You know that episode where you introduce your guest and you do it all wrong? And then he has to stop you -very politely- to make corrections? Well, this is one of those episodes...
But the good thing is Matthew Sweeney is a really cool guy, he was not disappointed and he wanted to correct things because he has two partners on the beautiful yoga place they share in Ubud, in paradise Bali, and so he told me.
And I left it on the podcast because I think it is good that you hear the spontaneity of how it all went.
I met Matthew through a photograph. And it is not as woo-woo as it sounds...
We were in Mysore, it was 2008, and one night, during one of those frequent electric cuts, my friend Martina and I started looking at his book "Ashtanga Yoga As It Is".
We looked specifically at the advanced postures, like, pick any of the photos in the sample page below... like really, ANY...
Then we would look at each other, Martina and I, over the flickering candle light and go:
"Noooooo... That is impossible!"
What I love about Matthew is that he works very hard at the practice, at teaching it and at keeping it real.
He has "beef" with the usual teacher trainings when they are impersonal and the teacher does not get to know the students (think those courses that teach more than a hundred at the time).
He also does not believe that one system can be good for "everyone", because he has seen the results...
People leave the practice when it is too rigid, when it won't adjust to the issues and the lifestyles and DNA of each individual person.
And that is sad.
He is also adamant about getting to know personally the people who will go in the world and teach what he teaches.
His teacher trainings have many levels, but they are not there to annoy anyone, but rather to build a solid relationship, to do it right.
And, because his practice is so extensive and has happened over such a long period of time, he has created his own sequences, which you can download (see about Matthew section at the bottom of the email)
WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT
Matthew's teaching space in Bali
DVDs books and posters (available for instant download as well)
Claudia Altucher: Hello and welcome to the Yoga Podcast. I am thrilled today to have Matthew Sweeney with me. Matthew is the director of the Yoga Shala Bali in Ubud. He is a yoga teacher, a Star Wars fan, and a twice black belt in martial arts. Matthew has explored and practiced four, or even five I think, of the Ashtanga Yoga series of Sri Jois, who is the founder of Ashtanga Yoga, as well as the teachings of Krishnamacharya, Desikachar, BKS Iyengar, among many other teachers and trains of thoughts.
He started teaching yoga in 1996; at first Ashtanga Yoga, but as he went on he received thousands of students with unique challenges and he developed his own sequences. He is the author of two books, Ashtanga Yoga As It Is, and Vinyasa Krama, in which he explores the sequences –
Matthew Sweeney: I’m sorry. We might need to interrupt that because I think a couple of things are incorrect there. I might need to revisit.
Claudia Altucher: Oh, please, please correct. Tell me.
Matthew Sweeney: Okay, just the start because I’m not the director of the Shala Bali here. There are three shareholders, so if the other shareholders heard that they would probably be a bit upset with me. So maybe we restart that one. And the other one is – I remember this, I’ve just got to think about it – the year that I started. I started teaching in 1992.
Claudia Altucher: In 1992. Would you mind if we leave this like this because I think it’s spontaneous and it’s good and then your partners hear how loyal you are, which is a great thing. I’m sorry about this, that I didn’t have it right.
Matthew Sweeney: No, no. It’s not a problem, it’s just I don’t want to get in trouble.
Claudia Altucher: Of course. I understand. And it’s good to know you started in 1992, then. I had that – I didn’t get that right so I’m glad you told me. But I do know, and this perhaps you also have some DVD’s that can be downloaded with two sequences, Vinyasa Unlocked and the Moon Sequence. Is that right?
Matthew Sweeney: Yes, that’s correct.
Claudia Altucher: Yes, and many posters of sequences that are quite impressive.
Matthew Sweeney: Yes.
Claudia Altucher: So I didn’t quite get the bio right, but Matthew is here to help which is a great thing. So Matthew, welcome to the show. Thank you for coming in.
Matthew Sweeney: No, thanks for having me.
Claudia Altucher: So it’s 6:00 p.m. there in Bali?
Matthew Sweeney: Yes, that’s right.
Claudia Altucher: What did you do today?
Matthew Sweeney: Oh, today we rode around looking for furniture and bits of – tables and chairs for a little Indian Dosa restaurant that we’re starting to create.
Claudia Altucher: Nice. Is that together with –
Matthew Sweeney: A little Indian restaurant called Dosa Corner.
Claudia Altucher: Very nice. I love Dosa’s.
Matthew Sweeney: Yes, I know. So do I. I love South Indian food, so yeah we thought we’d – there’s not good South Indian so much here in Bali so we thought we’d make a good little sort of, yeah, chi shop and Tiffin.
