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Interview with Wai Lana
Energy Magazine (Canada)
Question: Is yoga more popular worldwide than before?
Answer: Absolutely. It's not just in the United States and Canada. For example, my television show is very popular in Australasia, Asia, Europe, South America—pretty much on every continent. In the United States, of course, our show is on many PBS stations, and in Canada we're on a satellite network called One: Mind, Body, Spirit. Each day it seems like more and more people from all kinds of backgrounds are experiencing the benefits of yoga. It's wonderful that after thousands of years, people still appreciate the value of this great art.
Question: To what do you attribute this increased popularity?
Answer: Yoga offers people what they want. People want physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Yoga offers all three.
Question: How is Wai Lana Yoga different from other types of yoga?
Answer: I've never paid attention to what other yoga teachers are doing, but I can pass on what Wai Lana Yoga practitioners mention to me. The most common comment I get is that Wai Lana Yoga is more spiritually inspiring. The atmosphere, music, method of instruction, and practices all combine to create a sense of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. People like that. My students also express appreciation for the clarity and completeness of the instructions, which makes it easy for everyone—even kids. One unique aspect of Wai Lana Yoga that many people like is the practice of yoga sound meditation. Of all the forms of yoga meditation, it is the most pleasant, effective, and easy to perform. So overall, I guess I could say I place much greater emphasis on creating an energy or atmosphere that in itself reduces stress and enlivens one's spirit.
Question: So the environment in which one practices yoga is as important as the yoga exercises themselves?
Answer: The environment is very important. The science of yoga teaches that what we see, hear, smell, and feel all have an effect on the body, mind, and soul. It is counterproductive to practice yoga asanas in an environment where the air is dead, stuffy, smelly, or low in oxygen or where there's distracting noise or chatter.
That's the reason I've made such a great effort to shoot all my videos and TV shows outdoors. It's why I try to produce the most beautiful and inspiring yoga music possible. And it's what motivates me to help practitioners create a relaxing, inspiring environment in their own homes.
Also, a yoga practitioner's attitude is very important, and the environment affects one's attitude. So I try to create an atmosphere that is noncompetitive and spiritually inspiring.
Question: You've videotaped your televisions shows and videos outdoors from the very beginning?
Answer: Yes. When I began, there were no yoga shows or yoga videos that were shot outdoors. Yoga is vibrant and full of life and beauty. I wanted everything about my show to express that. So we found the most beautiful, awesome location on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
I wanted a soundtrack just as powerful as the visuals. I couldn't find any music out there that was as good as I wanted. So I began working with close friends of mine who were longtime yoga practitioners and who are, in my view, the best musicians in the world. Of course, in addition, as a major part of the visuals, I decided to wear clothes and flowers that further express the color and beauty of nature. I believe my shows let everyone know that yoga is neither gray nor boring and you don't have to wear a black leotard to do it!
Question: So is this how your television/video/music career started?
Answer: Yes. But I have never thought of my teaching of yoga as a career. I see it as my service. Yoga is the greatest gift I ever received, and now I'm trying to pass that gift on to as many people as possible. After teaching private classes for a while, I quickly realized that if I wanted to share yoga with the large numbers of people that needed it, I couldn't do it via private classes. That's what motivated me to do the TV series—the videotapes and music CDs were a natural offshoot.
Question: You mention the importance of a yoga practitioner's attitude.
Answer: Yes, attitude is very important. Just as we try to practice yoga in an atmosphere and environment that is conducive to inner peace, we should approach yoga with an attitude that encourages inner peace. Unfortunately, a lot of yoga practitioners develop a competitive attitude. Competitiveness causes stress. There are enough sources of stress in our lives; we don't need another one. We need refuge from stress. Yoga is supposed to be that refuge; that's what I try my hardest to make it.
Question: What do you mean by the "Wai Lana Yoga lifestyle"?
Answer: It means applying many wonderful and useful yoga practices and principles in one's daily life. In addition to yoga asanas and meditation, there are yoga techniques and principles relevant to everything from one's hygiene and diet to one's work and childrearing.
Although we often use the word yoga to refer to a particular system of physical exercises, that's not really what yoga is. The word yoga actually means loving union of the individual soul (atma) with the Supreme Soul (Paramatma). So a yoga lifestyle is one in which a person attempts to bring all of his life's activities into harmony with the Supreme. A yoga lifestyle is one that brings spiritual meaning and purpose into our activities and relationships.
Take one's work, for example. Ordinarily a person works to make as much money as possible so that he and his family can have as many material things and comforts to enjoy as possible. But living just for oneself and the immediate family is not in harmony with the Supreme, so the work itself is not satisfying, and the wealth gained from such work does not satisfy.
Yoga offers an alternative way of approaching work. It is called karma yoga. Karma means action; karma yoga means action in the service of the Supreme. In karma yoga a person works not just for his own material needs and those of his family, but also for the benefit of humanity or society as a whole. A karma yogi sees his work as service to others—whether he is a businessman, laborer, policeman, doctor, lawyer, mother, or whatever. Such a karma yogi experiences happiness from being of service to others because such service is pleasing to the Supreme. In other words, we're all children of the same Supreme Being, and we therefore experience a natural happiness when we are being of service to each other. Furthermore, a karma yogi does not use the fruits of his labor just for himself or his immediate family. He uses them to help others as well.
