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Living It - The Niyamas of Yoga

May 11 2021

What are the Niyamas of Yoga?

Join me in this episode as I talked about The Niyamas of Yoga.

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Intro: Welcome to the “Sober Yoga Girl Podcast” with Alex McRobs, international yoga teacher and sober coach. I broke up with booze for good in 2019 and now I'm here to help others do the same. You're not alone and a sober life can be fun and fulfilling. Let me show you how.

Hello, welcome to another episode of "Sober Yoga Girl". I am here. It is Sunday night, just chilling in my apartment. Had this moment today where I was teaching a mindful bar class was a mother's day themed class, so there was all this beautiful music about moms and of course my mom wasn't there because she has fractured her wrist so she hasn't been attending my yoga classes in a while. Anyway, this music came on and it dawned on me. You know, I haven't seen my mom in like 16 months and I started to cry a little bit while I was teaching a yoga class. Whenever I have these moments when I'm like brought to tears, it dawns on me that it is a signal that I need to take time off. So I've gone ahead and I'm trying to rearrange and book off a few days from the Mindful Life Practice so that I can really check out for eat holiday and let go because I am the queen of like overworking, and overworking, and overworking, like I literally-- I can't tell you the last time I had a day off. I teach yoga every single day for the Mindful Life Practice. And if I'm not teaching yoga, when I'm not teaching yoga, you know, I'm writing my memoir, I'm recording podcast episodes, and I'm, you know, having business meetings, having, you know, bookkeeping meetings, having coaching meetings and like, it's all incredible. Like, I'm doing what I love and it's like I'm never working. But that is the biggest problem with me for burnout is that I don't sense it early enough until it hits me and I'm just like, wham! So anyway, that is how I'm doing right now. I'm trying to take some time off for myself to really, really balance things out. Have some Brahmacaria, some moderation. I want to like catch you up on how this past week was for me. So one of the biggest parts of the week was that my yoga teacher training was working on the Yamas of Yoga. So, if you did not listen to last week's episode on Monday where I kind of went over and ran down all of the Yamas of Yoga, Yoga Philosophy, and what they all mean. Highly recommend listening to that one. I am like a huge Yama geek. I can geek out on them for hours. I'm actually going to be designing a course later this year. One more course as if I don't have enough other things to do. But I'm going to do a Yamas and Niyamas course in July and August. Once I'm done my job. I cannot take on another course right now. But the Yamas and the Niyamas are just like ethical and moral commitments that can help us lead a happier and healthier life and I'm going to talk more about them later in this episode. Anyway, I want to tell you about the Yamas so, all week in my yoga teacher training we set each day to focus on one Yama. So we started with Ahimsa which is love and kindness, then we did Satya which is truth, then we practiced Asteya which is non-stealing, then we practiced Brahmacharya which is moderation, and then we practice Aparigraha which is letting go. And I want to tell you a story about Aparigraha which is that-- it's no secret that I am like a messy person and I can't keep track of all of my stuff. I lose everything. You know, every time you probably come to a yoga class with me I'm talking about my lost passport or my lost air pods or my lost hair ties. Anyway, so I have a washroom that is just full of like lotions and shampoos, and like things I don't even use. So, I decided to practice Aparigraha. I would start by emptying out my washroom and getting rid of a bunch of stuff. So anyway, I started cleaning out my washroom. I was collecting all of these lotions and shampoos and conditioners to give away to someone today. And I picked up these jewelry boxes that I thought were empty. And they've been sitting on my shelf like they weren't even hidden in the cupboard. They were literally just sitting on my shelf in plain sight. I've been looking at these jewelry boxes for the past few years. And I always thought that they were just empty boxes on the shelf. So anyway, I picked them up and I shook them and there was jewelry inside of them and they were heavy and they made noise. And so, anyway, I ended up opening up these jewelry boxes and they had these pair of earrings which, by the way, I am like obsessed with this one pair of earrings that I've had for years and when I have lost them over and over again, I have literally gone out and bought them and replaced them. And I've probably bought them and replaced them like three times and then lost them. Anyways, they were in this freaking jewelry box and I've had them lost for about two years. And I think I had hit this point where I was like, you know, I'm gonna stop replacing this lost jewelry if I'm meant to lose them, I'm meant to lose them. Anyway, I found them. They were sitting in these jewelry boxes in plain sight all this time. There's also these two necklaces which my mom gave me which broke and I kept saying, you know, I'm gonna wait until I go back to Toronto because in Toronto I have free jewelry repairs at the little jeweler where she bought these jewelry from. Anyway, it's at the point where, you know, it's been years. I'm not getting back to Toronto