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Announcer: Welcome to The Yoga Podcast, keeping it real with your host, Claudia Azula Altucher.
Claudia Altucher: Good morning. Welcome to The Yoga Podcast. I'm thrilled to have with me Gregor Maehle. He is a practitioner of yoga and he has been practicing for over 35 years. In the middle of the 1980s, he started traveling yearly to India, where he studied with various yogic and tantric masters. Gregor has published four amazing books – two on yoga asana, the primary and the intermediate series of ashtanga yoga, one on pranayama, and one on meditation, and these books have been translated into many languages. His teachings incorporate not just posture, but also, purification, pranayama, meditation, devotion, and yoga philosophy, and he offers workshops, retreats, and teacher trainings worldwide. The main blog website is http://www.8limbs.com.
Gregor, welcome to the show. I'm thrilled to have you. Thanks for joining me.
Gregor Maehle: Thanks for having me, Claudia. It's a great pleasure.
Claudia Altucher: That's great. So it's 8:00 PM in Sydney, right?
Gregor Maehle: That's right. Yes, it is 8:00 PM here.
Claudia Altucher: And what did you do today?
Gregor Maehle: Sorry, that just dropped out. Can you hear me?
Claudia Altucher: Oh, yes, I can hear you. I was wondering –
Gregor Maehle: Oh, okay.
Claudia Altucher: I was wondering what did you do today. How is a day in the life of Gregor?
Gregor Maehle: The day today was spent with practicing yoga and reading some yogic texts and doing heaps of meditation and doing a bit of gardening.
Claudia Altucher: Oh, how nice.
Gregor Maehle: Yeah, I'm just after a tour. I recently came back from Tokyo and I taught in Bali and on the Australian West Coast, so this is basically a bit of a holiday for me.
Claudia Altucher: That's nice, and I saw some photographs in Facebook. You get a large following of students in your workshops, about 60, 70 people?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, that's correct, yeah. Yes, that is correct.
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, that was very interesting that you attract a large gathering. I guess that's wonderful. I saw that recently, you and your wife, Monica, bought some land and you are now living in a forest.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, that's right. Yeah, that might be part of why the phone connection is not that great because I'm not really inside of civilization, so yes, I do live in a rainforest on a mountaintop overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Claudia Altucher: That sounds wonderful, and do you find that the connection with nature at that level helps you with the practice?
Gregor Maehle: Very much so, very much so, and I guess that is something that is often emphasized in the ancient yoga texts, that from a certain point onwards, it is suggested that the yogi move into nature to devote themselves more seriously to the so-called higher limbs of yoga.
Claudia Altucher: Right. Yes, and that's what I wanna talk about today, because, I mean, I am a big fan of your books, as you know. I've reviewed them, I've talked about them, and they're very – they have a lot of the technique and you've done a lot of research around every one of them, so you talk about how different stages look at different parts of the practice, and you have this distilled knowledge of your lifetime work into them, and to me, it's like someone finally decided to write all of the secrets of yoga and put them in four-book form, which is a blessing to all of us. But the one I want to focus is the latest one, called Yoga Meditation, and because I think there's a lot of confusion when it comes to meditation. Would you agree with that?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, there is a great confusion, and part of that is that people generally take the Vedantic and Buddhist translation or meaning of the term "meditation."
Claudia Altucher: Right, right. You say in this book, for example, that you've watched in amazement, a little bit, that many students are, perhaps, get frustrated with teachers that teach only the asana, or the poses part, and then they start looking on their own for meditation techniques, and then they end up maybe doing Buddhist techniques. And that described me. That's what I did. So for example, I went to a Vipassana, and it's not really the yoga tradition of meditation.
Gregor Maehle: No, no, certainly not. If you look at, for example, into the Yoga Sutra, which is the defining text of yoga, it's many thousand years old, and there in the Sutra 3.2, for example, the sage Patanjali says that meditation that is Dhyana in Sanskrit is defined as a permanent stream of awareness from the meditator towards the object of meditation and a permanent stream of information from the object back to the meditator, which is, of course, a quite different idea of what we have in Vipassana and in Buddhism.
Claudia Altucher: Right. So for example, in Vipassana, they just instruct you to watch the breath and then watch for sensations in the body, and so the idea is that all stuff – all conditioning stuff will come up and you won't – you will not react to it in the same way you did before and eventually will clear up, but what I found very interesting is that you say, "Yes, you may prevent yourself from overreacting in the future – " I'm paraphrasing – "to past reactions, but it will not take you deeper into meditation as the yoga tradition does." Am I getting that right?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, I guess the main thing of this – about this Vipassana definition would be, Vipassana is actually something that has developed out of Buddhism, and the main difference between the Buddhism and the Vedanta, which is the Indian or the Hindu equivalent of the Buddhism, and what we teach in yoga is that according to those so-called idealistic schools like the Buddhism and the Advaita Vedanta, the world is an illusion, whereas in yoga, the world is seen as real. So the meditator has actually a keen interest in the world, which is, for us, much more interesting than, for example, our own conditioning.
