top of page

Living It - The Yamas of Yoga

May 3 2021

I've begun the second module of my 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, "I Go With The Flow" which has a huge focus on yoga philosophy. Inspired by a rich conversation with my teacher trainers this afternoon, I dive deep into the yamas, the five moral restraints of yoga that bring the yogi into right relationship with themselves and others. Yoga goes way beyond the poses, the asanas, and in this episode, I dive deep into that. If this topic interests you, I will be offering this course again in July, and as well, will soon be developing a course that focuses only on the yamas and niyamas of yoga.

Listen here.

If you enjoyed this episode please don’t forget to subscribe, rate and share the podcast so it can reach more people that it will serve and benefit.

Make sure to follow Alex's journey on instagram @alexmcrobs and join her yoga, meditation, barre and coaching classes at


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 yogis and welcome back to another episode of “Sober Yoga Girl”. You are stuck today with just me, Alex. I’m gonna be bringing more of these solo episodes. I realize that I went a little wild with all of my podcast interviews. I think I did like 20 interviews in one month. Have a huge list of awesome guests lined up for you to be releasing soon. But I realize that I wasn’t spending enough time kind of sharing my own thoughts and my own idea which was originally the goal of this podcast that is just getting so inspired by the people around me that I kind of went off that little tangent and so circling back and bringing you more solo episodes. So, I wanna touch base and tell you about what’s been going on this past week. So on Thursday night, we did our very first Mindful Sundowners cruise. It was amazing. Like, it was so, oh my god, incredible. We went out on the boat in Yas Marina, and watched the sunset. It was a little bit cloudy but it was a beautiful sunset. And then, it was pitch black and we dropped an anchor into the sea and we practiced yoga and it’s actually more still than I thought it would be, like I was expecting it would be pretty wobbly. But it was actually okay. And there is just this energy of doing yoga outside but also doing yoga surrounded by other people, like, there's this energy of collective practitioner’s in one space that it’s just, it cannot be replicated. And I just felt so joyful and so at peace. We had vegan food served to us by Soil Store. We had alcohol free drinks from Drink Dry Store and at the end of the night, everyone was saying, you know, I’m so down for the next one. So, we are definitely planning another one and I am super happy that it went so well. And other than that, the other thing I had going on this weekend was I started my next module of my yoga teacher training. So, we are coming back with module 2 which is “Sacral Chakra: I go with the flow”. And a big element of this yoga teacher training is about the philosophy of yoga. And I actually read a really interesting study this week and I shared the information about it on Instagram. What the study shared was that, I'm pulling it up here, is the study down on 2011 and they concluded that a yoga practice that includes Yamas and Niyamas which are limbs one and two of yoga sutra and the fundamental element of yoga philosophy. They can actually provide more relief to symptoms of anxiety than yoga poses alone. And according to Tammy Greer, who was a researcher on the study she said that, “A spiritual practice can help you find meaning in your life situation which can lower your stress.” And we had an extremely rich conversation on, in today’s lesson, with all of my yoga teacher training about, we started with the Yamas which is limb one of the yoga sutras. And I thought, you know, I was actually planning on doing a podcast episode about something else but I was super inspired by the conversation. I realize, you know, I have really, really-- most of my episodes have been about sobriety so far and I’ve really kind of-- I haven’t really place enough emphasis on the yoga. And so, I wanted to do an episode to talk a little bit about the Yamas of yoga and what they are, and they mean, and how can be practice, and how they can benefit you and your life. So, the Yamas and Niyamas, they're the first two limbs of the eight limbs outlined in book two of Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra. And the Yamas are principles of behavior in relationships. They can be translated as restraints. And then Niyamas concerned relationships with our self and can be translated into observances. So, on today’s episode were just going to touch on the Yamas and then I'll comeback with another episode on the Niyamas. I think one of the most important things to remember about the Yamas is that you don’t have to do them perfectly and it’s not about being a good or bad person. I think the best thing to sort of remember about this stuff is that it's all about the personal results you’re going to get from them and how you are going to benefit from engaging in these practices. So for example, like the Yamas teach that, you know, when we cause harm to people or when we lie, the consequences are not just to externally to people outside of us but consequences here are internal. Right? on our own peace of mind is disturb. So therefore, causing harm in lying are not being held up as behavior of a bad person but they’re showing to be contrary to the purpose of yoga which is to calm the fluctuations of the mind. That's what Patanjali define it as. I think with all teachings of yoga, you really just try to practice and experience them for yourself. Right? So they might be described as, what can help us find right relationship with or respecter both others and our self, right? They