anytime soon. Well, maybe if covid ends. Inshallah. Anyway, I just was like, you know what? I just need to figure out how to get this jewelry replaced here. So anyway, that's my little story about Aparigraha, right? You kind of don't want to let go. You want to hold on to things like I didn't want to clean out my washroom of all those things because I thought one day they would become useful. And when I finally started to let go and start to clean out and started to throw things away, that was when I found something that was like so valuable and special to me. So it just kind of shows the value of of letting go. What else went down this week? I had a sober yoga girls brunch and it was another event at Seven Wellness which is a yoga studio and restaurant here in Abu Dhabi. It's actually right around the corner for me on Al Reem Island. It's like absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. And we did a yoga practice, we made these beautiful chakra bracelets which had beads representing all of the chakras, and then we did some singing with Jasmine Taylor who was interviewed in one of the first episodes of Sober Yoga Girl. Anyway, it was a lot of fun and I'm getting super excited for another outdoor event that I'm hosting soon. It is going to be another yoga cruise and the yoga cruise that I hosted a couple weeks ago sold out in like 24 hours. So, super, super pumped about this one. This one's going to be a little different. We're going to practice moonlit yin meditation, we're going to have vegan treats and vegan tea so it's going to be really, really awesome. And what else went on for me this week? Oh my goodness, I had one of the most exciting things happen which is that I got to present a talk for a school in Canada. I was a virtual guest speaker and I told my life story, and I shared my story about substance use and mental health, and my life moving to the middle east. This was such a powerful opportunity for me because when I first quit drinking, I genuinely thought that people would see me as a bad role model. Right? Someone who had problems with drinking in the past. And to be invited by a school and to speak on my substance use, and to feel like I was chosen because I was a good role model, like this was just a huge, huge positive thing for me. So I really, really enjoyed doing it and I'm looking forward to hopefully doing more at more schools. If you're an educator and you're looking for a guest speaker on substance abuse, I would absolutely love to come and talk to your class because it just, it made me so happy doing this talk at this school. So, that happened for me on the weekend and now we're into our third week, I think, of the Philosophy of Yoga. Third, second? Second week of the Philosophy of Yoga, Yoga Teacher Training. So anyway, we have the Niyamas as our focus point for this week and I wanted to spend a bit of time in this episode talking about the Niyamas. So, the Yamas which I spoke about on last week's episode are kind of like our behavior in relationships and our behavior with other people. And the Niyamas, in contrast, are more about the relationship with ourselves. Okay? And they are Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara pranidhana. So we're going to start off with Saucha, and Saucha translates to cleanliness or purity. Right? And so, it's focused on cleaning the body and the mind to help you come towards self-realization. So, Saucha has external and internal practices. Right? Rolf Gates says that, if we want to clean up our rooms, we have to clean up our minds as well. Right? And so, Saucha is all about keeping both our body clean and then also our minds clean. So, kind of removing all our negative thoughts, our jealousy, any of our kind of negative thought cycles, like Saucha is all about getting rid of these as well. And so, I want to tell you what I always think about with the concept of Saucha and this is when I was pretty new to yoga. I was attending a yoga class. And the yoga teacher said in the middle of the class and I had come in, it was like the middle of the summer in Kingston and I'd come in with kind of dirty feet. I was wearing sandals and so there's a bit of dirt on the bottom of my feet and the teacher in the middle of the class said, you know, there's this principle of Saucha. It's called cleanliness. You should never show up at a yoga practice with dirty feet because it's disrespectful to yourself and the teacher and the other students in the room. You know, I struggled with mental health problems, right? I had a lot of anxiety and as soon as I heard this, I interpreted it as like I have made a mistake. I've done something wrong. I'm dirty. And that stuck with me for a long time. I had so much anxiety about my feet in yoga which just seems like the, you know, the wildest thing to me. And so, that's just like a total tangent on any Yama or Niyama. If you're a yoga teacher listening to this, that is not a way that I would recommend teaching a Yama or Niyama, because what it was, was I was already in the middle of a yoga class when I was being told something that I should have done before. Right? And so, if you are trying to introduce someone to a concept like this, like if you are teaching at a yoga studio and you think it's important that people come in with clean feet then that needs to be a sign on the door so that people know that or that needs to be told when you're coming in. You know, I went to another studio in Kuwait where they actually cleaned my feet before the practice and that's a perfect example of like, if you think it's important that people