Claudia Altucher: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I see. And so this sort of concentration that you were describing or focusing on an object and receiving from the objet is actually more the way of yoga. It's not so much observing sensations; it's concentrating on an object.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, that's right. So for example, we wouldn't really – I mean, you know, the yoga's very much interested in placing the body in, let's say, a perfect position, which the yogis would consider that either Padmasana, the lotus posture, or Siddhasana, a similar posture to that, would be perfect yoga positions for various reasons, but one of the reasons is that in those positions, the body can eventually become so light and effortless that we can completely go beyond the body. That means leaving the body behind so that they can go deeper into the spiritual aspects of the meditation.
Claudia Altucher: Now, what I've seen around from people who are interested in yoga, there's a lot of difficulty with – nevermind the lotus, but just sitting down, there's a lot of curved spines, bad posture, and nevertheless, you recommend, you say, "Do not wait to start meditation. Start trying it early on." So for someone, say, who would like to perhaps get into your teachings, read, practice, that cannot sit in any of the four postures that you recommend, sort of like one is kneeling or the – the other one is a modified –
Gregor Maehle: Just cut out.
Claudia Altucher: Oh, I'm sorry. Can you hear me now?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, I can hear you. Sorry about that.
Claudia Altucher: Okay, so for someone who cannot sit easily, what would you recommend to get started with this –
Gregor Maehle: Yes – yeah. Okay, there's actually a so-called "meditation bench," which brings ___ in a similar position as the Virasana position, so – but you're basically sitting in a kneeling position, but you're not sitting on your heels, but your sit bones are slightly elevated.
Claudia Altucher: I see.
Gregor Maehle: So yeah, so that would be – the advantage of such a meditation bench is that your spine is still in the ideal double-S curve.
Claudia Altucher: Right, so the low curvature and the cervical curvature of the spine are respected, so to speak.
Gregor Maehle: That's correct, yes.
Claudia Altucher: That's good. That's a very good tip for anyone who may wanna try your practices but cannot just yet sit.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yes.
Claudia Altucher: So – but what I like about you and this book in particular is there's a lot of talk of the first four limbs, you know, like the do's and don'ts, and then the asana or posture, and even pranayama has begun – your book, I think, has helped to bring it more into the forefront of yoga. But there's very little talk on yoga meditation, and in your book, you say you're focusing on the last four limbs, and I really like that.
Gregor Maehle: Great. Fantastic.
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, and so you describe – you say that you're gonna talk about meditation as a being all four limbs, all the last four limbs. Is that right?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, it is, yeah. Well, you know, the way how I have described the meditation in this book, it contains mainly the Pratyahara and the Dharana, which are the fourth and – sorry, the fifth and the sixth limb, and then the Dhyana, the seventh limb, is actually the success in the fifth and the sixth limb. And then once the Dhyana has happened, then one can go on to the final limb, the Samadhi, which, in itself, is an extra form of practice.
Claudia Altucher: Right, and interesting thing on Pratyahara, or the fifth limb, you say Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras – by the way, Pratyahara is when we can withdraw the senses, and –
Gregor Maehle: Yes.
Claudia Altucher: – it's not described how do you do it. It's not described in the Yoga Sutras, but you go ahead and do research and describe how can one do Pratyahara. So would you get –
Gregor Maehle: That's right.
Claudia Altucher: Can you tell us, please, how can we do Pratyahara? Is there a way to do it?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yes, sure, but before I set out to explain that is, Patanjali actually doesn't say, about any of the eight limbs, how you have to do it. He only defines them, which – what is the result when you have achieved them. So that's not limited to Pratyahara, but even about asana and pranayama, he just explains the success of the limbs.
Claudia Altucher: Right.
Gregor Maehle: Now, to talk about Pratyahara, there is basically, in the yoga tradition, three different streams of thought or schools of thought how the Pratyahara is to be practiced, and one would be to focus on the chakras during pranayama, and that is an approach that the sage Yajnavalkya has described in the Yoga Yajnavalkya, that is a very important, influential yogic text, one of the most important ones. So – and in that way, I have suggested to practice the Pratyahara.
Then there is a second school of thought, which I have called the Raja yoga approach, and in the Raja yoga, that is, the royal yoga – and one could probably argue that this is the way how Patanjali would have practiced it, although he hasn't pointed it out explicitly, but in the Raja yoga, the five senses are projected back into the body by using mudras and bandhas there. Now, what I have suggested in my book as the fastest way to success is to actually combine those two methods because it's the most powerful way of doing it, that you – while you practice the deep breathing and you focus on the chakras, you are actually applying all of those mudras simultaneously. This is the fastest way to success.
Now, there is the third way of practicing Pratyahara, and that has been described by another ancient yogi. His name was Gorakhnath. He's the founder of the Hatha yoga tradition, or Hatha yoga, as we call it today, and he describes in a text called the Yoga Gorakhnathaka, which means the 100 poses of Gorakhnath – interestingly, of those 100 poses, 12 poses are devoted to Pratyahara, so that shows how important the subject actually is, whereas nowadays, in modern yoga, it's completely neglected. Now, Gorakhnath says that it should be practiced by practicing inversions, such as shoulder stand and headstand, for an extended period of time, and so I have suggested in my book to include that as well and practice the inversions as well, but of course, not while we are sitting in the meditation posture. [Laughs] That would be difficult.
