A Life Of Yoga
“It occurred to me that it’s not supposed to hurt, it’s supposed to feel good. That was a big transition.”
“For a yoga practice, and breathing in particular, the first thing you have to do is nothing. And that’s really hard.”
“I think it’s important to have fun. I think you want to put the ‘ha’ back in ‘hatha,’ you know what I mean? The Universe has a sense of humor.”
“To me, my practice is a preparation to go out the door and live my life.”
Rosen To The Occasion
Richard Rosen is an author of six books and a long time practitioner and instructor of yoga. He is best known for his book on Pranayama, “The Yoga of Breath.”
Today’s show is big one. Richard has been a key figure in my exploration and learning in yoga, and has been very generous and patient with my many questions for him over the years. He’s an archetypal yoga geek and practitioner/scholar and, importantly, never one to pass over a great pun.
We cover a lot of ground, beginning with an exploration of yoga in the 80s and how Richard was introduced to the practice. We talked about Piedmont Yoga, a cornerstone studio in Oakland he co-founded in 1987 and helped run for 28 years, as well as his interview with Georg Feuerstein in 1995.
We also talked about some of Richard’s loves, namely baseball and writing. Richard shared his thoughts on seminal works in yoga’s history, why it’s important to have fun, and whether or not gurus are a necessary part of the practice.
All this and much, much more!
Richard Rosen on The SpiritBros Podcast!
Interested in spending more time with Richard?
- “The Master Game”, by Robert De Ropp.
- Naada Yoga. Founded by Elizabeth Emberly and Jason Sharp.
- Richard’s long-form interview with Georg Feuerstein, from 1995.
- “Love’s body,” by Norman O’Brown.
- Georg Feuerstein’s translation of the Yoga Sutra.
- Khecari mudra.
- The Siva Sutras.
- Rodney Yee.
- Richard Freeman.
- Mary Paffard.
- Patricia Sullivan.
- Tony Briggs.
- Judith Lasater.
- Swami Vivekananda.
- Nest Yoga, Yoga studio in Oakland.
- The Yoga Dana Foundation and the Yoga Mala Foundation, two non-for-profit organizations that aim to share yoga with under-served communities.
- “Swami Jesusananda”
- [4:39] “I was born in New-York city in 1822…”
- [9:20] On practising yoga for 39 years.
- [10:08] Richard and how he discovered yoga.
- [14:20] When did yoga become something important for him?
- [15:00] “It occurred to me that it’s not supposed to hurt, it’s supposed to feel good. That was a big transition.”
- [17:00] On how his friend Rodney Yee convinced him to begin teaching.
- [18:10] On why he loves Naada Yoga and feels at home there.
- [19:20] Richard on lessons he learned in running Piedmont Yoga.
- [21:32] On moving from New York to Sacramento at age 7.
- [23:15] Richard on discovering yogic texts.
- [25:30] On writing.
- [27:50] On writing his book on pranayama: “The Yoga of Breath.”
- [28:40] “The content, the style, and the voice… they didn’t like it.”
- [30:20] On his relationship with Georg Feurstein. “He knew a lot about yoga.”
- [34:30] On how his personal practice of pranayama developed, and how he feels about the practice today.
- [38:40] “For a yoga practice, and breathing in particular, the first thing you have to do is nothing. And that’s really hard.”
- [40:25] Richard on the business of yoga.
- [47:20] What is Richard’s current passion in yoga?
- [48:55] On the book he is currently working on: “Yoga By The Numbers.”
- [50:20] “108 is a much more prevalent number nowadays than it ever was in the tradition. It’s a marketing device, basically.”
- [53:00] Richard on the Yoga Sutra.
- [53:25] “The one thing I don’t like about it [the Yoga Sutra] is sarvam dukham, all the suffering, I think that’s ridiculous. Yes there is suffering, obviously, but there is also joy. The problem was that even for them, joy was suffering, because it was transitory. Which is ridiculous. Yeah, it’s transitory… get over it, get on with your life! The idea that the goal of the practice is to separate yourself out from life entirely… I want to live. I think life is great even though there are problems.”
- [56:05] On “Brahmacharya,” which is usually translated as celibacy.
- [57:55] “The thing about the Yoga Sutra is that it is meant to be interpreted. The sutra form encourages interpretation. I have no trouble with people doing that interpreting, but what bothers me is that they present it as the original. I think there should be a caveat in books that re-interpret these things.”
- [59:50] “Translating a Sanskrit text in English is impossible… you do the best you can. A lot of the Sanskrit words are what’s called multivalant, they have a lot of meanings depending on context. That’s why a lot of the words are left untranslated.”
- [1:01:40] Richard on how asana was key in making yoga a worldwide phenomenon.
- [1:03:50] On yoga’s evolution from medieval times to modern times.
- [1:08:35] Richard on one of his favorite yoga texts.
- [1:09:50] “The best yoga is being taught in the United States.”
- [1:12:30] On gurus.
- [1:14:20] Richard on his fictional creation, Swami Dukhananda.
- [1:17:10] “I think it’s important to have fun. I think you want to put the ‘ha’ back in ‘hatha,’ you know what I mean?” “The Universe has a sense of humor. It’s funny, if you think about it, not always, of course. There are certainly a lot of things that aren’t funny at all. I think it’s important, if you are going to do a practice, not to take yourself too seriously. And to have fun with the practice, not to the point where you diminish its value, but you’ve gotta to play around with it a little bit.”
- [1:23:40] What are some important questions floating around the yoga world today?
- [1:26:20] “We are in our yoga infancy. And we have to be allowed to experiment, and to develop a Western-oriented practice that makes sense to Westerners.”
- [1:26:45] What will yoga be like in 50 years?
- [1:29:10] Was Jesus a yogi? Richard on theories around Jesus’ lost years.
- [1:31:20] What do Richard’s asana classes look like today? Also: on what a pranayama practice should look like, and Richard’s personal practice today.
- [1:35:20] Richard on teaching yoga teachers.
- [1:37:35] “To me, my practice is a preparation to go out the door and live my life.”
- [1:38:00] On why yoga is NOT a journey. “If you think you’re on a journey, you’re moving away from yourself.”
- [1:39:35] On living with Parkinsons. “If you fight it, it gets stronger.”
- [1:43:15] His thoughts on the Bhagavad Gita.
- [1:48:50] What was Richard’s greatest failure?
- [1:51:30] What are some communities that he feels kinship with.
- [1:54:50] What is his vision for ten years from now?
- [1:56:10] Richard on the central question of yoga.
- [1:58:40] “A lot of people feel that the central quality of the universe is love, but I think it is curiosity.”
- [1:59:10] En-Lightning Round.