come in with clean feet then you need to teach them that and you can't just tell them in the middle of a class that they've done it wrong. So anyway, that was a learning experience for me on like how I don't want to teach Yamas and Niyamas. But I'm sure, you know, that empathic story behind why that teacher said what they did and they probably weren't trying to make me feel anxious or upset. Kind of circles into, we've been talking a lot about like teaching with in a way that's like not judgey and not insisting that people like all have to do this, this, this, and this. Right? But letting it be open to people's interpretation and experiences. And so, the second sutra is Santosha, and Santosha is about contentment. Right? It's about being at peace in the moment and being content with what we have. And I think that for a lot of my life, I kind of struggled with the whole contentment thing. I was always like, you know, when I get to university then I'll be happy, when I get to high school then I'll be happy, when I go away to summer camp then I'll be happy, when I'm on vacation then I'll be happy, when I move to Kuwait then I'll be happy, when I'm out of Kuwait then I'll be happy, right? And I didn't realize like, that I wasn't living in the moment until probably I maybe started to do it like right after my big experience with depression. I started to realize that, you know, if we're constantly living in the future then we're not experiencing life in the only time it happens, right? Which is right now. And so, Santosha is all about being at peace and being content with what we have. And I've always remembered this Niyama for a different reason. You know, Śaucha, I remembered because I had that really negative experience. Santosha, I remember because when I showed up on my first yoga teacher training, there was another trainer on the training, Katie, and she said to me, I own a yoga studio. And she told me it's called "Santosha" and she explained to me, you know, that means contentment in Sanskrit and that was the first time I had ever heard it. But I think Santosha is all about finding contentment and peace and happiness right here, right now, right not anywhere else. Right here, right now. Something I talked about in my 200-hour training this week was how-- there's also kind of a level of understanding you have to have around the concept of contentment and understanding that not every situation you're going to be able to find contentment within, right? Does that make sense? So like, for example, when I was in Kuwait, Kuwait is a great country. I don't want to put down Kuwait itself. But for me personally, within that country and that work environment and that living environment and, you know, my mental health which wasn't being treated and my using alcohol, I could not find contentment no matter what I did in that scenario. Right? I had to leave because it was just not the right scenario for me. It wasn't working for me. And I think that, that's a really important differentiation to be able to have, right? The goal is to be able to find contentment in the moment but I don't want you to force yourself to stay in an unhealthy or toxic or unhappy situation because you're like, you know, I have to be able to find contentment here because that's just not going to be possible sometimes and life is about knowing when to leave and when to stay, right? So the goal is finding contentment in the moment but also having this awareness that this moment might not bring you contentment and that's okay. Sutra number three or Niyama number three is Tapas, and Tapas was one of the hardest ones for me to understand, okay? It's about enthusiasm, effort self-discipline, zeal, austerity, okay? And I was like, what does this mean? I don't understand. And then someone once gave me a metaphor for it that it's like a fire, okay? We have to keep putting kindling and wood on a fire in order for the fire to build. Perfect example, when I moved to Kuwait, I was about an hour long drive from the nearest yoga studio. And so, I wasn't practicing yoga every day. And I kind of had this idea in my head of like, you know, I've done all this work. I've done this 200 hour yoga teacher training. I've started teaching yoga. Now I'm teaching other people and I'm healed. Healing is done. It's completed and I don't need to continue to work on this. And so, my personal yoga practice just completely disappeared. And it was during this time that I started going through like my biggest mental health crisis, right? Which ended in my life kind of falling apart and the problem was that I had built this beautiful fire and then I wasn't tending to it, right? I wasn't putting wood on the fire. I wasn't putting kindling on the fire. And so, it completely burnt out and it died. And so, Tapas is about, it's not enough to just do yoga one time. It's not enough to just do meditation one time, right? You have to keep showing up to your mat and that's Tapas. That's showing up day after day. And so, the fourth Niyama of Yoga is Svadhyaya which is self-reflection. Svadhyaya is all about turning inward and the yoga posture that I most frequently relate to this is like a forward fold, because in a forward fold you're like tilting your third eye inwards towards the rest of your body and you're kind of pausing and looking in. And I think Svadhyaya is all about like constantly looking inwards and saying like, how can I improve? What can I do better? What can I do differently? How can I continue to be the best person I can be? And, you know, I speak about my teacher, Rolf Gates, literally all the time