“You can learn yoga on your own, but not from zero” – Interview to Irya Devi

Rosa Sanchez aka @irya_devi has been doing yoga for 7 years and started her 600 hours yoga teacher training after been practising for 3 years.

As many other great yogis, I discovered her thanks to Instagram. Her honesty and the posts on her blog Mama Irya. La mama yoguini taught me a lot about yoga when I was starting, and made me think about the modern contradictions and egos within this ancient discipline.

I was lucky to meet and interview her in Spain this summer, where we talked extensively about many subjects… From anxiety to vegetarianism, including motherhood, Instagram and yoga teacher training. Don’t miss the reflections of this wise woman, mother and yogi!

Gràcies Rosa 🙂

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How did yoga arrive to your life?

I was avoiding it about half of my life. I’ve always been someone with a tendency to suffer from anxiety and nervousness; I had stress, anxiety and depression symptoms, and I was always recommended to practice yoga and meditation but, because I’m such a nervous person, I said that was not for me.

For me, to sit down, close my eyes and try to do nothing was like inviting all the shit to float to the surface. So I concluded that yoga wasn’t for me. Many years passed… I spent half of my life on different therapies, psychologists… I was even medicated at times.

Wow, very different from now…

Finally, when I was 27 years old I decided that I wanted to become a mother. I had my partner for many years, we lived together and were settled. Months started to pass by, but the pregnancy didn’t arrive. I reached the conclusion that one of the causes was stress, so I decided to change my life. I realised that the only thing I did was working. I worked at the evenings, I was at home during the mornings but I couldn’t find any motivation to make me wake up early in the morning and do things.

So I decided to sign up for yoga! I got on Google, started searching and found a studio near my village, Yoga Ashram. There were also different gyms in the area… so I thought I would go around and check them all up. The first place I went to was Yoga Ashram, where I came across a very beautiful, welcoming school. Very spiritual, it had that typical smell of incense and I was attended by a woman who was dressed in white, with some orange bits. She said she was called Swamini Danda, she gave me all the information I needed, and I haven’t left them since!

So you didn’t need to try anything else!

Yes and the truth is that my life changed a lot since I found yoga. I’m still a nervous person with a tendency to get anxious, but now I have the tools to manage all this stress and anxiety that goes within. Now it takes longer for me to explode and, if I have an anxiety attack, I can control myself better now.

How does yoga help you to have better control?

Especially with my breathing. The exercises of pranayama gave me much calm. I realised that our breathing is very much linked with our nervous system. Because my nervous system was very altered, my breathing was very inefficient. By learning to breathe in a better and more efficient way, I discovered that my nervous system started to calm down. That was one thing I discovered, and the other one was awareness. To understand that things were much more than the problems I had, gaining a wider vision of life. In fact, I wasn’t really enjoying of my life, I only paid attention to the problems, to the negative parts, and I didn’t realise that life was everything that was happening, the little details.

It is easy to fall into that situation…

For example, this might sound silly, but I love to get into the car, put the window down and feel the breeze on the face. That spring smell, the grass, the humidity… it was a sensation that made me feel alive. But instead I’d think “This sucks because I cannot enjoy it! I have to work, I have to study, to go here, there…” And I realised how silly those thoughts were! All that nature was there all year-long, not just when I was on holidays. So I was like “Open your eyes, breathe deeply and learn to enjoy even of the smallest things”.

So yoga really helped me to discover that happiness is not really created by external things such as the job, the people, the money you have. Happiness needs to be found inside yourself, you create it. So I discovered this: in reality what was failing was not my environment, my job, my friends, the things that happened (or didn’t happen) to me, but the vision I had of my world.

“What was failing was not my environment, but the vision I had of my world”

You mentioned you discovered yoga in your journey through motherhood, so those two aspects of your life have always been related. How do you combine them on a day-to-day basis?

