Recovery and the Yamas and Niyamas

From time to time we will be posting the monthly essays written by the students in our 200 Hour Teacher Training Program. This is one student’s essay from Month Four of this 8 month program.

Growing up in an alcoholic/dysfunctional home is a gift that lasts a lifetime. A child in this type of home is always on full alert. For me life was like playing a series of games: charades, hide and seek, risk and monopoly all played with changing rules greed, cheating and lying. Children who grow up in these homes experience PTSD. One expert describes the symptoms as worse than others because the “enemy” is someone you love and have to live with and rely for nurturing and development. I swore I would not be like my parents and have spent over a decade in therapy and 12 step programs. Yoga has helped tremendously to connect the dots of my recovery and solidify the need to observe the yamas and niyamas in order to heal.

Growing up with all the opposite of the yamas caused me to develop character defenses. I was taught to lie to cover up for what was going on in the house, stolen items were constantly being brought in from job sites, and getting ahead of others regardless of their feelings was our way of life. We were a team, we had a code, we had each other’s backs. We learned to stuff our feelings down and we usually did with food while Dad drank, and we walked on eggshells and hoped it was not an angry and violent night. It has taken many years to relearn and begin to heal the wounds from childhood.

I began observing the yamas and niyamas without knowing. I sought self-help through books and workshops, studied the Bible and loved to exercise and burn off my pent up emotions. When I began yoga, I felt like I came home. What I did not realize is that I did, I came home to a divine presence inside myself. My recent practice and study has helped me understand that my internal desires have always been to live the yamas. In working to rid myself of the character defects I developed I have been working toward a nonviolent, truthful and compassionate life. Understanding them on a new level gives me more peace with my decision. I still struggle with my past and find pain in watching my family continue these traits but I am learning to just breath and get back on the mat.




Tapas – The Importance Of Heat In Your Yoga Practice

Did you know that sweating during your practice is actually desirable? Yes, that’s right, we want to sweat. Sweating is a great example of the yogic concept of tapas or burning of impurities (no, sorry, not the delicious food… although maybe a yoga & tapas workshop could be a good idea…).


The concept of tapas is: as we move through the postures and use our breath and bandhas we create a fire in our 3rd chakra. This fire burns up impurities in the body and this leads to transformation. These impurities can be physical, mental, or emotional. Sounds pretty good, right?

Despite what deodorant commercials tell you, sweating (at least during this practice) is good! Although it might not feel that way when your hands are slipping in down dog, sweat can be a great sign. Sweat tells us that this practice is doing what it is intended to. It is a physical representation of tapas. So the next time you’re sliding around on your mat, you can (try to) remember that this sweat is helping to clear impurities from the body, mind, and spirit.

Some of us have no trouble staying warm throughout practice. For others keeping up the heat it is more of a challenge. In fact, maintaining heat is one of the main reasons that we sometimes add in “vinyasas” between the seated postures. This is also why vinyasas are always optional – if you’re already feeling warm and sweaty, you don’t need to take them!

As you may have noticed from time to time in your own practice, we don’t want this fire to get too hot. If you find yourself getting overheated, you may notice that you are uncomfortable. You may even notice that you start to feel “burned out” during your practice. You don’t have to feel like this!

As our teacher, Beryl Bender Birch, says, “Tapas means transformation, not torture!”

If you find yourself getting too hot during practice remember that you can always:

  • take child’s posture

  • slow down or quiet your breath

  • or even take a few breaths through your mouth.

If you have more questions about tapas, please ask them here! Or, you can always ask us the next time you’re at the studio, we’d love to answer them.


Do You Use Yoga As An Excuse To Think You Are Not Enough?

Sometimes I think I am not enough.

I have been teaching yoga for just about 3 years. To some people, this might sound like a long time. To others, it might seem like a very short time. Generally, I feel pretty confident in my teaching abilities. I get (mostly) positive feedback and students (generally) seem to enjoy my classes. But guess what? I still sometimes get the feeling that I am not enough!

For the past few months, I have been teaching one of the Boomer Yoga classes on our schedule. I LOVE working with this group and find all of the Boomers to be such a great inspiration for me – personally as well as in my practice. Many of the students in this class are a perfect example of one of the best aspects of this practice – using it to keep our bodies and minds working for us  (rather than against us) as we move through every stage of life.

But sometimes when I stand up at the front of that room to instruct these amazing Boomers, I am filled with doubt.

There’s nothing like teaching a class where everyone in the room is about twice your age to make you doubt yourself. Especially when one of them is your mom who has been teaching for over 10 years! And it’s not the students who are the problem here: it’s my internal dialogue. I think things like “why would these students take me seriously?”. Sometimes, I worry that because I have not experienced things in my body or in my life like they have, students don’t want to hear what I have to say. I tell myself, students are thinking I can’t possibly understand what they are experiencing.

Now, maybe all that is true. But it doesn’t mean that I have nothing to offer these students or that there is nothing they can learn from me.

I’m not writing all this to get your sympathy. I’m writing it because, after a conversation with my mom today, I realized that I am not the only one in the room having these feelings. Our culture teaches us to think that, no matter what, we are not enough.  And even if someone tells us this isn’t true or that we should feel otherwise, our feelings aren’t very likely to change . If we want to flip our perspective, we have to work at it.

What can we do to change this internal dialogue?

Focus on the positive.

Sometimes things that we think are negatives can really be viewed as positives! As one student was leaving today, they chastised themselves for having to lean on the wall to put their shoes on. But while doing that, they ignored the fact that they could do it standing up! There are many people who are not able to do this. Let’s celebrate what we can do instead of focusing on what we can’t do.


How many times have you heard us say “if you’re breathing, you’re doing it right”? Or “all you have to do is breathe”? These statements could not be true-er (is that word?). The purpose of this practice is to ATTEMPT to still the fluctuations of the mind – if you’re attempting to focus on your breathing, you are doing yoga!

Practice gratitude.

We are lucky to be alive. Lucky to be able to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and have food to eat. We are lucky to be able to do this practice! Remembering these things can go a long way towards shifting your perspective!

Do the best you can.

This changes all the time. From one minute to the next and one decade to the next. Do the best you can in that moment and don’t worry about what it is “supposed to look like”.

Practice, and all is coming.

And even if you don’t believe me – know that I know you are enough!



Your Yoga Practice: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Have you ever been in class and felt like you just can’t keep up? Every time you get settled into the posture, the teacher moves on to the next one. Maybe you keep your focus and continue with your practice. Or maybe you get frustrated. Your mind starts to wander. Suddenly you aren’t on your mat anymore but instead, as Beryl sometimes says, you’re on the “bus to Hawai’i”.

“What am I supposed to be doing?” “Why don’t I look like the person next to me?” “I did this easily yesterday”

Continue reading “Your Yoga Practice: It’s the Journey, Not the Destination”