The second limb of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga is Niyama. (Read Part 1, an introduction to the 8 Limbs and all about the Yamas here.) With this second layer, we dig a little deeper into ourselves.
The Niyamas are similar to the Yamas, but they're more personal. The word Niyama breaks down to Ni + Yama, and depending on your favorite translations, Ni can be in, into, within, back, down. I like to think of the Niyamas as the ME version of the yamas.
Like the Yamas, there are 5 Niyamas: Saucha = cleanliness or purification, Santosha = contentment, Tapas = internal fire, discipline, drive, or motivation, Svadhyaya = self-study or study of texts, and Isvara Pranidhana = surrender to the divine, or letting go of what you can't control. We can practice the Niyamas both on and off our mats, and like everything in life, some will come easier than others.
As a yoga teacher I always shower before I teach (and practice) so I'm clean for my students, but I'm terrible about dropping an occasional F-Bomb; I curse like a sailor. Language is one area in which I'm really working on saucha. I've learned to practice gratitude when I'm in a funk to find contentment, santosha, and constantly remind myself that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be. Each month I do a goal-setting check-in with one of my friends, Sheri Matthews, and we set reachable short and long-term goals; those sessions keep my tapas going! I'm constantly practicing svadhyaya, noticing what thoughts come up for me, reactions before they become actions, how my daily schedule and eating habits affect my energy level. And while isvara pranidhana is the hardest one for me to practice, I try to remind myself that the only person I can control is myself and that after I've done what I can do, I have to let go.
How do you practice the Niyamas?! Find your own versions with this Niyama Flow!
My 100 Day Project is WRITING! After years of calling myself a writer, I've slowly fallen out of the habit of writing every day. Sometimes I lack inspiration, sometimes my to-do list takes over my day, and sometimes I'm just lazy or distracted . But the reality is that I'm always writing in my head. I have stories, funny conversations, and ideas to share, so it's time to get them out of this brain of mine. I'll be traveling quite a bit throughout these next 100 days, so my posts may not make it online at the time of writing, but I'll make sure they get posted the next possible time I get decent wifi.
In honor of starting this 100 days of writing, I wanted to explore the idea of habits, both building new habits and breaking old habits. I've spent the last week or so at my parents' house, and it's funny (and sort of annoying) how quickly I've slipped back into habits I had at 21, the last summer I really lived here, just by virtue of being in this house. For the past couple of years I've gotten so used to living my life on my own terms that it can be an interesting challenge to try to mix my routine and habits with those of my family. But as a people lover and former sociology major, it's always interesting to observe others' patterns and day-to-day existence.
For me, building new habits isn't that hard; when I want to do something I just do it (eat your heart out, Nike!). I've learned how to motivate myself and that I need to write down whatever it is I want to do in my planner and remind myself why I'm doing it. When I genuinely want something I can usually find a way to make it happen (or at least make whatever part of it is within my control happen) - that's part of being me. It's the breaking habits part that's the real challenge. I easily run on auto-pilot and too often my default activity is something I don't even really want to do, it's just a nasty habit I've picked up along the way that I can't kick. (When pausing between sentences to write this, I find myself clicking on all the other open tabs on my browser, getting distracted by emails and other to-dos, and scrolling mindlessly through Instagram...no reason why, no joy from it, just clicking and scrolling.)
I'm slowly learning to reframe the breaking of habits as building better, positive habits. Instead of stopping something or obsessing over the negative, I'm redirecting that energy or impulse into doing something positive. So rather than breaking the click and scroll habit, I'm building the habit of more focused writing where I allow myself to sit, think, and be when nothing comes to me. I'm giving myself the space and time to write without piling on all the other things I could or should be doing.
I worked in corporate wellness for several years and we used to tell our clients that it takes 28 days to create a habit, so we'd encourage month-long challenges and programs to influence behavior. I'm stoked that this is 100 days, because that means I'll REALLY solidify these new habits, right? The most successful programs we ran included personal motivations and built support and accountability systems with coaching. For these next 99 days, I'm counting on the online community of #The100DayProject participants to keep me motivated and accountable. Here we go!
One of the first emails I send to my yoga teacher trainees before they join me for a training includes the question “What is yoga to you?” The common translation of yoga is “union,” or “to yoke.” Some people will tell you yoga is a union of body, mind, and spirit, others will tell you it’s a religion. For every 10 people you ask, you’ll get 10 different answers. I find yoga to be such a personal practice that I struggle defining it one way. For me yoga is a way of life; it’s self-discovery, exercise, therapy, meditation, and medicine. It’s a spiritual practice that connects me to something greater; it’s a physical practice that grounds me and makes me appreciate the strength and power of my body; it’s both challenging and fun. Yoga is what I turn to when I feel like my life is going to shit and it’s how I celebrate beautiful highs and magical moments. My yoga practice varies from day to day.
