How did you get into yoga?
I first saw the word “yogi” written on the sidewalk when I was 11 or 12. I went into the playground and asked another kid what yogi meant. Fortuitously he knew something about it and said yogis lived in the Himalayas and could wave their hands and make flowers. I told him I would go there one day and promptly forgot about it. Then a year or two later I was sleeping over at a friend’s house when at midnight his mother came home and shouted to his older brother, “Why are you sitting there like a yogi? Set at your desk and study properly.” The word stirred me once again and didn’t resurface till the wild and turbulent mid sixties. I was sitting in a room with friends, India wall hangings, Ravi Shankar playing, incense burning, and I remembered that word Yoga and sought out some lectures. But, I had no idea there was a physical practice to some lineages of yoga. My main interest was consciousness, spirituality and mysticism. I heard a life changing talk by Dr. Framrose Bode who, fortunately, also told me about asana practice and recommended I pursue it.
How has yoga helped you and how have you see it help your students over the years?
There is no end to the list of benefits I’ve received. I have no doubt that I would not be this strong, flexible, and healthy had I not found and practiced Yoga. Mentally, spiritually and psychologically I received and receive equal benefit and Yoga has opened many worlds inner and outer to me. I feel it is one of the most valuable things I’ve learned. Similarly I’ve seen hundreds, may be thousands of students find their lives and their well being transformed. Yoga is one of the great gifts we all have access to.
Can you tell us about White Lotus?
White Lotus is a nonprofit foundation I started in 1968 that is dedicated to the development of the total human being, the whole person. We publish books and videos, assist many yoga teachers, and operate our retreat center in Santa Barbara. White Lotus has been very influential and made many innovations and contributions to contemporary Yoga. We’ve hosted many leading yogis from India since the late sixties on their first visits to the USA, we operated yoga centers, developed Flow Yoga, Partner Yoga, and made contributions to the promulgation of Yoga around the world. Perhaps our major accomplishment is the training of teachers. Many of the leading and famous teachers today got their start and inspiration at White Lotus and hundreds of teachers sharing Yoga around the world began with us. Our Santa Barbara retreat is on an extraordinary piece of land with a year around creek and waterfalls. It was called Taklushmon by the Chumash which means the gathering place. We offer retreats, classes, teacher training and continuing education for yogis. It’s a wonderful environment where people can live and experience Yoga.
Please say something on behalf of your book that we posted earlier entitled Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice.
There are many schools and forms of yoga. I sought to make an offering that is cross-platform and useful to all levels and any approach. I see yoga practice as something you learn to use as opposed to as something you learn to do. It is more like learning to tune your body, mind and spirit rather than merely attaining something. The beauty of yoga is it is infinitely adjustable to any body and any person. There are many things to become more aware of that will add dimensions to the practice. The book shows people what to watch and how to understand and tune yoga to themselves and how to discern and be guided by the effects of their practice. Rather than giving someone a belief system or formulaic practice we seek to awaken insight and understanding that lives in, and is a guidance system for, each student. We see our approach as “standing on the shoulders of the past”. We honor the tradition and its roots but walk an evolutionary path that adapts, changes and grows.
Could you give some more examples of principles or insights you teach?
One of the most important is to see that all the practices and techniques of yoga are tools we use to serve our own well being, as opposed to goals or forms we use our bodies to attain. This insight takes a lot of the efforting out of the practice. Another that is counter intuitive is that there is no such thing as pain. Pain is a vast information system that we can learn to listen to and read. It is really part of the body’s guidance system. Even tension is your friend. We often speak of getting rid of tension but without it we couldn’t even sit or walk. So a better understanding is to bring tension into balance. The body has many, sort of, spring tensions that set and re-set at different levels according to our activity, or inactivity. Yoga helps make these settings malleable so they can function and reset properly. And, speaking of balance, we see it as a dynamic state. Often balance is framed as something to attain, but it is a moving target, constantly changing. We need to learn to constantly balance and rebalance ourselves reducing the size of the swings. All of these principles are explained in depth in Yoga Beyond Belief and I think they can be applied to many arenas of life and physical practice.
What forms of meditation do you suggest?
Meditation can be divided into practices and that which is beyond practice. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques and practices but what is meditation? Is it primarily a sitting practice, or stilling the mind? This can be important and beneficial but if we look into the purposes and goals of meditation, what do we see? Usually they can be distilled down to self knowledge, awareness, wisdom, enlightened perception, balance and inner peace. These things can easily be shown to come from every part of life and living. Oten our greatest growth comes from the most difficult experiences and challenges. That is why we like to say that meditation is your entire life when you are living with awareness. That is the most important insight and awakening about meditation. It frees the mind from regimented practices. We also teach many forms of meditation such as sitting, breath, asana practice, communion with nature, relationship, self study and music.
You have a deep affinity for music like I do. Can you tell us more about that?
I think music is one of the most important changers and movers of consciousness that we have. Music can be a powerful conveyer of evolutionary information. Before we had recording devices and the printing press music was used to hand teaching and information down through the ages. Most of the Yoga tradition was originally handed down as songs, chants and poetry. Sound and music reach layers and levels of resonance and communication not possible through other forms of expression. Listening to potent music can become a meditation in and of itself, as important as sitting in silence. The whole universe seems to vibrating, pulsing and perhaps singing!
Any concluding thoughts for our readers?
We’re living in the most extraordinary times, both dangerous and filled with possibility. We really have everything we need to make the earth a paradise. We have the no how, the technology and even the resources. The block is in our limited conditioning and consciousness and the battle of conflicting belief systems. That’s why I called my book Yoga Beyond Belief. If we can challenge and question ourselves, and even our scared cows, we can free our hearts and minds to see the joy, light, love and beauty around us. That awakening is really what Yoga aims at and where we are headed.