can also be express as natural outcome of spiritual evolution demonstrating our true nature. So, there are five Yamas and they are Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha. So the first one is Ahimsa and this most directly translates to non-violence. So, Ahimsa teaches none harming, it teaches none violence, it teaches none killing, it teaches compassion. And it’s often taught of as refraining from causing harm to any beings including oneself. And nearly every single source says that, Ahimsa is the most important or the fundamental Yama. It’s the basis from which all of our decisions should be considered. So, what does Ahimsa really mean? I think the beautiful thing about the yoga sutras is that Patanjali defined what the Yamas where but he didn’t say how we had to enact them. And so, we had a really rich conversation amongst my yoga teacher trainers today about what each of these sutras meant to us. And, you know, I kind of talk through when I encountered the yoga sutras and how I interpreted them and how I decided to try to embody them or try to practice them in my life. And so, one big example for me is that growing up, I grew up in a culture of like gossip and judgement. You know, that was what’s happening in the media in the 90’s, in the early millennium when I was a young person. You know, we were all reading people magazine and we were all reading the National Inquirer which are like gossip magazines. The most popular TV show was Gossip Girl when I was really young. You know, I was watching this kind of stuff like survivor or bachelor and I really was behaving in this way that is like really gossiping about other people. I was a big gossiper. And what I have learned about that is that I don’t feel good about myself when I’m gossiping. I just find that gossiping is a reflection of parts of myself that feel shame. And a really good author of these actually is Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability". I’ve been listening to this audiobook in my car this week and I've been learning a lot about how when we judge others it comes to a place of shame within ourselves. And one of the first things that I tried to practice when I started to practice non-violence, and trying to practice Ahimsa was, I tried to stop myself from gossiping. And I try to stop myself from every time that I said something negative about someone else. Every time that I judge someone else and the most important thing to remember about this is that you don’t have to do this stuff perfectly. And if you do make a mistake and if you do gossip or judge someone that doesn't say that you are a bad person, right? It’s just means, it’s like a lens of you. The world and await always been thinking and improving and if you catch yourself gossiping or saying something not nice, stopping and kind of restarting again. And just reminding yourself, you know, I’ll do better the next time. One of the interesting things that has often comes up in this whole concept of Ahimsa is like practicing vegetarianism, practicing veganism. There are yogis that say that like, that is the way to practice Ahimsa. I am of the belief of, you know, you do what’s rest best for your and your body. I don’t think that you necessary need to be vegetarian or vegan to practice Ahimsa. But I do think that there are certain things that we can do like gossiping, and judging, and almost just trying to view everyone around us with empathy and understand that there is an empathetic story to kind of every reason why we might be doing the things that we are doing, every action we make, every choice that we make, and kind of looking at with people with compassion, right? And all that is going to do is that is going to see’s the fluctuations of your own mind which is what Patanjali’s stated was, “The Goal of Yoga.” Right? If we're able to look at people compassionately then we will have less anger, and frustration, and irritation within our own minds, right? And so, that is kind of all about Ahimsa which is the first Yama. The second Yama is Satya and Satya is truthfulness, right? It’s the truthfulness in thought, in word and action. And I think one of the important things about Satya is that Ahimsa must always be considered to determine whether a truth needs to be spoken, right? If someone might be needlessly harmed, then silence might be a skillful choice. Right? So is kind of like that saying that lot of us were thought as children. If you can’t say anything at all-- Oh, sorry. If you can’t say something kind, don’t say anything at all. And I think that the most important thing with Satya. If your truth is going to cause harm and if it’s not necessary then it doesn’t need to said at all. And so, something that I was working on when I first stumbled upon the Yamas and I was first started studying yoga philosophy, I was working myself with my tendency to over exaggerate. And so, this is something that I chronically did as a kid, as a teenager, I was an over-exaggerator. I actually even remember a time being called like the girl who cried woof by a relative because I was like just a very dramatic kid. And I don't think I really understood this as being lying as I did it. And it's been something that I-- when I studied the Yamas, it kind of came up for me and I realized that if I'm not keeping as close to the truth as possible and if I'm over exaggerating then I'm not telling the truth, right? I'm not practicing Satya. And so, I became really obsessed with kind of tracking all of the times that I over exaggerated and I would kind of write them down. And I always try to bring myself back to when I'm telling a story. Often you'll hear me stop myself and correct myself and say, I'm over exaggerating. Because I want to tell the truth as close as I possibly can. And an interesting thing about the truth