Our life is often like a movie, as we can look at one frame, or moment, and then find a whole episode waiting to be rediscovered. Some moments from the past may be very heartbreaking or tragic. On the other hand, we recall incidents that reflect happy times with friends, family, or lovers. We remember amazing adventures, or times we found a deep sense of contentment and inner peace.
Sometimes looking back, we embrace rich instances of simplicity to savor as sweet nectar in time. Then we relive experiences where we were being creative and expressing ourselves, which are priceless gifts as we learn the freedom of our true nature. If we reflect on the whole picture attached to every moment, painful or sweet, each is a learning experience as we play our role in the movie of life.
In this chapter, I have chosen four specific episodes along my path to share with you. Each is both personal, as well as a reflection of the evolution of yoga practice in the U.S., and a colorful illustration of how problems are often gifts in disguise.
In hindsight, we see many times when we were trying to move forward but gravity was pulling us back, knowing now those encounters actually served to make us stronger and inspired true wisdom. We all have goals and dreams, yet often we have to overcome challenges to achieve them. With the benefit of time, we realize many of our obstacles did not arise from the others we blame, yet from our own self-ego, which blocked progress.
Here, my four stories await you patiently as the adventure begins.
STORY NUMBER ONE
One Drop of Water In the Ocean of Opposition
We are all born into this life in different places and specific moments in time.
It has been said by many philosophers that problems are gifts in disguise, and with this in mind, each challenge becomes a learning experience that is, for those who have the insight to see the true lesson. As for the others, who are going through life blindly as if they are driving without their headlights on, they will have to wait until they are illuminated enough to realize when another gift appears.
Each circumstance, regardless of its nature — whether it is truly pleasant, or downright difficult — always has a hidden lesson attached, a message for your inner self or those around you.
Our brains are much like computers, as we are programmed to respond to the information we gather and store. We are greatly influenced by our surroundings — relatives, teachers, culture and human society as a whole. Ideally, this programming is given to us as helpful guidelines to teach us right from wrong, and to further develop our mental perception and expand our knowledge.
But this process often gets derailed, because the bulk of society is nervous and frightened when confronted with change, or when experiencing a new and seemingly strange approach to a more progressive life. As humans, a truly priceless gift is the ability to see ourselves and the delicate balance between being programmed like a computer to respond as authorized, or in taking a good look as an individual, to process knowledge into something more progressive or new, thus coming to our own conclusions. Discerning the difference is the foundation to intelligence and awareness. As action creates reaction, karma is born. In the Hindu philosophy, this becomes our resume for future employment on earth.
We should learn to listen to our thoughts, as clouds should listen to the wind — where destiny awaits.
For me, childhood was a total adventure, laced with choices, opinions and unpredictable consequences. But beginning in my pre-teen years, whenever I was presented with a new concept to live by, I began to filter out correct, essential and progressive information from less productive and incorrect information, digesting what I could and passing off the rest.
It was in this way I began to break free of the bonds and cultural heritage of my conservative hometown of Houston, Texas and forge my own path.
But let me start at the beginning.
I was born March 3, 1951 in Houston, Texas. My childhood was really wonderful, especially since my parents Stanley and Violet Swenson were kind, loving and open-minded. Ever since I can remember, I was drawn to past times and hobbies of nature related origins: like building tree houses, riding my bike and playing in the mud. Once my brother David was born, I was totally excited to have a little brother to share my vast knowledge from my five years of experience. Very shortly after David could walk, we started experimenting with skate boarding, building better tree houses and playing in the woods all day long. My big sister Diana was more refined and cultured with interest in dance, fashion and the latest cool, rock bands. On occasion, Diana would help with suggestions to keep David and I from getting in trouble with the parents.
I didn't think much of the wider world until age 13, when I began to question the validity of the lessons I was being taught in school, by my family, and from human society as a whole. I was just not quite sure these lessons were all one hundred percent correct, and, most of all, I was positive there was something missing. I felt there was definitely more valuable information to learn, if I could only find it.
As I woke up to my way of free thinking, my questions, thoughts and fresh new ideas were not always appreciated at that place and time, in the conservative environment that surrounded me. It seemed there were no like-minded souls to be found, and I received constant verbal warnings and cautions for entertaining my foolish insights. After all, what could I possibly know? I was just a kid!
I was very lucky to have a mother and father who were kind, caring and quite open-minded as compared to many of those around us. My parents belonged to "The Unitarian Fellowship," a church group whose members were encouraged to think both inside and outside the boxed and packaged presentation of society.