Claudia Altucher: Right, yeah, yeah.
Gregor Maehle: And now that I have mentioned the inversions, there is a bit of a negative publicity at the moment out on inversions, but the problem is that people are – some people have tried to stay in headstand and shoulder stand, which are the main inversions, for as long as possible without actually having mastered the technique, and mastering the technique, of course, means that there is very, very little weight to be placed on the head, yeah? So that means you should hold the headstand only to _____ amount of time, as you can hold pretty much most of the weight, or almost all the weight, in your arms, yeah? And there's no negative effect.
Claudia Altucher: Right. Yeah, I'm glad you say that because I think even though these kinda secrets have become available to all of us now through books like yours, it's very important to respect the fact that you cannot just sort of whip the body into do this. It needs some preparation; it needs to be ready for it, and if we overdo it, we –
Gregor Maehle: That's correct, yes.
Claudia Altucher: We hurt ourselves. Now, you did write this book into 18 laws, and I really like lists, so I thought that was really cool.
Gregor Maehle: Okay.
Claudia Altucher: And so you have – obviously, I'm not gonna talk about all of them because people would have to read the book; there's a lot of material there, but you have – first, you have the six laws on Hatha yoga or –
Gregor Maehle: Yes, correct.
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, then there is Raja yoga, and then there is Bhakti, or the yoga of devotion.
Gregor Maehle: Correct. Yes.
Claudia Altucher: So the first one is the Hatha yoga, which is kind of like what we know, the yoga we know, the asana, the pranayama.
Gregor Maehle: That's right.
Claudia Altucher: And you say that the first law of success in meditation is power by kundalini, but I think kundalini is another of those areas where people just have all kinds of ideas. So can you maybe tell us if – what is kundalini, properly understood?
Gregor Maehle: Okay. Let me throw one thing in first, and that is, the reason why I have divided the book into those three parts and have talked about the Hatha, the Raja, and the Bhakti aspects of the practice, is that nowadays, people often say, "I'll do this and this yoga," as in opposed to that and that, but it's important to realize that in the ancient days, in ancient society, there was only one yoga being practiced, and that was Maha yoga, the great yoga, or the totality of yoga. So if I was a Hatha yoga budding practitioner in those days, I didn't think that I was practicing Hatha because I do not like Raja or I do not like kundalini yoga or I do not like Jnana Yoga or Bhakti yoga, but because I thought, at this point in my life, that is where I am, so that is what I'm practicing, and at a later point, I will integrate all of those other aspects of yoga, and I think this is something – this approach of Maha yoga, of the great yoga, to acknowledge all of those many different aspects of yoga and to graduate from one tier or layer to the next, this is something that we are losing in modern yoga.
Claudia Altucher: I see. So you're saying all three of these really is yoga; you can't just pick and choose. They're all integrated.
Gregor Maehle: Yes. Well, in ancient society, everybody started with Hatha yoga, with the physical aspects of yoga, and then as you developed, you would go on to Raja yoga, which are the more mental aspects of it, and then you would go on to the Bhakti yoga, which is the devotional part, and eventually, yoga would culminate, in all cases, in the Jnana, that is, the yoga of knowledge. Nowadays, we have people, they say, "Oh, I don't wanna do Hatha yoga. I'll do – I'll go straight to Jnana." "Well, I'm a Bhakti yogi." This is not how it took place in ancient society.
Claudia Altucher: And in everyday life, too, I suppose, if you're sick, there is no way you're going to have knowledge of all the universe, right, or if you –
Gregor Maehle: That's – yes.
Claudia Altucher: If you can't breathe, if you can't concentrate, it's very difficult to reach this state of full knowledge.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, that is correct, yeah. Yeah, so the aspects need to be practiced one part after the other, and eventually, they'll all culminate into one.
Now, let me go onto your question about kundalini. Interestingly enough, there was – recently, when I taught in Tokyo, in Japan, I managed to get a bit of an insight into the Shinto religion, which is the ancient religion of Japan. It is much older than the Buddhism there, and I actually found it very, very fascinating. So the Shinto basically says that the divine is something which is like a substance which is in all places and it is in all people, but it is, in some people and in some places, stronger than in others, but it is something that you can cultivate through what they call "the path" or "the right action," yeah? Now, it's very interesting because that brings me to – in all mystical traditions of humankind, it was always taught that true knowledge has a physical aspect. It is not just something which is in your mind. And so the kundalini is basically that physical aspect, yeah?
Claudia Altucher: Mm-hmm, I see. I see, so it's a way of getting to this – using the body to getting access to the divine?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yes. We – yes, we could say that, yes.
Claudia Altucher: I see. That's very interesting. So we start there, and then the – you talk about the Law Number 2 is negating gravity, I wanna say, to speak in English, so to speak, is the first engine of this – so in the body, I guess, if we're starting there, negating the forces of gravity within us or sending the apana forces, the forces that throw us down, up. Does that –
Gregor Maehle: That is correct.