Yoga has been around for more than 5,000 years, but ancient yoga looked quite a bit different from what most people consider yoga today. Yoga’s goal throughout the years has been to answer life’s tough questions – Who am I? What is my purpose? How do I connect to something greater? - and it’s evolved greatly through time and location as our lifestyles have evolved. I find it totally normal and expected that we practice yoga in a very different way than our yogi ancestors did. Because most of us lead relatively sedentary lifestyles (working on computers, driving to get where we need to go), it makes sense that we are drawn to the physical aspect of yoga, the postures or asanas. But as most of us discover when we start to delve a bit deeper, yoga is much more than just poses.
One of my favorite sessions of teacher training (each time I discover something new for my own life and practice), is our discussion of The Eight Limbs of Yoga. Patanjali, the “father of yoga” and one of the leading sages associated with yoga, defined these guidelines for living in the Yoga Sutras as follows:Yama. Yama is often explained as restraint or control, and there are 5 Yamas that can be characterized as ways of controlling yourself or behaving in relation to the outside world. They are: Ahimsa = non-violence; Satya = truthfulness; Asteya = non-stealing; Bramacharya = self control over physical impulses of excess; and Aparigraha = non-hoarding.
I’m adding a series of classes to my YouTube channel that explores each of these limbs, or layers of yoga, in detail through a guided practice. Follow along each week, leave comments and thoughts, and find your own connections and examples in your life. This week we dig into the Yamas!
In just a few months I'll be kicking off another yoga teacher training in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. It's the perfect chance to visit a gorgeous Caribbean island, learn more about yoga, and spend some time on yourself.
I set up my 200 hour yoga teacher trainees as 3 week retreats because I find that being immersed in yoga allows you to really focus in on your personal goals and practice without the distractions of work and day-to-day life. Our schedule is 3 days of training followed by one full day off, so you have time to rest, reset, and explore St. Thomas (which usually translates to long naps, beach days, and strolls through town :)).
Click here for all the details. I'm happy to offer a day rate that includes the training and lunch if you'd like to find your own lodging or are already in St. Thomas. And I'm always open to payment plans. Feel free to message me - Helen@FloatingYogaSchool.com - for more information.
Big thanks to Marshan and the crew at WildHeart Studio in St. Thomas for your support and help making this happen!
You know those days when you wake up thinking about everything you need to get done but can’t find the energy to drag yourself out of bed? Or maybe you’re up but the coffee’s just not working fast enough. In our world of to-do lists and endless projects, those days are all too familiar and they’re the reason I designed this 5 minute Get Up & Go yoga flow for my friends at Sweaty Betty.
The next time you need an instant boost of energy or a little break from your day, instead of stressed-out social media scrolling, try taking some deep breaths and practice these energizing and empowering poses. Your body and mind will thank you.
Follow along with the below photos or watch the video. Feel free to take it at your own pace or modify the poses to make them fit your body and what you need today. Most days I do the flow twice – moving slowly the first time and faster the second – for an extra pep in my step.
Come to a standing position and notice how you feel. Acknowledge your energy level, any physical aches or pains, and where your mind wants to go. Turn your attention to your breath. Take slow, steady inhales and exhales through your nose.
Inhale and reach your arms over your head. Exhale, interlace your fingers and stretch your arms as far as you can up and out to your right. Imagine stretching taller as you inhale, and reach further to the side as you exhale.
Inhale come back to center and exhale repeat to the other side. Feel the sides of your body grow long, and notice how your ribs expand in all directions with each breath in.
I have to say, I’ve been riding high on a wave of inspiration these past few days. I usually find that I feel more inspired when I’m in nature away from from electronics (thus the sailing life), but I’m always drawn back to Facebook to see what my friends are up to. I love how social media has the ability to connect us, humanize us, and inspire us.
I think more than anything our world needs inspiration, and I truly believe there’s no limit to what we can achieve if we’re able to positively motivate each other. In a world full of frustration and negativity, we need more light and more love to keep us going.
I love that you stand up for what you believe in. To those of you who marched around the world: thank you for peacefully representing and improving our world.
I love seeing photos of your cute kids, hearing how you balance career and home life and still have time to pursue passions, adventures, and community involvement. I love getting a glimpse into the future of our world.
I love learning about the world through your travels and adventures.
I love how you support your friends and community, and how you give so much of yourself unconditionally.
I love that you’re building sustainable, positive businesses that impact so many people.