One Sunday, my parents wanted me to meet an older man who was supposed to be quite interesting. His name was Ernest Wood. This was not the first time I had been introduced to a member of the church group, or to friends of my parents, but it was definitely the most memorable. As I shook his hand, I was immediately drawn to his eyes, the tone of his voice and the energy that embraced his presence. During those few moments I saw something, and it was beyond words to describe, yet my brain became relaxed and my thoughts at peace. Little did I know this man would eventually greatly influence my life in many ways.
The following week, Ernest Wood was asked to teach a class to some of the Sunday school kids. I was one of the lucky ones and curious as to exactly what it was Mr. Wood would teach us. As it turns out Ernest Wood was a published author, yoga master, Sanskrit scholar and philosopher, and he was teaching yoga to us on this day, although I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. The philosophy and metaphors Ernest Wood taught in class were sometimes a bit over my head, but I never forgot the Yoga postures, breathing and deep relaxation along with subtle words of wisdom and the amazing feeling that remained with me after class, which was far beyond any experience I had ever encountered.
Ernest Wood and his books
I was about to turn 14 and, like most young teenagers; I had many ideas going on at the same time. One of my interests, which ranked at the top of my list, was surfing; being on the ocean, at peace with the world and riding a wave. For me surfing was a truly sacred and spiritual experience! We lived a two-hour drive from the nearest ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, which was definitely not famous for world class waves. I listened to songs about surfing, and saw photographs of distant lands with way cool swells. I knew I would have to convince my parents to give me a ride to the beach now and then, but I was already a good skateboarder and after all, in my way of thinking, water was softer than concrete. My dream became reality when my parents agreed to assist me with the purchase of a surfboard, provided I did well in school, could complete my chores around the house and would work a part-time job to pay my share of the expense.
The thought of having my very own surfboard and learning to surf was worth any effort and energy I had to endure to get there. Six months later, I had reached my savings goal of $55 and upheld my other obligations, so my parents and I went to the local surf shop and purchased my surfboard. The very next weekend I bummed a ride to the beach with my older sister’s friends, who were also learning to surf. In the months to come, I found complete bliss in the energy of the ocean, as well as in some of the concepts of breathing, stretching and relaxation that Ernest Wood had taught me. When I turned 15 and started my freshman year in high school, I realized my hobbies of surfing and “Yoga stretching” made me different from the other kids in high school.
One day I was looking at a surfing magazine with beautiful photos of waves in Southern California and I immediately started to spend long hours thinking about how I might convince my parents to allow me to see this surfing paradise. I got my chance when my sister’s older boyfriend Gary bought a car. He was also a surfer, as well as a smooth talker, and after several attempts Gary convinced my parents to allow me to travel with him to California for three weeks that summer. All went well and I found myself surfing a wonderful and really magical spot rightfully named Swami’s. At the time I did not connect the dots, but the next day when I came in from the ocean I noticed a beautiful building perched on the cliff above Swami’s surfing beach. Curious, I walked by the grounds and noticed some people doing a few of the movements Mr. Wood had shared. I quickly ran over and ask just what this interesting technique was called?
“We practice yoga, this is an ancient and sacred mind-body philosophy,” they replied.
A light turned on in my brain as I realized what Ernest Wood had taught me, those years before, was yoga practice and philosophy. Being young at the time I did not understand the full impact of what he was teaching me until that very moment, standing on the grounds of what I was then told was the “Self Realization Fellowship” founded by Paramahansa Yogananda. I went inside the temple and had a wonderful vegetarian lunch.
After another five days of surfing it was time to return home to Houston. As soon as I walked in the door I told my father I wanted to do more yoga with Mr. Wood. My father gently told me Mr. Wood had recently passed away, but that he had three of his yoga books, which he proceeded to share with me. In the year 1965 in Texas there were no yoga studios and I did not know of one other person practicing yoga. So, Ernest Woods’s books became part of my regular studies, along with my school textbooks, and of course, surfing magazines.
In time, I began to learn about the benefits of a healthy diet, and as I continued to adhere to regular yoga practice my surfing excelled beyond all of my wildest dreams. Yet all was not well. In school I was constantly bullied for being a "surfer, yoga dude and vegetarian weirdo." As I was heckled, I escaped with thoughts about surfing and dreams of moving to California, where people with my beliefs and passions were commonplace. In the meantime, my parents were encouraging me to work a good job in Houston and to cut my hair in order to look presentable and more appropriate.
As the pressure to conform built up and became unbearable, at the age of 17, I decided to leave home and move to California against my parents' wishes. Due to my parents’ concern, they sent me to three psychiatrists, who only served to unintentionally confirm my reasons for leaving. I had friends in Encinitas who agreed to rent me a room. I arrived in 1968 and enrolled in the local high school, telling them I had moved there with my parents. For money, I worked after school at Ocean Pacific Surf Shop where I made surfboard wax and did some janitorial duties.