Claudia Altucher: Does that have to do with clearing, say, emotional issues or our issues with sex and relationships and money and things like that?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yes, it is related to that. So everything that you have mentioned now are issues which are related to the lower three chakras, and if you don't work consciously on yourself, due to gravitation, there is a downward trajectory of what we call in yoga, "the life force," which is the prana, and that will always draw the life force down to the lower chakras. And if you look, for example, at our current or contemporary culture, and for example, at reality TV –
Claudia Altucher: Yes. [Laughs]
Gregor Maehle: – there is very much, you know, we talk always about, you know, this or this character, they expose themselves, warts and all, but what we are really looking for is actually those lower urges represented in people. So if you even looked at the movies, say, just a few decades ago, 30, 40 – 3, 4, 5 decades ago, the characters were often larger-than-life figures who had something heroic about themselves, yeah? And – but now, we wanna have day-to-day characters because we want to identify with the human frailty, for example, and if you – if a movie's being advertised, you always hear – or you often hear this phrase, "It's a sizzling cocktail of lust, of revenge, and betrayal," you know? Just listen to that: lust, revenge, and betrayal, yeah? It's a sizzling cocktail of the three. This is what we want for entertainment, you know?
Claudia Altucher: Right, right.
Gregor Maehle: And so whereas, if you just look at, you know, like the characters that were still described just maybe four or five decades ago, or even in literature one or two centuries ago, they were often heroic, you know? They were the sort of people that we were aspiring to become, and this is – has very much gone out the window, and the yoga is actually trying to develop that, trying to bring that part out of you: your nobility, basically. We are not talking about aristocracy, but I'm talking about developing your highest potential, the highest you could possibly become.
Claudia Altucher: So maybe not watching too much TV could be one way to start to clear that up, for example.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, very much so. I mean, the yogi would suggest that you actually use – if you want to use entertainment, then choose sources that depict individuals in the way in which – what you want – who you want to become.
Claudia Altucher: That's right, yeah. Yeah, that's very interesting, and you also talk about – and I guess this is for more advanced yogis – or maybe not. I mean, I try once in a while to do a little bit of a fasting and not eat so much because you say –
Gregor Maehle: Yes?
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, you say this interferes as well because it – why does food interfere?
Gregor Maehle: All right, now, I want to start – say first one thing about fasting, and that is, if you want to try fasting, I strongly suggest that you get a fasting book written by an expert, such as a medical doctor, because there's a couple of things that you have to do properly. You need to eliminate completely and clean the bowels and et cetera, so ___ – [inaudible due to crosstalk]
Claudia Altucher: That's right, and you explain all of that in the book very clearly, by the way.
Gregor Maehle: Yeah, probably not enough in detail to do a fast according to what I say there, but there is excellent fasting books around, so if you're interested in fasting, any of our listeners, I would suggest to get yourself a fasting book and do it properly.
But let me explain the mechanism why it is being done. Have a quick look at the fact that all of the founders of the major religions, you know, whether it's Gautama Buddha or whether it is Mohammed the prophet or whether it is Jesus Christ or whether it is the Jewish prophets or whether it's the Vedic Rishis, that they all went into the desert, into the jungle, on mountaintops, et cetera, and fasted, and then, eventually, they got their spiritual freedom, their visions from that, yeah? But this is very similar to, actually, what the Native Americans did and also what the Australian Aborigines did, and the Aborigines, for example, had a coming-of-age ritual which was called walkabout, in which the young warriors basically had to set out and leave their community and wander through the desert alone by themselves without food for a month, yeah? And during that time, they had spiritual visions, and the same was done by the Native Americans. So fasting would be probably the main inspiration or the main source that, in the last few thousand years, human beings had mystical experiences.
Now, let me explain the mechanism. The peristalsis in the body is the mechanism that actually drives food from the mouth, from the oral orifice, all the way down to where it is eliminated, to the rectal orifice, and so it is the peristalsis is a milking movement of the intestines, or of the alimentary canal, to drive the food through the body. It doesn't actually fall through the body by gravitation. Even if you were in a headstand, you would still be digesting. Now, that peristalsis is the physical manifestation of what we call in yoga the apana, that is, the vital down current. Now, this apana is the main reasons why the kundalini does not rise, yeah?
Claudia Altucher: I see.
Gregor Maehle: Because the apana holds the kundalini down, and if this apana is turned – either switched off or turned around – main techniques by the way to turn it around, Mula and Udyana Bandha, which a lot of yogis will know those terms, they're internal muscular locks. But the most straightforward way to switch that apana off would be to fast and to completely clear out the intestine, and then the apana would be just switched off like that, and then usually, from the fifth day onwards, people will start having very, very deep spiritual experiences if they do practice some form of meditation or spiritual discipline anyway.
Claudia Altucher: I see. That's very interesting. So because this milking of the system that is constantly dragging us down would stop, then we would feel more elevated states, I suppose, after a certain amount of time?