that I've been learning as I get older is that, I think there are many versions of the truth. Right? Because we all perceive different situations based on our own lens and we can even write a narrative in our own mind about what happened. We can revisit a memory. We might remember something differently. Sometimes we can even create memories that we never actually even had. And so, I think that's a really important aspect of truth and Satya is like sometimes you think that someone is lying when really the truth was different as they perceived it to be. Right? And we all have a version of the truth based on our own perception and there can be several different truths to one situation. I don't know if that made sense. But all that matters, right? Again, it all comes back to it's not you're a good or bad person if you can do this properly. It's how is my practice of Satya going to help me be more contented? How is it going to help me be more peaceful? What is this going to do for me it all comes back to Patanjali saying, "Yoga is ceasing the fluctuations of the mind." So yoga is helping me live with myself in a really positive and happy way and it's how can I embody and live the truth. So our next Yama is Asteya, non-stealing and this one is super interesting to me because when I first read about it, I thought it was easy and boring. You know, I have never actually stolen. I've never shoplifted, really. So therefore I practice non-stealing. Correct? And I remember when I went to teach a yoga class themed on Asteya or non-stealing, I was looking for something interesting to share because, you know, I really thought it was that simple of a sutra. They came across this passage from "Meditations from the Mat" by Rolf Gates which is my bible basically. It's like my favorite book. And this is a favorite story if you've been to my yoga classes, you've heard me tell this story before. But basically, Rolf talks about being-- I think he's down in like Mexico. He's down in the Caribbean. He's on a yoga retreat in a very isolated location. And at this point, he's been teaching yoga for many years, like at least 20 years and he is writing a book on yoga philosophy, right? He's like a guru. He's like, he knows, he is one of like a walking textbook of the yoga sutras. And he borrows a pair of scissors to remove some posters and then he thinks to himself, oh, these would be really useful to have the next time I'm down south. So he tucks them into his suitcase. Then he goes to check out at the hotel and the woman asks him, where are those scissors? And he has to very humbly take them out of his bag and give him back to her. And he realizes that he's just attempted theft. And he says, apparently, scissors do not grow on trees down in Mexico or Jamaica or wherever he was. And I love this story because it shows us how even a yoga teacher who, you know, knows all of these yoga sutras, like the back of his hand even he messes up sometimes and this shows us the humility in this whole thing, right? Like it's not about being perfect. It's about walking the talk but also being humble enough to admit when we've been wrong and to learn from our mistakes. And so, stealing can be anything. It's not just literally stealing something of value. It could be tucking those scissors into your bag and taking them when they're not yours, right? And it's like the Law of Karma, like everything that belongs-- everything on this earth has a place and it belongs in its right place. And so, one practice I did when I got sober when I quit alcohol was I got really into yoga philosophy. I was getting up at like six in the morning every day, practicing yoga, reading Meditations from the Mat for like the billionth time and I decided to do an Asteya practice at my house. So I went around the house and I collected all of the things that were not mine in the house, you know, friends had left t-shirts, people had left dishes, kitchen utensils. You know, people leave things and then they just never come and pick them up again and I had a day where I just went around and gave people back their things. And I know that when I was a younger person, you know, if a friend would leave a t-shirt out over at my house I'd be like, yes, I get to keep this awesome t-shirt. Right? But it is like, there is some feeling it's like a weight lifted off your chest when you just give this thing back to the person who it rightfully belongs to. And so this whole concept of Asteya, like there's so much more to it than literally just like stealing and like theft as we know it. Right? There's also taking other people's ideas. Taking credit for accomplishments that are not ours. It's a feeling of lack. It causes us to crave or possess or enjoy what others have. So anything that we take that is not the result of our own honest work that is Asteya. It's said to be established and non-stealing. All wealth comes. Right? So if we practice non-stealing then the universe will send us abundance. There was actually one incident that happened about a year ago where, you know, I had seen a girl's Instagram post where she had quoted something from Elizabeth Gilbert and I'm gonna totally butcher the quote because I can't remember it now. It was like something about, if you sit down with pure intention to meditate then why are you judging yourself through the experience? It was something Richard from Texas said. And anyway, I really liked the quote and so I took it and I kind of made it into a little graphic myself and I quoted Elizabeth Gilbert who was the original author. I put on my Instagram and this girl messaged me saying that I had stolen this idea from her. And I just thought the whole thing was so interesting because I had to step back and look at the lens of Asteya and be like, did I steal this from her? And I ultimately decided, you