In a very short time, my surfing and yoga excelled to a level which was off the charts. OP sponsored me as a professional surfer, and I did so well I went on to compete throughout the U.S. and around the world, including the 1972 world surfing championship in Oceanside, CA. My yoga gave my surfing a turbo boost and a peaceful and relaxed relationship with the ocean, while the waves enhanced my yoga by teaching me about the movement of energy and the value of cross-training, both physically and mentally.
I never really thought about teaching yoga until my fellow surfers started asking if I might share this magic and priceless gift. I agreed, and held my first 'class' in 1969. I had progressed from being bullied in school to being a rock star surfer and a highly respected yoga teacher. The not- so-easy days of being raised in Texas had ironically taught me to be strong, to have faith in my dreams and to stand my ground even when faced with endless opposition in all directions. Now I was living in California with like-minded souls, surfing, practicing yoga and eating an enhanced vegetarian diet with endless energy and mental clarity.
The strongest Human is the one
With the greatest strength of progressive thought
In the midst of vast opposition
STORY NUMBER TWO
Being Prana The Essence of all Life
At age 23, after I had been practicing yoga for 10 years, this mystical practice was finally being acknowledged in many parts of the U.S. and around the world as a powerful
tool to enhance physical and mental well-being, as well as cultivate inner peace.
Society was slowly becoming more familiar with the amazing benefits of the sacred science and art of yoga. I decided to take a month or so, to do some informal experiments with practicing yoga in various environments, both indoors and outside with nature. The results were quite amazing. When I practiced outdoors, the benefits were greatly multiplied and I discovered amazing rewards I never before experienced.
In my first experiments, I picked a nice, quiet park with lots of green grass and shady trees, and not too many bugs. This was an easy introduction to outdoor practice. The most important thing was being surrounded by the living energy of plants, which were oxygenating the air. After every outdoor practice my eyes were clear, my mind embraced a much deeper sense of inner peace, and I had a glow to my presence. These results were at a level I had never before noticed with indoor yoga practice, and I was inspired to try more outdoor sessions.
As I gained more comfort with further practice in nature, my mental states began to travel farther beyond the norm, and I found myself becoming much more intuitive, with a greater sense of
awareness, compassion and mental focus. These results were not just confined to the time and particular location where I practiced on any given day, but stayed with me at work and home, sometimes lasting six hours or more. On many occasions after I had an amazing outdoor practice, people I came in contact with throughout the day commented that they felt at peace just being in my presence.
Imagine walking into a room full of negative, unproductive, low-energy people — the type who see the cup half empty and look for reasons to complain, dragging everyone else into their dark space like the black hole of a fallen star that sucks everything into its void.
Well, after a great outdoor yoga practice, I was glowing with the opposite effects, and as I absorbed the power and softness of the whole universe I found I could lift people out of black holes, depression and dark thoughts, all without saying one word. The credit was not mine to own. It was not magic, nor did I have secret powers. Yet I found a way to channel the incredible presence of nature through outdoor yoga. With immense prana as my companion, good things began to happen.
In the next month or so, I began to notice nature at a much deeper level, such as the way the wind blew through the trees, the power and softness of the river, the strength of the mountain and tranquility of the sunset or sunrise. I observed, more intimately, the way oceans changed into clouds, then became rain or snow and finally returned to the sea. I realized yoga was teaching me lessons on how to have faith in invisible energy, how to float like the wind. It was teaching me to embody the fluidity of a river and the power of a mountain, and to be inspired by the way the ocean changes and creates life. Yoga allowed me to be the light and tranquility of the sunrise and sunset.
I learned priceless information and much more which cannot be easily explained in words.
Practicing outdoors at sunset also led me to my first discovery of vinyasa, defined as the connecting link between yoga postures. In order to get a visual of what I was doing, I watched my shadow as it moved over the ground. When the shadow drew smooth, flowing energy lines, I noticed my practice felt better, and this translated into more fluid and productive actions throughout my daily life.
In addition to instilling increased mental clarity, peace, compassion, strength and spirituality, there is one more quite interesting aspect of outdoor yoga practice: The Law of Attraction.
I discovered I would often attract animals, birds and reptiles which seemed to feel at peace in my presence. They watched me and communicated without words. When I was deep into my asana practice, these creatures accepted me. It was as if they praised me for not being noisy, violent, or afraid and for blessing their space with kindness and love. They respected me as I learned to revere their world as much as, or more than my own. In one instance, a mother bear and her two baby cubs walked onto my practice, then sat down about 20 feet away and just watched. When another man appeared on the trail, the bears left, but once he had gone, they returned to join my space for another hour. This amazing experience happened on a regular basis, always when I was practicing yoga.