Question: You said that yoga sound meditation is the most pleasant and effective method of yoga meditation. Is that why music and chanting are such a prominent aspect of your TV shows and videos?
Answer: Yes. The music by itself is so beautiful and powerful, it creates a relaxed and spiritually inspiring atmosphere. When accompanied by yoga sound, the music becomes truly transcendental in its effect. Just by listening to the yoga sound, a person can enter a state of true spiritual meditation. And it's effortless.
Yoga sound meditation is very natural and therefore easy and enjoyable. You can just lie down on your back or kick back in an easy chair and let the yoga sound enter your mind and heart. You can also chant the yoga sound with or without instruments, alone or with friends and family members. Although children are bored by silent meditation, they love to perform yoga sound meditation—especially if it's accompanied by lively music, clapping, and dancing. Kids take to it like fish to water, so parents love it!
It's the greatest gift yoga offers because it not only leads to a happier life, it neutralizes the sting of death. I have received hundreds of emails and letters from people thanking me for giving them something that helped their loved ones leave this world in peace.
We should always remember that physical immortality is not only impossible, but is not the goal of yoga. Even yogis must eventually leave their mortal vehicles behind.
I have been fortunate to be in the presence of self-realized yogis when they are leaving their bodies. At that point, yoga postures or breathing exercises are useless to them. I've witnessed such self-realized yogis as they immerse their consciousness in the yoga sound and get transported by that sound far beyond the fear and unhappiness that usually accompanies death. The room of such a self-realized yogi becomes saturated with spiritual love as they transcend this material dimension and enter the abode of the Supreme. Such successful transfer from the world of matter to the spiritual abode is the perfection of one's yoga practice and life.
Question: At seventeen, you started practicing yoga. What was your life like before then?
Answer: I was raised in a very materialistic home. The goal of my parents was to acquire as much wealth and enjoy the pleasures of this world as much as possible. Because of my parents' one-pointed pursuit of material wealth and enjoyment, my sister became the one who raised me. Actually, I was pretty much left on my own. At the age of fifteen, I stopped hanging around my sister and associated with people who were a bit older than I was. They were quite unhappy, and so a lot of them sought shelter in various intoxicants. I often wondered, "What is the purpose of life?"
Then one day I heard a tape of the most incredibly beautiful chanting. It touched the deepest part of my heart. It was like I had been in a dark room all my life and somebody just turned the light on. I had no idea what was being chanted or who was chanting. All I knew was that the experience was the most powerful in my life. For the first time, I'd experienced something in my heart that told me that life has purpose, that there is hope.
I searched for and followed that sound all the way to India. I had learned that the chanting was that of self-realized yogi. He was holding a retreat in India. There I dove into the profound science and art of yoga. It changed my life forever.
Question: What are the main benefits of yoga?
Answer: The physical benefits are well known. Mentally, of course, there is a benefit of stress relief. These are very important benefits. But the most important benefit of yoga is spiritual happiness.
Question: How often do you practice yoga?
Answer: Every day. In the morning I practice various yoga hygiene techniques, then yoga sound meditation and japa yoga. A little later I do a session of yoga postures and breathing. Of course, I also do shorter sessions of yoga postures throughout the day. I practice karma yoga.
In the evening I try to gather with family members and a few friends for kirtan, which is the ancient practice of congregational yoga sound meditation, accompanied by music and dancing. And of course, every time I cook or eat, I do so according to yoga principles. In short, my entire view of life and all my activities of life are inseparable from yoga.
Question: What part does vegetarianism play in a yoga lifestyle?
Answer: It is very important. Yoga practice is meant to be a cultivation of love for the Supreme and all living beings. Anything that interferes with that cultivation has a detrimental effect on achieving the goal of yoga. Animal slaughter is obviously such an activity. The negative health consequences of eating animals have been well documented, but the negative consequences for one's mental and spiritual well-being are just as important. In a yoga lifestyle, the preparation and eating of food is an important ingredient in the cultivation of one's spiritual, mental, and physical well-being.
Question: Is yoga for everyone or just the physically fit?
Question: Can people get injured doing yoga asanas?
Answer: Yes. Although injuries in yoga are very uncommon, they do occur. A practitioner needs to be very conscientious. If you try to push yourself too quickly or imitate or compete with someone, this greatly increases the likelihood of injury.
Question: How long does it take for a person to become a master in yoga?
Answer: A person becomes a yoga master when he has given up the desire to be master and lord. A person can be considered a yoga master when he is immersed in the happiness of being the loving servant of the Supreme and all living entities. How long will this take? That depends upon a person's sincerity, determination, humility, and spiritual hunger.
As far as mastering yoga asanas, a person can be considered a master of a particular asana when they know and practice it in a proper way, listening carefully to their body and therefore not injuring themselves.
Question: Would you ever consider doing a video or one of your TV shows in Canada? (After the snow melts, of course!)
Answer: Most definitely!