Haha! Good question! My life as a yogi, all my sadhana has been united to motherhood yes. From the time I started yoga to the time I got pregnant, only a year passed. It was my first year as a beginner, when I didn’t know much about the whole yoga thing. And the second year, when I started to get it, I was already pregnant, so I have always seen yoga through pregnancy.

Combining yoga and motherhood is very difficult, it is practically impossible. If I’m lucky I can get up early (if my son lets me sleep that night), and do my sadhana at 6-7 am. With a bit of luck they won’t wake up, but there are times when I can’t deny that two weeks can pass without me getting on the mat.

Are you more likely to go to classes, or to practise on your own? How can you do more or better yoga?

I think that every yogi needs both. Having your daily practise is necessary even if you go to classes. There are many people who think that their practise consists of going to class. No. You need to go to classes to be taught by a teacher. But on top of that, a yogi needs to have his/her own sadhana, which is the yoga path. Independently of how many classes you attend a week, you need some time, some space, for yourself to work. Create your space in that way, because you cannot have that in a class with other people. That space of silence and introspection. A teacher can guide you, but it is necessary to work on your own as well.

So what about those who always do yoga on their own? Unfortunately, that might be because they have no access to classes, or there are people who are not interested in going to classes. I think that if you can, there is always a benefit in going to classes. Another person will always bring you things that you, on your own, can not have. A different vision, the commodity of not having to think what posture doing next. The commodity of being guided and allow yourself to follow along. Both things are necessary.

In your blog and Instagram page you often talk about the debate between the most traditional yoga and the so-called Instayoga, or the most modern side of it. What’s your position in that debate?

I have a constant internal conflict here, and I think that my posts reflect that. I did my training in a very classic school, studying Hatha yoga. The teacher is the guru, the guide. In fact, the meaning of guru is the person who takes you from the darkness to the light. And the training is lived in this way. My teacher spent 20 years living in an Ashram in the mountains, with a yogi community. My other teacher Swamini Ajna Vamadevananda, who is her daughter, was born and raised there, so they have always lived yoga from within, and the vision that they give is the traditional one from India.

I doubt many people have access to that type of yoga in fact, not in the London studios I know…

No, it is not very common to be honest.

And then there is the Instayoga…

Yes, actually one of the first lines in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika book says that the yoga practise is secret and cannot be shown. So  you start all yogi, with your cool clothes and poses on Instagram, decide you want to deepen your practise, and the first thing you read is to keep it secret and you go… shit! My conflict is that, because I studied in a traditional school, I thought yoga was the same everywhere.

To be honest, when I first came across to my yoga school I thought, what a sect! Everyone dressed in white, the teacher in orange, everyone signing mantras… I asked myself, where did I get into? Especially me, someone who has always rejected subjects related to religion or spirituality. But slowly, I started getting into it.

So there I was, I learnt so much, soaked it all. Then, one day I decided to go online to check some information and I started seeing everyone in leggings, pants, flashy tops… and I thought, what is this??

Haha and how did you get into Instagram?

Originally because I really liked Kino Macgregor and I really wanted to learn to do mayurasana – even today is not that easy! – so I saw a really cool video on Instagram and realised she also did yoga challenges there, so I said, I’m in!

Then it is when I started to see more people with all these cool clothes, those amazing girls, tall, blond, slim, gorgeous… Yogis, or so-called yogis, advertising products… Part of me rejected it. But then, I felt guilty, because I also wanted to be there, learn new postures, new ways of looking at yoga… it was all very attractive.

So I went from doing “yoga for grandmothers” as I used to joke, to something very young, very dynamic… That was very tempting, so I started to turn to it. But then, every time that I went back to my teacher’s class I felt very guilty. I felt I was betraying the lineage of my school by doing yoga that was more frivolous. But I did it more and more, and there was even a time when I wondered “why did I start with Hatha, this is for grannies”…

When you talk about “yoga for grannies”, what type of yoga is it, in comparison to the so-called Instayoga?