Gregor Maehle: That is correct, and notice, also, that where the intestines are positioned, that is actually this area which is inhabited by the three lower chakras, the three lower energy centers. And so what is happening is that, by this constant massaging of the intestines of those three centers, they're constantly activated, yeah, and so they are powering first, fear and the survival function, and also, aggression – that is the lowermost chakra – then the next one is, of course, the reproductive issue and sexual identification, et cetera, and the next one – and the lower emotions, and the third one, of course, material greed and egotism, the desire to dominate others.
Claudia Altucher: Right, so no wonder we eat more, we watch more TV to keep up with the Kardashians and notice who is dating who, and then we eat some more, and it powers the cycle.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, that's right, whereas if you clean out the abdomen and you would fast for a while, you just would absolutely not care at all about any of those issues.
Claudia Altucher: Right. Now, for example, for me, being a person in the world, I don't think I would even want to take five days out of food. I like the food for now. I'm not that detached, but would you say doing, say, fasting once in a while, which I try to do, like a 16-hour fast or something like that, is conducive, sort of like moving forward? Is that helpful?
Gregor Maehle: Very much so. I think by now, it is also recognized by that short fasts are actually the only thing that will definitely increase your life expectation because it will also reduce your cancer markers, your chance of getting diabetes, et cetera. So it is actually very, very – those short fasts are probably more thing that are good for health, whereas if you do want to go into the spiritual dimension, they need to – it needs to be, of course, longer.
Claudia Altucher: Do you do any retreats in which you take students through this? Is this part of your routine as a teacher?
Gregor Maehle: No, no, not at all, and so the reason is that yogis, in generally, do not do long fasts, and the reason why is because it will interfere, of course, with your ability to perform yoga, you know?
Claudia Altucher: Right.
Gregor Maehle: So you could not do a serious asana practice at a time when you were doing a fast, yeah?
Claudia Altucher: Right.
Gregor Maehle: But the way how yogis get around that whole problem is that instead of having no food at all, the yogis will actually use only food which does not aggravate the apana, that means food which is very, very light and doesn't draw the apana down. So as a category, those are all of the sattvic foods, chiefly fruit and veg, and of course, foods such as meat is very, very Tamasic, it's very, very heavy, and therefore, creates a lot of apana and draws, very much, your awareness and your identification down to those lower chakras.
Claudia Altucher: I see, I see. That's very interesting.
Gregor Maehle: Now, let me just throw that in – not to be sort of – not to be prejudiced. You can overcome that. You can overcome that, so even with a meat diet, of course, you can have spiritual experiences. You would just need to do – perform a bit – make up your missing points in some of the other disciplines.
Claudia Altucher: I see. So for a meat – for a person, say, that because of – and you say this in your book. Some people cannot stop eating meat because of their biology and where they come from and how they were raised, and it may take longer to let go of meat.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yes.
Claudia Altucher: So what's one thing that sort of compensates? Would it be more practice of asana, or what would it be?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, for example, to do more asana practice would be helpful, and you might have to spend a bit more time in meditation, and there's also techniques, called Kriyas, would be very helpful, but there's also, of course, a lot of other aspects of yoga that we haven't really touched yet. A devotional relationship, for example, to the divine, is very powerful, and that can help you overcome a lot, and another aspect, of course, is to avoid toxic thoughts or emotions in any way. Again, this is, of course, something that is not taught at all in our society.
Claudia Altucher: That’s right, and that's very interesting 'cause it brings me into Law Number 3, where you have converting metabolic fire into intelligence, and you talk about thoughts and how it's important to keep our thought patterns clean, and it made me laugh because you talk about The Secret, which is kind of an interesting movie that, too, grew into society like wildfire, maybe because it caters to the three lower chakras, right? It's like, "I want a car. I'm just gonna think about the car and get the car." [Laughs]
Gregor Maehle: Yes, that's right. So it's interesting because, as such, the technology that is described in The Secret is correct. You need to take responsibility for your thoughts, but of course, where The Secret completely fell short is it's only focusing on what you can have, as in opposed to who you can be, yeah?
Claudia Altucher: Right.
Gregor Maehle: If I may here, quickly, quote Jesus Christ, Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of Heaven and everything else will be added on." In other words, when I translate it into modern language, what he was saying is, "The important thing is that you do have a spiritual practice and that you do have a spiritual realization, and then abundance – material abundance will come as a result of that, but don't start chasing material abundance, because material abundance will chase you if you stop giving out a lot. Then you will automatically receive."
Claudia Altucher: Mm-hmm. That's very, very interesting, and you know, I'm not a very advanced practitioner of yoga, but I have experienced that through practice, and eventually, letting go of what I thought I wanted, then what I thought I wanted came to me – [laughs] – in a strange way at the moment of releasing it. It's very, very interesting.
So moving a little bit on, onto the Raja yoga side of things, you talk about Raja yoga, which is the yoga of the mind, right?
Gregor Maehle: Correct, yes.
Claudia Altucher: As being – as attempting to get your mind to be laser-focused concentration, because the last four limbs of yoga are all about – first, you withdraw the senses so you can concentrate, and you talk about Aurobindo, who had a very interesting story, and what can we learn from Aurobindo?