know what? I have credited the rightful author who is Elizabeth Gilbert, so I don't think that I had stolen from her. But I was able to kind of look at it from the lens of Ahimsa and say, you know, I can still have compassion for her and understand that, you know, if we're choosing all of these items and trying to cultivate our, like cool Instagram account, we want to-- we might feel offended when someone like takes a quote from us and I definitely felt that way probably when I was first starting out on Instagram and now I just kind of see that, you know, there's room for everyone and there's space for everyone but I can totally have compassion for where that person would be on their journey where they would feel like that is theft. And so, that's an example of just kind of like using the sutras to view sort of what's happened to you in your day. All right, so that was Yama number one, Ahimsa. Yama number two, Satya. Number three is Asteya which is non-stealing. All right. So, number four is Brahmacharya, and this is moderation. And so, this is all about self-restraint and moderation and mindfulness in our energy. And the original translation that I understood this to be was about celibacy or, you know, not being sexually active and I actually think that like all forms of the yoga sutras, like they're open to our interpretation. And my interpretation is that this sutra more pertains to moderation of like everything in our lives. And one of my yoga students said today, she said something great. It was, you know, wherever there's a problem, that's where you need to harness moderation. Right? And so, moderation could be alcohol, it could be sweets, it could be sugar, it could be food, it could be-- for myself, a big thing in moderation was I used to struggle with credit cards. I used to put a lot of expenses on my credit cards and I would never even look at the bills and then I always had credit card debt. And something I did earlier this year was I ended up canceling my credit cards in Abu Dhabi and I put my Canadian limit down to as low as it could possibly be. And it makes money really stressful for me because when I run out, I'm out. I have no credit. But I have actually found that that has helped me because, you know, that money was never mine. And so, I am-- it actually that kind of circles into Asteya, right? If I'm putting money on my credit card, it does not belong to me. Right? And I am just kind of stealing what's not mine if I cannot pay it back. And so, learning how to, you know, for me, moderating using my credit card was just not an option so I had to cancel them all. And I think a lot about that because that was something that was weighing on my mind all the time for years. I lived with this credit card debt that was always in the back of my mind. I have to pay off these cards. I have to pay off these cards. And now my stress has kind of changed a little bit because it's always like, okay, how am I gonna manage my money so that I don't hit zero? But the relief of just not having this ongoing credit, you know, that all circles back to this is just helping me find my own mental piece. Right? And so, all of these yoga sutras are just about coming into right relationship with the world and right relationship with ourselves. And so, Brahmacharya could be about, you know, alcohol. It could be about food. One of my friends even asked me, you know, how are you moderating if you're not drinking at all? And I said, you know, that is my version of moderation, like I cannot moderate and so the way that I am able to come to the middle way or practice the middle way is from abstaining from alcohol altogether. And so, I think being able to moderate in the things that like, we have cravings to splurge whether it's overspending or overeating or over drinking, being able to moderate our consumption is one of the things that will bring us peace. And the final Yama is Aparigraha. Okay. And Aparigraha is the restraint or the Yama that teaches us non-attachment, non-grasping, non-possessiveness, and it involves releasing clinging and greediness. Right? So most teachings express that having things is not a problem but it's our relationship to things that can be a problem. And we learn that Aparigraha is the result of trusting that we will have what we need and of our ability to enjoy possessions without being defined by them, and the ability to let them go. And so, one of the things that I told this story the other day in one of my yoga classes, was actually about a month ago now. I was talking about when I was like 11, I went to this like piece by piece conference and I met the singer Snow or rapper or whatever he was and he signed my running shoe. He did a little signature on the bottom of my shoe. Anyway, I grew out of these shoes. They no longer fit me and so I had them in my cupboard and I was keeping them safely there because they were the most valuable item I owned. Right? A famous person had signed them, Snow. And I came home one day from school. My mom had thrown out these shoes because I had outgrown them. She's trying to help me by cleaning out my closet and I was so upset at her. I was like, mom, you've ruined my life. This is my most valuable possession, my most prized possession, these shoes from Snow. And it's so funny when I look back on that entire thing in retrospect because I don't even know Snow's music, like if you ask me a Snow song like I honestly had to google it and I don't even recognize it. I don't know any of the words to it. That's not to say that Snow is not a great performer, he just really did not have that much purpose and meaning in my life. The fact that I was so upset over this object is just like ridiculous in retrospect. Right? And so, the issue was not, you know, I still have this memory of meeting Snow, this