The good folks at New Life Foundation in Chiang Rai, Thailand interviewed me last month while I was there. Here is the print version…
How did you first start practicing meditation and ashtanga yoga?
I discovered them both at the same time, within the same week. I was a graduate student at Naropa University in Colorado. Naropa’s a Buddhist-inspired university so part of the requirement was that we had to maintain a meditation practice. So I was introduced to meditation, and then within the same week, I attended my first yoga class with Richard Freeman, and that was for an elective credit, so I actually got credit for practicing yoga. I just was so inspired. I got really lucky with meeting him in my first class and I got so inspired by the whole practice that became my focus after a while.
How do these practices benefit ourselves and those around us? So for example, how can they help those who are suffering from depression, or trying to recover from substance addiction, things like that?
The most obvious thing is that when doing these yoga and meditation practices you get into the body. Typically what happens when people get disconnected from their body is that they start going into negative patterns, and when you’re not in tune with your natural rhythms, it’s really easy to go against nature and do things that are unhealthy and destructive to the system. So first you start with the yoga and actually getting into the body, and you start settling the energies. It’s a very systematic approach in the ashtanga system. And you start with the larger energies and gradually with time and practice and effort, are able to settle the energies on a more and more subtle level.
Once you start getting into that, then you can start getting into the meditation practice. That’s when it gets really interesting, because once you are able to focus on your mind for a while, then you can start to recognize what your particular patterns are, and once you are able to see that, then you can start to ask yourself, do I really want to keep doing this? But a lot of the times we engage in these negative patterns, in these destructive patterns, because we’re not even aware of what the process is, we’re so in “reaction mode”: there’s a feeling we have inside, we don’t like it, we don’t want to feel it, and so we, quick, hurry, [do] anything, so that we can stop feeling it, and when you slow the whole process down by using these practices, you give yourself a pause. When you start to feel bad, you start to become more aware of the whole process, so at any point along the way, you know, from feeling bad, taking that first step, to doing something to get rid of that bad feeling, to actually engaging in the habit that you know, you think alleviates it but actually doesn’t, you give yourself choices, and you can start to make choices about how you want to respond when things happen that make you feel bad.
It also just helps you, on a very simple level, it actually prepares the body, it’s like you prepare the body in a way to handle more and more intense frequency. So it’s like an electrical current. If you have a strong electric current, that’s going through a device that can’t handle it, you’re going to blow the device, and the same is with the body. If your body is not aligned, and grounded, then if you’re experiencing really intense emotions, you might blow a fuse. So that’s why people go crazy, and so if you prepare your body to be able to handle higher and higher levels of intensity, not only does that help you along the spiritual path, but eventually, that is what will help you be able to handle your emotions.
To read the rest of the interview, please go to the New Life Foundation website.