Gregor Maehle: From Aurobindo, we can learn quite a few different things, and one would be – Aurobindo was on death row at the time of being presented with a meditation technique, and famously, with that meditation technique, which is very, very simple, he succeeded in only three days, but since then, nobody has succeeded with that meditation technique. And part of the reason why Aurobindo succeeded, apart from being himself, was that there was nothing else to do but to meditate, yeah? [Inaudible due to laughter] And so because he was basically in prison and he was waiting for a ____ trial with a possible death sentence –
Claudia Altucher: With a death sentence, that's right, yeah.
Gregor Maehle: And so there was nothing that was left to do but to sit and meditate as if Death was breathing down his neck, which it literally was.
Claudia Altucher: Right. I was saying that Aurobindo was given this technique by which he would – you say in the book he had to observe his thoughts, notice that they were not being generated by him, but rather, he was – they were coming in, and then let them go.
Gregor Maehle: Correct, correct, correct. Yes.
Claudia Altucher: Now, I think that if I knew I was gonna die, I would have a lot of trouble with that, 'cause the fear of death is so big.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yeah.
Claudia Altucher: But I suppose he didn't have that fear and he succeeded with that.
Gregor Maehle: Well, on the other hand, the fear of death or the fear of the unknown or the fear of what may be on the other side is also an incredible motivation. Death is breathing down their neck and they have to get on with their life, because in many ways, so many things that we are doing is entertainment and killing time. Here, it is killing time. When you are in a situation like that, that you know, well, there's a good chance that you're dead in three days, you don't wanna kill time anymore. You will use every single breath. And that's the attitude that we would need in meditation to succeed quickly.
Claudia Altucher: Right, that's right. But you say this, in general, doesn't seem to work for many of us, which is true, and you say, then, that we need to choose when we sit to concentrate, what to focus on, because if we don't choose what to focus on, it's gonna choose us, meaning the mind will go out and try to choose something to focus on all the time.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yes, and so this is where yoga very much differs with Buddhism and with Vipassana, because the aim in Buddhism and Vipassana is basically to become aware of awareness, or to become aware of consciousness. The consciousness is that what is eternal, infinite, formless, and quality-less, and by definition, the mind cannot wrap itself around it. If you just imagine, for a moment, that you have an object that is eternal and infinite and the mind is trying to wrap itself around it, it's not possible because the mind is finite.
Claudia Altucher: Right.
Gregor Maehle: So therefore, yoga uses the very structure of the mind to, let's say, to cultivate it. So the mind is a survival tool, and it is designed to attach itself to something that has form and quality, and that's why we are starting with very, very simple meditation objects before we go to something as incredible as awareness.
Claudia Altucher: Right, right, and so your suggestion is actually to – which is what you were saying in the beginning, is to focus on the chakras, and you go on to an explanation of them, and they have – as you get into it, they have sounds associating to them, they have drawings. So it's a very elaborate process until you get to the yoga of devotion.
Gregor Maehle: That is correct, but if I may just throw that in quickly –
Claudia Altucher: Yes, please.
Gregor Maehle: We have, let's say, as a yogi, we have already practiced to start. We start with asana, and so asana is basically meditation on the body and space, and it is also a meditation on the Ujjayi breath, how the breath flows through the body. It is a meditation on the bandhas, which you're holding during your asana practice.
So in some ways, all of the vital points of meditation are already in place. You are used to using your eyes and to attach them to focal points, to lock them into focal points, and so all of those vital elements of meditation are already in place. Then you go on and you learn pranayama, the breathing exercises, which – where you now sit in a meditation position, so asana is still there, but has gone little bit in the background. Now the breath is the number one meditation object. But already here, during pranayama, you have ancillary meditation objects, which are now mantra, that is, you use mantra, the pronunciation of mantra, to count your breath, and still, there is Drishti and there is Bandha as well there, and also, you're using visualization. Because during pranayama, you're supposed to visualize on the sun and the moon, which are nothing but the solar and lunar energy centers, pranic batteries in the body, yeah?
So what I'm saying is, the structural elements of yoga posture, of yoga breathing, and yoga meditation are exactly the same. It is only that the focus shifts gradually as we go on from technique to technique. So by the time we come to actual yogic meditation, not only the posture, but also, the breath is not in the foreground anymore, but still present.
Claudia Altucher: I see, I see. Right, right.
Gregor Maehle: But now, mantra and chakra, which is the visualization that we use in yoga, are now coming into the foreground.
Claudia Altucher: That's right. That's very interesting, and you know, since you mentioned that, it brought to mind when you were talking about pranayama and how it fits into the process, the breathing, you talk at length about how meditation actually cannot happen if you're breathing predominantly more with the right nostril, for example, as opposed to the left, and that it's ideal when both are flowing together.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, that is very, very important to understand that a lot of people, they try meditation and they find it very frustrating that they don't get anywhere. You can't receive any higher knowledge or higher meditation object, and knowledge unless you either have a lunar breath, that is, more breath in the left nostril, or ideally, even fully synchronized, that is, both nostrils flow in the same way, or the breath is even suspended, which we then call the breathless state.