I love how you hold space for others and are able to share your opinions so eloquently while fostering respectful discussions and discourse.
And I love the day-to-day realness, the permission to just tell it like it is.
My biggest goal is to inspire others to live a life they love. (And that’s been a hard one for me to put out there because it feels like I’m saying “I want this to go viral” – and I know that’s not how it works ) I came out of 2014 completely worn out. Everything in my life was turned upside down. After a really painful divorce, a hard look at who I was and how I was living, I decided that I needed something different and I basically started over. It took two years of work, big decisions and even bigger changes, and I know the work is far from done, but I finally feel inspired again. If I can do it, you can do it.
I’d love for you to share my journey. Watch the videos and share with anyone you think they may resonate with. I won’t refuse financial support (boat life isn’t cheap!), but more than anything I’d appreciate if you’d help me share my Patreon page. https://www.patreon.com/FloatingYogaSchool
Share it with someone in your life who needs a little inspiration. Share it with someone who wants to travel. Share it with someone who loves to sail (or who needs a reminder that even if you don’t sail well you can still buy a boat – I did!). Share it with young women and men who have big dreams. And share it with someone who needs a reminder that even when things seem really bad, you can reinvent yourself and create a life you love.
If you told me 15 years ago that someday I'd be a yoga teacher and that a big part of my life would be spent training other teachers, I wouldn't have believed you. But if you told me I'd be helping people find health and balance, teaching them how to discover their passions and live lives with more depth, I would have said, "yep, that sounds like exactly what I want to do!"
My path to Floating Yoga School and leading yoga teacher trainings was not a direct one, but I don't regret one turn. At 18 I was an eager premed bioengineering major at Rice University, finding balance as an adult on my own, studying hard for classes I didn't really enjoy, and stressing out over whether or not I wanted to commit to a career that seemed so competitive and intense. I slowly realized that my passion for medicine was less about the science side of things and more about helping people. I switched my major to sociology, felt happier and lighter, and moved to New York City after graduation to pursue a master's degree in public health at Columbia University. I worked in benefits consulting for a few years and moved to San Diego to create more personal balance and shifted my career toward corporate wellness.
Although I found yoga in college, my practice didn't become consistent until a few years later. Now I can't imagine my life without it. That doesn't mean I'm doing handstand-heavy classes everyday. Sometimes my yoga practice is about sitting quietly, reflecting, or actively letting go of negative thoughts. Yoga is a personal practice and it looks and feels different to each of us. As cheesy as it sounds, I'm so grateful for what I've learned through yoga, and I feel very lucky to share the gift of yoga with others.
One of the biggest reasons I love leading yoga teacher trainings is because we really get to explore everything that is yoga; there is so much to learn and a 75 minute class just doesn't cut it. You don't necessarily have to want to be a yoga teacher to do a teacher training. All you need is the desire to dig a little deeper. We all have something personal we can work on, something we can heal from, something more we want from life. Whether you've just gotten into yoga, or you've been practicing for years, taking a yoga teacher training gives you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ancient and ever-evolving practice of yoga.
Maybe you're a therapist, PT, OT, or personal trainer. Understanding yoga can add to your professional resume, enhance your current practice, and provide something extra to your clients.
Maybe you're a consultant or you work in sales. Learning to better understand how humans work on all levels can help you communicate more effectively, connect to your clients, and boost your sales.
Maybe you're a teacher or caregiver. Imagine giving your students or patients the gift of mindfulness and meditation in addition to everything else you provide. A personal yoga practice can help you feel refreshed and replenished, and taking care of yourself allows you to better care for everyone else around you.
Or maybe you're in a place of transition, ready for a new career but aren't sure what that is. Teaching yoga is a rewarding way to connect with people and can be an excellent source of primary or secondary income. Yoga can help clarify and solidify goals and future desires.
Whoever you are, whatever your reasons may be, I promise that a yoga teacher training will enrich your life. I work really hard to make our trainings fun, inspiring, approachable, and affordable. Our trainings are Yoga Alliance approved, 3 weeks long, and feel like you're on a yoga vacation with amazing people in incredible settings. We have two 200 hour trainings coming up in 2017 and I would love for you to join us for one: February in Encuentro, Dominican Republic and July in Lake Placid, New York.
Email me at Helen@FloatingYogaSchool.com with any questions or concerns you have!
I’ve always loved the water. Growing up with super hot Houston summers, my sisters and I would spend hours in the pool, playing “rock the boat” and “categories,” perfecting our back dives and flips, diving for coins or anything else that would sink, and trying to beat the heat. Most family vacations revolved around or at least featured water - lakes and rivers when camping, trips to beach towns, sailing my grandfather's boat - and if they didn't, we'd find our way to water somehow.
