gives you direction and pointers to show you how to excavate layers of yourself hidden below dirt, debris and toxins, and in doing so you experience the deep peace that is inherent in your nature. Whenever there is tension, stress and unhappiness it is because the connection to your higher self has been lost in the sea of the six poisions and the samskaras. In order for you to transcend these unhappy states of being and experience the true luminosity of self-realization you must first accept the inevitable pains of life as help for purification. Yoga reconnects you with your inner world so that you can make contact with the indescribable space of ultimate knowingness where transformation happens.

Watch a Preview of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series:

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Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor is an international yoga teacher, author of four books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, co-founder of Miami Life Center, co-fouder of Yoga Challenge and OmStars. Kino’s dharma is to help people experience the limitless potential of the human spirit through the inner tradition of yoga. She is one of the few people in the world of yoga to embrace both the traditional teaching of India’s historic past and the popular contemporary social media channels. You can find her teaching classes and workshops all over the world and on Kino Yoga Instagram with over one million followers and on Kino Yoga YouTube channel with over 100 million views. With more than 17 years of experience in Ashtanga Yoga, she is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India and practice into the Fifth Series of Ashtanga Yoga. Practice with Kino online at OmStars.

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anonymous Dec 27, 2012 6:31pm

[…] so it would be with many postures thereafter. Each new challenge presented was like a mountain, with me sitting at the base looking up and thinking, […]

anonymous Aug 12, 2012 9:52am

[…] are designed to strip away every protective layer that you may have accumulated in order to reveal the inner purity at the heart of your […]

anonymous Jun 27, 2011 11:16am

[…] […]

anonymous May 18, 2011 1:32pm

[…] […]

anonymous May 2, 2011 4:24pm

[…] to hang out with. I am inspired by the open-hearts of the Anusara Yogis, the dedication of the Ashtanga Yogis, and the approachability of the Viniyoga Yogis. I always feel a little like I did after a night of […]

anonymous Jan 27, 2011 12:35pm

[…] […]

anonymous Nov 19, 2010 12:45am

[…] too distracted by the search for this cable or that charger or their glasses to pay yoga any mind. Ashtanga is a quiet practice in a bustling place; it’s only loud when you’re […]

anonymous Nov 4, 2010 12:57pm

[…] I started my Ashtanga primary series in a foul mood after trying to write the day’s chapter and failing to find words in the face of […]

anonymous Sep 23, 2010 10:18am

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anonymous Aug 5, 2010 7:21am

[…] daily practice of yoga gives us ample ground to test out the hypothesis of an infinite […]

anonymous Apr 27, 2010 10:57am

[…] Edinburgh workshop at Union Yoga in our April newsletter which was attended by a Brighton Ashtangi. This rather interesting article by Kino has also been making it’s way around the web and is definitely worth a read. It’s on […]

anonymous Apr 23, 2010 1:23pm

Pain in life is unavoidable, at least until the karma is burnt… though yoga shouldn't necessarily be creating any more. Love they body i say!

anonymous Apr 22, 2010 2:47pm

Inspired…endurance is something I struggle with daily. This article is no doubt something I will think about in my yoga practice tomorrow to push myself to the next step. Thank you!

anonymous Apr 18, 2010 2:58pm

Wonderful presentation of the larger context of the practice.

anonymous Apr 16, 2010 1:01pm

[…] Ashtanga: The Yoga of Purification | elephant journal […]

Bob Weisenberg Apr 15, 2010 1:24pm

Hi, Kino. Great to see you here on Elephant Journal.

For those of you who aren't aware of it, Kino was one of the contributors to a book I had the pleasure of co-editing:

Yoga in America–In the Words of Some of Yoga's Most Ardent Teachers

Bob Weisenberg

anonymous Apr 15, 2010 2:24am

Nice article .. I am a beginner and enjoy doing yoga daily .. and I would keep on as I feel the difference!! Thanks Kathryn for posting on fb..

anonymous Apr 14, 2010 6:57pm

Thank you for such a beautifully written article! If you can’t make it to one of Kino’s classes or workshops, please check out one of her full-length classes online on YogaVibes at

anonymous Apr 14, 2010 11:05pm

This could not have been more prudent to me, given the last few days. I've been off the mat for long enough. Thanks for breaking down why it is so important to remain in the pain and learn from it, as opposed to avoiding, denying, and forgetting. Much appreciated..keep up the good work

anonymous Apr 14, 2010 9:41pm

hooray kino! so happy to see your name on elephant.
much love, sister. . .
xo kathryn