rapper, whether or not I own the shoes or not. So the issue is not, you know, the object themselves. And once we can detach from the objects, it's when we can bring ourselves into a bit of peace. And so, I grew up kind of as a hoarder. I collected stuff. I really had trouble letting go. And the most powerful experience I had of letting go was when I moved to Kuwait the first time at age 23. And I'm sorry I've told this story over and over again. I need to get some news stories. But I know I've told this quite a few times in my yoga class so I apologize if you've heard it before. But I just could not let go of my stuff, right? Like, movie tickets, pictures, books, toys, clothing, all that stuff. I just collected and collected inside my house and I moved to Kuwait and I could only bring two suitcases on the plane or I think, you know, I think I could have brought more suitcases if I wanted to but I like couldn't afford the extra luggage or whatever it was. So I remember getting into this two-bedroom apartment in Kuwait, age 23, unpacking my two bags and just looking around the apartment and being like, oh my god, I just feel so at peace. Like there's just like this lightness, and there's this lift, and there is this serenity, and it was like something I had never felt before. And I remember just experiencing the lightness of letting go. And ever since then I have had such a different attitude around things. Like, I'm not perfect but I remember coming home from Kuwait, maybe I was in Abu Dhabi at this point. It was a couple years later and I just said to my mom, you know, I've been away from home for several years and this stuff that's inside my bedroom here like, I don't use it at all. I just need to get rid of it. And so, I ended up emptying out the bedroom to the point of even, you know, giving away the dresser, the bed, because she has another guest bedroom that I always sleep in. I always sleep in my sister's bedroom so I'm like, why do we still have this bed that no one sleeps on? And, you know, we can give it away and someone else can use it. Like, we don't need to keep all of this stuff if we're not using it. And I think embracing this like minimalistic life has been a really valuable kind of thing for me. And as I'm talking, I'm looking around my room I'm like, wow, I have a lot of stuff that I need to get rid of. Actually, I'm going to be moving apartments really soon. Not this month but next month. And my psychic Dan he said, you know, this is gonna be a really good opportunity for you to let go. And he is a hundred percent right because even so, even when I talk about, you know, learning about Aparigraha and learning how to let go, I'm still not perfect at it. Right? And I'm still just a human being kind of figuring it out like like everyone else. And so, these are the Yamas which I personally find like one of the most interesting parts of yoga. I'm obsessed with the yoga philosophy. I think it's so fascinating and as I said at the beginning of the episode, this is what really kind of helps you with your mental well-being. Right? It's not just the actual poses themselves but it's like this holistic practice and this sequential system and this internal logic for looking at things. Right? The Yamas and the Niyamas, they help us approach our yoga practice with proper intention. Right? And every single aspect of this yoga path plays a role. The Asana or the poses, they prepare the body for working with the breath. The quiet and the controlled breath helps us to withdraw the senses. This helps us focus the mind and so on, right? The eight limbs are this holistic practice and all of the limbs function simultaneously. And from this perspective, all the practices are done in a way that just work for each individual. So every single week I give my yoga teacher trainings homework and the homework that we are doing this week is we are really focusing on the Yamas and Niyamas. So, what we're going to be doing is every single day we are going to be working with one Yama or one niyama in mind. For example, like tomorrow we're gonna be talking about Ahimsa. The next day we're gonna be talking about Satya. And just kind of like how can we view our world and our day through that lens. Our actions, our choices, our reactions. So if you are interested in this stuff, if this is kind of really, you know, poking up your ears and you're kind of feeling as nerdy as me about it and you want to learn more, I am going to be-- I have an idea about launching-- I'm probably going to be launching a yoga course related to all of this, the Yamas and Niyamas later this year so stay tuned. And we also dive into it in our yoga philosophy module which is module two of my yoga teacher training that's happening right now, the "Sacral Chakra: I go with the flow." So you kind of miss the start of this one but you could definitely join me for the next one or stay tuned for that Yama's and Niyama's course that I'm going to be offering later this year. And let me know if you have any thoughts about the Yamas, any questions for you about them, if you want to share with me how you embodied the Yamas, how you practice them, how you reflect on them, I would love to hear it. You can always DM me on Instagram. It's Alex McRobs or you can email me, Please make sure that if you've listened to this podcast, if you enjoy it, please like, subscribe, and share with anyone that you think would benefit it. Check out my classes on the I often go into yoga philosophy in my yoga classes themselves so we will get rich into it, deep into it. But yeah, stay in touch and stay connected and I hope to meet you soon in real life or on the zoom screen maybe on my next yoga cruise in Abu Dhabi. Have a great week everyone and we'll talk 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.

30 views0 comments