Now, the problem is that the whole way how we are living our life as extroverts makes us solar, that means, the whole, "Go out, go getter, dominate other people, and accumulate wealth," is all very much so-called solar thinking, which means that the breath flow through the right nostril. And this is all okay, but during that time, meditation cannot succeed. So the average contemporary will actually get frustrated by the meditation process. That's why yoga puts so much emphasis on pranayama to learn that first so that you learn to either switch on the lunar channel or the so-called central channel, and with lunar channel, the left nostril, you will succeed with meditation, but when you manage to switch on the so-called central energy channel, you will have a mystical experience, a spiritual breakthrough experience, spiritual awakening, very, very quickly.
Claudia Altucher: Yes, and when you mentioned that, it kind of gave me an "ah-ha" moment because I've been to some of retreat centers that offer meditation where they have you sitting for days on end, and I found that (a) the practice of asana helped me as opposed to other people who couldn't – really couldn't sit for that long 'cause their bodies were not prepared, but I didn't know this part, that the importance of being able to breathe through both nostrils or the lunar nostril, and it seemed to me that they were kind of important things to keep in mind if we were to sit for so long, so I'm –
Gregor Maehle: Yes, this is very important. So in the beginning, you mentioned that in Vipassana, part of the work is by slowly letting go of your conditioning. Now, one thing that cannot be put enough emphasis on is that in yoga – and this has been described in a yogic text which is more than 6,000 years old, and in that text is already described that conditioning is actually located and encrypted simultaneously in body, breath, and mind.
And this is – if anything, then, it's that that is really the central tenet of my teaching, and in fact, it's one of the central tenets of yogic teaching since 6,000 years ago. If you only practice asana, that is, posture, it is very, very unlikely that you succeed, and there is an uphill task. It's an uphill battle. The same thing is if you only practice meditation. Exactly the same thing is happening.
Most people that only practice meditation and nothing else will not achieve liberation, spiritual freedom, and it's the same thing with if you only will do breathing exercises, the odds – it is possible, but the odds are stacked against you. But if you practice simultaneously, yogic posture, yogic breathing exercises, and yogic meditation, the odds are now stacked in your favor, and the reason why this is the case, let me explain that briefly.
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, yeah.
Gregor Maehle: The so-called conditioning, yeah, Patanjali describes the conditioning also – we call it vasana, but the vasana consists of all of the obstacles to yoga, and Patanjali describes the obstacles in the Yoga Sutra 1.30. And so the important thing to realize that those nine obstacles that he mentions there in the Sutra 1.30 are located in body, breath, and mind.
Now, those obstacles – and so you have to imagine that your being is like a crystal, and so now imagine the outermost layers of those – the three outer layers of that crystal are opaque because conditioning is located in them. And so Patanjali and the ancient yogis have said, "Okay, you have to simultaneously practice asana, pranayama, and meditation to purge the conditioning and those obstacles from those outermost layers – body, breath, and mind." Asana purges the obstacles from the body. Pranayama purges the obstacles from the breath. Meditation purges the obstacles from the mind.
If you only do meditation, what will happen is that your conditioning, the vasana, will reboot from the body and the breath because the conditioning has three backup drives, yeah? So if it gets deleted from the mind through your effort in meditation, the conditioning is still there in the body and in the breath. If you are an only asana practitioner – nowadays, modern yoga culture, so many people are trapped in the body. They get completely trapped in this idea. If I only make the body so powerful, it won't help a lot because the conditioning is still located in your breath and your mind, so yogis have taught that since thousands of years.
That was a very, very sophisticated psychology, basically, that you have to purify those outermost layers and then, basically, Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutra 1.41 – this is the most incredible of all sutras – where he says, "Once the crystal of the mind – " this is a bit like an interpretation or a contemporary interpretation, but let me say it in this way: "If the crystal of the mind is completely purified," that is, being made Samadhic, that means capable of Samadhi, then whatever this laser-like concentrated mind, this pure, pure crystal now placed on will truly represent that, whether it is the outer, word, or whether it is your own psyche, your intelligence, or whether it is the innermost, that is, your pure consciousness, the awareness, you will be able to authentically and truthfully experience all of that for the first time, which amounts to nothing else but – you will be free then, you know?
Because the Yoga basically says, "What stops us from being truly alive and being truly ourselves and developing our highest potential and be able to make a contribution to the life of others is the conditioning." The Yoga says, "Our problem is that we are living, essentially, a robotic life." We think, "Ah, yeah, this is what I want," but hang on. That desire that you identify with has been programmed into your mental hard drive, not by yourself. You're acting not out of freedom; you only believe, but you're actually programmed like a robot.
Claudia Altucher: Right, right, right, and you know what, that makes complete sense what you said even before this last bit, which was amazing, but that if you really just sit to meditate but the body is not with you, then as soon as you get out of the meditation, then you'll go back into feeling sick or upset, and the same if you put too much energy into the body. I've seen this in interactions with some yogis. Unfortunately, I've had experiences where people are very mean and they don't get the part that the mind is acting up on them if you focus too much on the body. And so they need to come into balance. It makes complete sense that you would have to work on breath, body, and mind in order to see things clearly and access higher knowledge and see things for what they are, which is what we're trying to do.