After college I lived in New York City and didn’t have much water time aside from vacations and when I first moved to San Diego the cool temperature and instant depth of the Pacific Ocean kept me on the beach for awhile. But there was always a part of me that knew I needed to find my way back into its healing arms. It wasn't until I started teaching paddle yoga that I truly reconnected with my carefree, happy inner child and decided I needed to make some changes in my life and refocus it around water.
There’s something romantic and idyllic about living life on the water. I remember seeing boats anchored in the remote and quiet Shark Harbor on Catalina Island and thinking “that’s the life.” At a time when I was busy building a business, navigating the ups and downs of a long term relationship turned new marriage, and trying to figure out how to balance everything, life on a boat seemed like a welcome escape from everyone, a rare sense of peace and simplicity in an overly complicated world.
When my relationship took a turn and I decided to move on without my best friend of 8 years, I was faced with finding a place to live and starting a new life on my own terms. What did I really want? With the opportunity to start fresh and do all the “crazy” things I wouldn’t have considered when I had a partner's needs and wants to take into account, I decided that I wanted to live on a boat.
I briefly looked at renting or taking care of someone’s boat, but without a lot of experience as a captain or crew, I wasn’t super desirable to anyone and didn’t know the right channels to find a boat owner looking for someone to watch their boat. It turns out the easiest, albeit more expensive, way of living on a boat was to buy one and call it my own.
I had some money in savings and started the search. (More on the boat buying process including getting a loan, where to find a boat, etc. in another post.) I found an older 32 foot Islander within my budget and the minute I stepped foot on it and saw its funky magenta cushions, striped curtains, and full teak lined interior, I knew it would be home. I named her Barefoot Adventures and she became my floating condo for the next year.
Fast forward a few months and it became clear to me that life as a liveaboard was pretty sweet, but that I wanted to use my boat for more than just day sails and play dates. I wanted to sail into different ports, explore different places, and experience different ways of life. I wanted to combine my love of travel, my desire to be on the water, and my passion for sharing yoga; thus Floating Yoga School was created.
Barefoot Adventures #1 just wasn't going to cut it in the Caribbean, so I sold her and started the search for #2. This time around, I wanted something bigger and somewhat newer that could handle island-hopping and some large crossings, something with enough power and electronics to feel safe in unknown waters and rough seas, and something that I could customize enough to feel like home for the next few years without breaking the bank. I found a 40 foot O'Day in Miami that fit the bill and have been living and working on her ever since.
Life as a liveaboard is certainly not for everyone. Depending on your set-up it can feel like permanent camping (or maybe glamping if you're lucky!). There are ALWAYS projects to be done on a boat and usually those projects require money, sweat, and hard work. It can be frustrating, confusing, and overwhelming if you're not an expert in all things electrical, mechanical, and nautical.
But despite all that, it's really rewarding. To me it feels like going back to a simpler way of life. People have lived and worked on boats for hundreds of years, crossing oceans and seeing the world, and it's exciting to think about everything I get to experience that I would have otherwise never even known was out there.
I’ll be breaking down the various aspects of living aboard in the coming months, from the freedom it brings to challenges that come along with it. For now it's back to the project list :) Stay tuned!
It's been a week since I hit the road, leaving sunny San Diego for a month-long, roundabout trip to South Florida. It's been the perfect way to unwind from the stress of the last few years, see some of the most incredible and iconic parts of the United States, and reset my intentions and goals.
So far I've learned (or been reminded of) the following:
- A week goes by very quickly. I'm already a little sad that a month will be here before I know it, and I'm definitely working on savoring each moment.
- Camping in temperatures below 40 degrees is mildly insane. Once your fingers and toes are numb it's hard to warm up again. Hot showers help (thank you, Housekeeping Camp).
- Sitting too long can flare up your sensitive low back. I'm stretching whenever I can, taking yoga classes along the way, and making sure I'm not sitting with one leg up (which also happens to be my favorite way to sit).
- Don't spend too much time on your phone reading maps or researching the next destination. You might miss an entire town with one quick look down. I'm sorry I missed you, Peach Springs, Arizona (aka Cars' Radiator Springs).
- And speaking of maps, Google Maps is smart, but it's worth spending extra time off-roading or taking the scenic route if you really want to see the sights. And if you're driving past the Hoover Dam, DON'T follow Google Maps because you won't see anything!
- San Diego has spoiled me, especially when it comes to yoga, pilates, and coffee. Who knew it'd be so hard to find a good class and a place to grab some coffee and do a little work? I'm not against Starbucks, but I'd rather support local businesses. And I just can't understand studios that only offer one or two classes per day at really random times (yes, like I said, I've been spoiled).
