Demystification, cont. • 23 August 2008

Exerpts from an interview in the Ottawa Citizen. The speaker is some guy named Richard Freeman.

…That's why I'm still fascinated by yoga, because I think people can cultivate these deeper states of mind without having to join any particular religion or sign up for anything or pretend they know something when they don't know something.

In 2007 you wrote, "Can our yoga survive the remarkable rate of its own expansion? Will the potent and ancient tradition live through its commercial success?" What is it you fear?

I fear it's being watered down to please the crowd. Teachers naturally want to have large classes, but are they willing to water it down so much that they don't actually confront people with themselves and their own minds? Because it's easy to reduce yoga to an exercise system and that way people don't, at any point, discover the programming of their own minds. At that point, yoga just builds up people's egos and gives them the sports experience rather than the mystical experience.

I think we're always in danger of it slipping into that category.

Why should people take up yoga?

Because it will definitely give you the opportunity to become happy and then it'll also give you the opportunity to make others happy. When you become happy, you become a little more skillful in dealing with other people and you're no longer trying to get things out of them so much.

It'll also help you with a lot of physical problems. It won't make you immortal but it will certainly help with everyday aches and pains — spinal problems, postural problems, fatigue. And then of course, all the related psychological difficulties we experience every day.

Yoga helps you gain insight into how your own mind works and in doing that you become a little more compassionate. Also your sense of humour improves. (Laughs). I think that's how it works actually.

Why do you specialize in Ashtanga yoga?

It's a particular approach to yoga that combines a lot of different levels of the practice in which you are concentrating on your breath and through concentration on the breath you learn to open up different channels of awareness inside your body right along the central axis.

Based on that, you move the body sequentially through postures, all based on the breath and the workings of the sensation patterns in the core of the body. It's actually a very advanced and challenging approach to yoga. I'm surprised it's as popular as it is. It's often not practised very well, but often, if they're young, practitioners have a lot of fun trying.

A lot of what I do is I go around and try to slow people down in their Ashtanga practice and tune them in to what is really happening inside with it, so that the practice leads very naturally to meditation practice and into deeper states of yoga.

I've heard some yoga teachers refer to Ashtanga as "junk yoga."

That's because it's not understood by a lot of its adherents. But it has lots of restorative practices in it. It's just that a lot of people have never studied enough to learn them. A lot of the popularization is done by teachers who are actually neophyte Ashtanga students and it's a little bit embarrassing for me.

What do you most hope to leave your Ottawa students with?

I want to leave them with an experience with how their breath works and how, by carefully observing its cyclical patterns — as they sit and then as they do the postures — they can actually learn how to do the postures. In other words, they can learn to teach themselves by learning to observe closely the equipment they already have.

A lot of the function of the teacher is to point people back into observing their own internal process, because that's the actual teacher.


 * Ashtanga Rwanda. They really want teachers to visit them. Bindi's saying yes. Get in. Link to the paypal donation in the top left. It's the least that we can do. Don't ignore this, loves.

 * Tabby writes yoga poetry. I may offend him by linking, but he'll transcend his anger on contact. Poof.