Are you there, Gregor? Did I lose you?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, yes –
Claudia Altucher: Oh, you're here.
Gregor Maehle: Absolutely. Yes, yes, I am. Yes. Yeah, yeah, I am.
Claudia Altucher: Okay, so let me ask you, for someone that's getting into yoga, it's very hard to come by a teacher that will have this level of understanding, your level of understanding, and there's a lot out there. What is your suggestion for someone who wants to get started down this path but is afraid of the amount of confusion out there?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, well – well, that is a difficult question. That is a difficult question. Of course, in many ways, the Internet, the computers, et cetera, all what we have here is absolutely amazing. You know, this is only the reason why, actually, the two of us can communicate across the world like this and so many people can listen to us, so it is fantastic, but on the other hand, it has multiplied the amount of confusion.
Claudia Altucher: Yes. Yeah.
Gregor Maehle: So – but I would say, yeah, you know, it is necessary to be discriminative, to be discriminating, because this is one thing, you know, I spent a big part of my life in India, and one thing that I found absolutely astonishing is the amount of cults and the amount of sects and the amount of abuse of power, which is, I suppose, there, exactly the same as in all religions, et cetera. But I found one thing, and that is, never give your power away and never project your power onto another being.
George Gurdjieff, the Armenian mystic that I've quoted already, said one thing that is really, really important, and that is, "The only initiation there is, is self-initiation." That means even if you find a teacher and they seem to be triggering a powerful experience in your powerful spiritual experience, awakening in you, you have to realize one thing, and that is you feel that because you have given them the power to trigger that within you.
So even for a beginner, it is important to never project onto another human being that they may be so amazing and so semi-divine or even divine, omnipotent in all of that. There is no such human being. We are all fallible. Otherwise, we wouldn't be human beings. So the most important thing is, you need to keep your critical faculty on, yeah, engaged, and –
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, yeah, very important. I agree.
Gregor Maehle: And keep questioning. A teacher that cannot be questioned is probably not a very good teacher.
Claudia Altucher: Right. Yes, absolutely, and also, that shifts the responsibility back to me, to really make sure that what I'm doing makes sense to me and rings true.
Gregor Maehle: Yes, absolutely.
Claudia Altucher: I would like to ask you a personal question, Gregor. In your years and years of practice, what would say is one thing that maybe took you a long time to understand?
Gregor Maehle: Let me talk about giving. I think what took me a long time to understand was that, in the beginning, I thought that spiritual evolution was something that I was doing for myself and that I was doing it to attain freedom, to become free of restriction of whatever, and the longer I'm practicing yoga, I realize that actually, spiritual freedom is very much related to giving.
Claudia Altucher: Wow.
Gregor Maehle: In the end, what we are here for is to support each other, to give each other, and there's nothing greater and nothing more rewarding but to actually contribute to the spiritual awakening of another being. So I think that very much, our world is, today, obsessed with receiving, but I found that the number one thing is that receiving is an effect of giving.
Claudia Altucher: Wow.
Gregor Maehle: And so the spiritual freedom is actually, essentially, something that results out of your readiness to do service, to give.
Claudia Altucher: That's very, very interesting. I'm so glad you said that. That's so true. I am incredibly grateful that you joined me today. Do you have any other books in the making, anything coming out, or just teaching for now?
Gregor Maehle: Yes, I'm actually starting to collect the outline of a book on Samadhi, which is the next stage of yogi practice after. It's basically a following on what volume from the one that we talked about today.
Claudia Altucher: Right, so after Meditation – I can't wait for that book, Gregor. That's very, very interesting. I can't wait. And tell me, where can people find your workshops, and if they wanna go visit and come to your classes, where should they go?
Gregor Maehle: Well, I have a Facebook page, which is http://www.facebook.com/gregor.maehler, and also, I've got two websites. One is http://www.8limbs.com – the number "8" and then my blog page is http://www.chintamaniyoga.com.
Claudia Altucher: And that is "chinta," C-H-I-N-T-A…
Gregor Maehle: M-A-N-I "yoga.com."
Claudia Altucher: Uh-huh, "yoga.com." That's right, and your last name is M-A-E-H-L-E.
Gregor Maehle: That's correct.
Claudia Altucher: And where the "H" goes is important. After – before the L-E, so I always need to keep that in mind. [Laughs]
Gregor Maehle: That's right. [Laughs]
Claudia Altucher: Yes. Gregor, thank you very much for joining me today, and I look forward to your next book. I can't wait.
Gregor Maehle: It was a great pleasure to talk to you, Claudia. Thanks for having me.
Claudia Altucher: Okay. Thanks, bye bye.
Gregor Maehle: Have a nice day. Bye.
Claudia Altucher: Bye.
Announcer: That's all for The Yoga Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes and visit http://www.theyogapodcast.com for more interviews. Until next time, keep it real.
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