Hatha classic doesn’t flow; there are no vinyasas or sequences. In one class of Hatha you can do just 10 postures, it is static and postures are held for a long time. Which doesn’t mean that it is easy… very often you see sequences in Instagram but you wonder “would you be able to hold this posture for 3 minutes”? Probably the answer is not.

Then, you can see a person who doesn’t look very fit from the outside, but can hold a posture for 3, 5 or 10 minutes. Visually is simple. In my school most students are older, so obviously postures are not super challenging, but that depends on the students, the teacher… you can go to a Hatha classic class, do really difficult asanas and end up sweating like if it was an Ashtanga class. They are simply different styles.

I see, so back to your internal conflict…

In the end I realised that we shouldn’t look down on any yoga styles, they are all different. And everyone finds what they should find at each stage of their life. In Instagram I also met people, such as @mintyogini, who also did Hatha classic and we laughed saying that we do yoga for grannies. However, if you saw our postures, that is nothing to do with grannies because the postures are quite advanced, but well… we are what we call… old souls.

I reached the conclusion that it is an internal conflict that, when I do Westerner styles such as vinyasa, I feel that it is not yoga but posing; when I do Hatha is very boring. I’m in between both extremes, and I think there is a yoga type of each moment. Some days my body wants me to do Hatha, do a slower practise, based on introspection. And other days what I need is to move the body in a dynamic style, precisely to avoid my mind from divagating.

“We shouldn’t look down on any yoga styles, they are all different”

So what would be your conclusion?

It is all about respect. That the social networks are too frivolous? Of course, more than what I would like. We can see too many brands, promotions, products… all that really bothers me and I try to avoid it.

Do you think yoga is currently a fashion and it will fade?

It was already there, but it has been commercialised now because it is on fashion. All this variety of clothes, studies, people involved in the yoga world were not here 10 years ago.

I saw recently that you completed your yoga training after a few years – congratulations! What led you to do a yoga teacher training (YTT)?

Gaining a deeper understanding of yoga. I didn’t particularly wanted to be a teacher, but I wanted to deepen my practise. Even though I went to classes from Monday to Friday and my practise was well established, I felt like I lacked information. I noticed that what I was doing was just the surface of yoga, and I wanted to go further in.

I’ve read and learnt a lot from yoga theory by reading your blog. Have you learnt most of it in your yoga teacher training?

The majority of it, yes. It is very difficult to train yourself to be a yoga teacher without doing a course on it. Even though I read things here and there, the level that you gain in a course with a good teacher – that is very important! – cannot be achieved otherwise.

What would be the priorities you would advise to someone thinking about doing YTT?

One, don’t look at the price (if possible!). If it is too cheap, ask yourself why. Those things to tend to come for free. Second, research on the teachers, what experience do they have? How long has he/she been practising and how often he/she does it? Does he acts as he preaches?

If possible, it is better to have a rather extensive training. Despite I have learnt a lot by short workshops and courses, yoga is experience-based. This means that if you do a 200 hour course in a month, it is possible to cover all the theory, but you might miss the long-term experience. It is all about practise, practise, practise during days, weeks, months, and even years. It’s hard to get there in 1, 2 or 3 months.

“The level that you gain in a course with a good teacher cannot be achieved otherwise”

How was your experience doing the YTT?

In my school, the training lasts for two years minimum and it was 600 hours. Every month we would work on a series of postures, exercises of mediation and pranayama…  They gave us the Sadhana of the month, and for one whole month we had to do just that. Maybe that was 10 asanas, 2 pranayamas and some theory homework. And every day of the month you had to do the same series and you might think, how boring! But that is how the practise is established.

Your mind and your body are different every day, so the same posture will feel different every day. By observing all these changes is how you learn to know yourself. You learn to see the patterns, the mindsets… “Why I can do this today but yesterday I could not?” This takes months of practise. Learning to do the posture is one thing, but experimenting what the posture brings to you is another.