Three more weeks to go! I'm posting photos along the way via Instagram & Facebook, and have some super fun stops coming up, including community classes in Santa Fe and Taos next week. Stay tuned :)
The end of teacher training is always a bittersweet time for me. Graduation day comes and I feel like a proud parent, teary-eyed and nostalgic about how far my students have come (our first day together feels like just yesterday!), excited to be able to catch up on Netflix again (mostly kidding), and so excited and eager to see where they’ll go.
As a new teacher you might feel a sense of relief that you’re getting your weekends back, you might feel a little lost as to where to go next, you might feel a mix of emotions, or you might feel nothing at all (I guess we wore you out, huh?). All of those feelings are valid, and in light of them, I share some parting words of wisdom to my teacher trainees and any other new teachers out there:
1. Keep practicing. Practice teaching, practice yoga, and remember that your yoga practice isn’t necessarily all physical. I have weeks where I practice asana daily, either on my own or in a public class, and I have weeks where my yoga is a mindful walk, a quiet moment with my phone off, or turning on loud music and dancing my heart out.
I’ve had people give me advice about how as a teacher I shouldn’t let go of my own practice. And while I completely agree, they never asked me what my practice was like; they judged for themselves and projected their ideals onto me. When I wanted to yell “you don’t know anything about my life, a$$hole!” I held my tongue, took a deep breath, tried to understand why I was annoyed when they were trying to help, and smiled and thanked them for their advice. So sometimes my practice is not letting my inner angry mean girl freak out at people (hey, no one’s perfect!). And I would argue that this practice is more important for me than picking up the latest trendy creative sequencing to get into headstand, or the theming of a Valentine’s Day class.
Don’t let society’s standards of what a yoga teacher’s practice should look like make you feel like you have to master handstand or meditate in lotus an hour every day. You’re a better yoga teacher by being mindful, compassionate, and present than by bending into a pretzel. Only you know how to get yourself into that state of mind.
2. Things will continue to change and evolve in your life. Find people who support you through those changes, and change out the people who don’t. Nothing is forever. You’ve probably noticed some shifts in your life since you started your teacher training, and will continue to notice them as time goes on. Change can be scary, uncomfortable, throw you off your game, or make you feel like you’re going crazy (or all of the above). Change can also be really awesome because it means you’re growing, you’re moving onto better things, and that you won’t experience the same year 90 times in a row and call it a life.
It helps to have supportive people around you, and a place where you can be yourself. Find your people (or person), a home studio that feels right, and don’t be afraid to change those as needed. When you’re honest and true to yourself you attract people who resonate with that truth. The people who matter don’t care how you’ve changed, and the people who care don’t really matter. And if nothing else, know that your teacher training family is there for you, even if you haven’t spoken to them in years.
3. Be authentic, and let that authenticity transfer into your teaching. Don’t try to be your favorite teacher. It’s great to borrow sequencing or cues that you like, but try to make them your own. If you learn something new and want to teach it, teach yourself, and teach from that place. Be honest about what you don’t know - no one can know it all, and no one likes a know-it-all.
Teach the kind of class you’d want to take and what comes naturally to you. Know that you will never be able to please everyone, and that’s totally fine. Do you, and the right students will find you.
4. Take care of yourself. This one feeds into all the others, but it’s a super hard one for me so I’ll reiterate it on its own. You may have been drawn to teaching because taking care of others comes effortlessly to you. You will lead classes and people will come to you for advice as a leader. They’ll ask about poses, and about life. They’ll share and cry, and you will be there for them. And it will probably feel really good to help them.
There may be a moment (or a few years, if you’re anything like me) that you realize you’re putting everyone else before yourself. You’re helping others reach their goals and feel better about themselves, while you’re still stuck in the same rut you’ve been in for so long. Don’t forget to help yourself. Take some of the advice you give, and give yourself a break from always being “on.”
5. Keep learning. I like to consider a 200 hour teacher training a buffet where you can only fill your plate once so you take a little bit of everything. Now is your chance to go back to the stuff you liked on the first pass and really dig in (go back for seconds and thirds; fill 3 plates!). Read, read, read (you can never read enough). Take workshops. Take classes from teachers you like. Take classes from teachers you don’t like. Take class from yourself. Research questions you don’t know the answers to. Work with people you don’t know. Learn a completely new style of yoga.
Figure out what makes you tick, and what ticks you off. Ultimately this practice is a self-study (svadyaya for the bonus points). We are each our own best teachers, and there’s ALWAYS more to learn.
Helen's Adventures as a Traveling Yogi
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