Claudia Altucher: Oh, how nice. So this is in – this retreat where you’re teaching, which you share with other partners, and it looks amazing in the photographs. It looks really nice overlooking rice fields and –
Matthew Sweeney: Yeah.
Claudia Altucher: That looks really, really nice.
Matthew Sweeney: Yeah, it’s lovely.
Claudia Altucher: And let me ask you, so what’s the weather like there?
Matthew Sweeney: Ah, well hot and – hot and humid pretty much all year around, though at the moment it’s nice because it’s raining almost every afternoon so it cools off.
Claudia Altucher: That’s good. When was the last time you saw the snow?
Matthew Sweeney: [Laughs] That’s an odd question. Oh, a long time ago. I think the last time I really saw snow was probably in Germany in 1993 or ’94.
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, because in all your pictures you look like there’s always sunshine around you and you inspire me because I thought if I follow Matthew’s teaching I’ll probably never see snow again, which –
Matthew Sweeney: I mean I have to say, I’ve actually been talking to my partner, Lauren, about this. She really wants to have a white Christmas somewhere so we’ll probably go and do the snow in one or two – well, not this Christmas but maybe the Christmas after that.
Claudia Altucher: Oh, okay. Well, you know –
Matthew Sweeney: It’s not that I’m against the snow, it’s just that I love _____ -
Claudia Altucher: Warm weather.
Matthew Sweeney: And warm weather.
Claudia Altucher: Yeah, me too.
Matthew Sweeney: I like the snow. I like the snow for one week of the year, but that’s all.
Claudia Altucher: We’re exactly the same. We have a nor’easter coming in here in New York, so it’s going to start snowing any time, so it’s a lot of fun. And I have some good news for you. You’re a big Star Wars fan and I understand this weekend the first trailer or the new movie is coming out.
Matthew Sweeney: Oh, yeah. I heard some rumors of this, so yeah, I’m very curious. I loved the first three movies and the following three, they were okay. They just scratched the Star Wars funny bone. So yeah, we’ll see what the next are load are like.
Claudia Altucher: That’s how you started into yoga, right, martial arts and Star Wars? What was it about martial arts that got you thinking along these lines?
Matthew Sweeney: Oh well, I love – I guess I love Bruce Lee and all of that kind of stuff. I grew up wanting to be, I don’t know –
Claudia Altucher: A Jedi master.
We can do all the sitting in meditation we want, but it means NOTHING unless both nostrils are working together... At the same time. Did you know that?
This is one of the thousands of secrets I've learned from Gregor Maehle,
He is an amazing teacher. One of the few practicing yogis living today that is willing to do all the research and write in plain English so we can all understand what yoga means.
On this episode 3, Gregor acts like a catalyst of understanding for all of us to really get it.
In this podcast:
You will hear within one hour, in a magical way,
how all branches of yoga come together to bring you
into the mystical sacredness of this very moment
There is plenty of meditation out there, but nobody talks about how it connects to yoga, specifically.
Schools don't teach it... even the large and famous one...
The focus is so heavily on asana (poses) that people like me end up looking elsewhere, not in yoga itself.
I met Gregor because of his books and I am glad I did because once I started reading I could not put them down.
In fact, I have reviewed all of them here on the blog, and even created a book club around the one on Pranayama because I was surprised that someone could make yoga knowledge so accessible, clear and down to earth.
Every time I read a book by Gregor I feel the "slap in the wrist", as I have come to call it, but it is a tough-love kind of slap, the one that says:
"Don't just settle for asana! There is more to go into... like pranayama and meditation, and the mysteries beyond.
Which brings me to this podcast.
GREGOR SHINES LIGHT
Gregor wrote his fourth book completely dedicated to meditation.
To how meditation fits within the yoga tradition, as one of the eight limbs.
This causes people like me to start dabbling into Vipassana (which is great and they offer free courses but they neglect the body completely) or Shambhaa or Insight Meditation or all other denominations.
Because nobody teaches yoga-meditation.
And by that I mean, how did the yogi researches who have sat and practiced for 3, 4, 5 thousand years approach it?
How have they done it? What can we learn from them?
What happens exactly after asana?
What is it that moves the practice forward when we are "established in a practice of poses"?
WHAT WE TALKED ABOUT IN THE PODCAST
|view into the forest|
BOOKS (Highly recommended):
AMAZING RECENT ARTICLES:
Here is my own related article: The Guru is Dead
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: 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 – never mind 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.