“Your mind and your body are different every day, so the same posture will feel different every day”

In BeLikeYoga we also talk about nutrition, do you follow any specific guidelines when it comes to food?

Not at all! I would love to say I do, but I’m a working mum and I just don’t have the time, so my diet is rubbish. For a while, I tried to take care of what I ate: low salt, not processed food, lots of veggies, fruit… The problem when you have two children and you work is that you have not time. Something that makes me laugh are those Instagram breakfast posts with muesli, chia seeds, all the colours and decorations… and I wonder, where do they get the time from if I cannot even have a shower? I would do it if I could, but I can’t.

So my nutrition is reduced to make sure my children eat. With me then eating standing up most of the time, or running around. And often the food I end up eating comes from a package.

What’s your view on vegetarianism?

Three years ago I became ovo-lacteo-vegetarian, I never liked meat much anyway. I would eat just chicken, if anything. When I started to get into yoga and yamas, such as the no-violence, I wanted to become at least ovo-lacteo-vegetarian during the first year of my training. However, during my second pregnancy it was impossible to keep it, as I had a very strong anemia. My body asked me to eat more animal-based food, so it was not something I’d do daily, but whenever I felt I needed it. The body of a pregnant woman is very wise and if it asks for something is because it needs it. I admire and respect vegetarianism, but at that time it was not for me.

I see…

Right now, I follow the principle of Ahimsa. I’m vegetarian as long as I feel comfortable. Sometimes if I feel unwell or dizzy and I know my body is asking for certain nutrients, I sporadically would eat some salmon or cooked ham. I think a vegetarian diet is healthier than an animal-based one, but I also think that we are omnivorous and we are adapted to eat everything and it is needed in fact, especially for children.

Likewise, if by no eating meat I’m going to feel bad, then it means I’m not following the Ahimsa principle with myself, that I’m harming myself by not following my needs.

“I follow the principle of Ahimsa. I’m vegetarian as long as I feel comfortable”

Finally, I recently saw that you are leading a workshop on yoga, emotions and essential oils, can you explain to us what it is about?

The idea was from a friend who does aromatherapy. I always liked essential oils, but purely for their smell. I liked going to have a massage with essential oils, and slowly I started wondering which oil is good for what, etc. Then I had my daughter who struggled to sleep and I kept asking around…

One day I was chatting to my friend who was advising me on oils and their properties and I thought that certain smells would work to balance our chakras. So I asked her and I ended up with lots of oils, I had two for each chakra, and she had this great idea of mixing it all up. She gave me an emotion and I had to come up with a yoga posture to work on that, while she applied the oil. She helps to balance emotions through aromatherapy and she thought that it’d be a good idea to increase the power of oils with Hatha yoga.

When did you start?

We are doing it since last April and it is a very beautiful experience. We work on yoga from a more energy-based point of view. It is much more about introspection rather than fancy postures, about knowing yourself. We give the tools, using the chakras as a guide and the emotions linked to each chakra. We present each emotion, talk about the oils that help with that and suggest a yoga posture to work on that emotion.

Very interesting! And how long it lasts for?

It takes 2hours and a half, one about theory about essential oils and their benefits, and another about practise with the yoga session. Each person takes an essential oil and focuses on one emotion. We provide the tools, we cover them all and it is up to each person to take what helps them.

And finally, a piece of advice for any new yogis?

Don’t compare yourself with anyone. Every individual’s practise is different. Also, being not super flexible doesn’t mean that what you are doing is not good. Yoga is not what you do with the body, but what you do with the mind while practising certain postures.

People can criticise for not being too bendy, or for the opposite. I’ve heard traditional yogis criticise flexible yogis saying that what they did was not yoga, but just posing. Don’t compare yourself with anyone and find a good teacher. I don’t believe in being a self-taught yogi. You can do that as long as you have a base. You can learn yoga on your own, but not from zero.

And a curiosity, how long have you been growing your hair so long?

9 years!

“Yoga is not what you do with the body, but what you do with the mind while practising certain postures”

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