because I'm obsessed with him. But I think he is one of the best examples of someone who practices Svadhyaya, self-reflection, and I'll tell you why. Something I have seen him do in meditations from the mat. I've seen pictures of him physically assisting yoga teachers. And, you know, that book was, you know, made 20 years ago. But when I finally met him in 2020, when did I meet him? I think I met him in 2019. Yeah, 2020 was the year the world ended. So, it was the year before that. He was insisting, you know, I don't touch any of the yoga students because they are responsible for what happens on their own mat. And I just thought this was amazing because I had seen all these pictures of him assisting yoga students and so I know that in the past he used to touch people in the practice. And I just think it's really amazing that he's able to like self-reflect and change his opinion based on new information and that shows someone who's able to practice Svadhyaya. Another thing I've seen him do is I've seen pictures of him doing Shirshasana, headstand. And he said that he doesn't do it at all anymore because it's too much weight on the body on the cervical spine. And, you know, I don't agree with him on that. I like to do headstand still, but it definitely kind of resonated with me on like, wow, I've seen pictures of him do this and yet he says that they now disagree with his yoga philosophy. And so, just kind of shows, you know, Svadhyaya is having the humility to be able to keep learning and say, you know, the way I did this was wrong and I'm learning a better way, right? Once we know better, we do better but if we're not open to new ideas and open to self-reflection then we're not going to, you know, have progress and growth. So, that's Svadhyaya. And then the final sutra or the final sutra in the Niyamas is Ishvara pranidhana. And this for me was the most difficult sutra to teach and explain. I wasn't really raised without religious background. I was Christian but I never went to church. I celebrated Christmas but that was it. When it came to actually teaching Ishvara pranidhana, I was very nervous because I was like, I don't really know how to teach this Niyama which is kind of about religion. And what I now have understood it to be is that it's about surrender in relationship to whatever higher power or whatever source we relate to, so something Rolf writes about in his book that I've actually kind of taken on is when people are bowing forward in a forward fold, they might devote their practice to Allah, to Buddha, to you know, human potential, to science, to whatever they believe in. Right? So, Ishvara translates to supreme god but it's not based on, you know, one particular god. It doesn't imply that people are being asked to convert to any type of worship. You know, people of any spiritual orientation can practice surrender. And the beautiful thing is that we're all practicing together but we're all have a different experience on our own mat. Right? And so, I really love the Yamas and Niyamas. You know, as I explained in last week's episode, they really have changed the way I think about and I move through the world. And I think if you're just kind of skimming the surface on them, really dive deep into them, really think about them, I highly recommend the book "Meditations from the Mat" by Rolf Gates. I mention it all the time but this book translates the sutras into English and it's almost like the spark notes of like Shakespeare. You know what? I mean, so Shakespeare is pretty hard to explain on its own but if you read spark notes or kohl's notes, you kind of have an English translation of what's happening and that's how I would describe "Meditations from the Mat" because what Rolf does is he takes sutras from the yoga sutras and he tells stories from his life that makes them super applicable and understanding to the modern day student. And I swear I'm not getting kickbacks from Rolf. Like, I bet I've sold so many of his books over the years because I just highly recommend them to people because, you know, they've changed and transformed my life. So, this is kind of walk through on the Niyamas. My yoga teacher training group is going to be continuing to focus on them this week, continuing to do them day by day. And so, I'm super interested to find out like if you're interested in kind of reflecting on these as well. What you think on them? What you've learned from them? If you want to share any thinking or thoughts with me, you know, DM me on Instagram Alex McRobs. You can also email me and I would love to connect with you on this yoga philosophy stuff. All right. Thank you so much everyone for listening and as I mentioned at the start of the episode, I am so tired. It is like 11:30 pm here on a Sunday in Abu Dhabi, so I don't even know if this whole episode was like gibberish or if it made sense. But if you stuck with me to the end, thanks for sticking with me and I will come back at you on Thursday with another episode with awesome guest. I have Elizabeth coming on from "Life Outside The Bar" so it's going to be fabulous. Have a lovely week everyone. Don't forget to rate, share, subscribe, like, tell anyone you think would enjoy this podcast. Spread the word with them. Share the info about Sober Yoga Girl and we'll speak soon. Bye.

Outro: Thank you So, much for tuning into this episode of Sober Yoga Girl with Alex McRobs. I am so, So, grateful for every one of you. Don't forget to subscribe So, you don't miss the next one and leave a review before you go. See you soon. Bye.

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