When I teach yoga, I often take my students out into nature and encourage them to continue to practice outdoors, at home, or on vacation, so they, too, can experience these benefits. Next time the weather is nice and you have the desire to do yoga, try surrendering your practice to the soothing hands of Mother Nature. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you... forever.
A word of caution: I am not talking about practicing yoga in the snow, the blazing heat of the desert, or especially not in a polluted environment. In adverse climatic conditions, with excessive noise or extreme pollution, you are better off practicing indoors with some plants in your room.
Practicing Yoga Outdoors & The Five Elements
Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Ether
My own personal determination to seek out and practice yoga was greatly inspired by my first teacher, the late Ernest Wood. When I was 13, he once said, “yoga is to become energy," and I have never forgotten that. After he passed away, I found myself practicing yoga out of books on
nature’s stage — in city parks, under the shade of mighty oak trees, alongside a meadow of wildflowers, or at the beach. I have since spent many hours practicing outdoors trying to create a mutual union with the five elements — channeling the energy and strength of earth, the lightness of wind, the warmth of sun, the fluidity of the river and the non-attachment of ether to model my practice. The results were amazing, and I felt naturally high for hours after every session.
In the right environment, the benefits of outdoor practice include enhanced pranic energy, a greater mind-body connection and heightened spiritual vision, a greater connection to all nature's creatures and most of all, discovering firsthand how the five elements of nature play a role in your yoga practice. Practicing yoga outdoors is a very educational and spiritual experience which is hard to describe in words, but if I had to pick one it would be "bliss."
It is a first-hand education from the best yoga master of all, “Mother Nature”. In keeping with her teachings, life as we know it is all about energy and the five elements: earth, air, fire, water and ether. All things come from and return to these five elements.
Here are the lessons of each of the five elements:
Earth: The lesson of earth is to embrace strength, and be steadfast, grounded and unshaken in both yoga and daily life. Remain firm to your true convictions, even when surrounded by opposition on all sides.
Air: The lesson of air is to be light, free and easygoing, striving to enhance your vital life force with fresh oxygen. It also teaches us that we have a unique relationship with plants that should be honored, whereby we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, and in exchange, plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen.
Fire: Fire instructs us to radiate vibrant heat from our core, shed light onto higher consciousness and warm the souls of all who come into our presence. For a true spiritual experience, practice your Sun Salutations outdoors at sunrise or sunset, paying tribute to the life force energy of the sun as you feel the soothing touch of tranquility touching your very soul.
Water: Water's message is to be powerful yet soft, inspiring yet beautiful. To be flexible, able to take any form with ease, and a refreshing companion for all those you meet. Allow your life to reflect the qualities of softness and strength, as your life becomes as natural as the river flowing to the sea.
Ether: Ether is a word used to describe the void of deep space beyond our atmosphere, the invisible vacuum, which gravity, light and energy pass through. The lesson of ether is to know there are times when you should be unattached, unaffected and unshaken. In confrontations, for example, it is wise to let go, and you will avoid fueling a negative fire.
Respect this Earth
Feel the very essence of nature
In all things ...
As you embrace sacred awareness Showing much gratitude
STORY NUMBER THREE
Filming the Movie Seeking Harmony Within
“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we will find it not.” — Ralf Waldo Emerson
It does not matter what you do in life, how much money you make, the value of your material things, or what kind of status you represent. In the end, it is always a balancing act to maintain your own inner peace, focus and mental clarity. So, you weigh the odds, try to find the middle ground, and still keep your harmony within.
It was 1972, and I had just finished practicing my yoga under a palm tree on a Southern California beach near San Diego. The sun was setting as champagne clouds danced in the wind, floating effortlessly and free like dreams as the distant sound of waves sang a soothing, familiar melody.
I wanted to stay on my practice mat and enjoy the blissful serenity, but just down the shore crowds were gathered where a local surfing contest was underway- and I was in it. It was time to get ready for my next round “the final heat”. I was sponsored at the time, with branded surf trunks and wetsuit, a company-sponsored board and even wax with the company logo.
You would think I'd be proud of these free perks, and I was, but recently they had begun to stress me out as I became increasingly weighed down by the politics of corporate surfing.
However, after my previous heats I was doing extremely well in my overall rating at the competition, favored to be a likely winner and just one step away from the finals.
So I geared up and carried my surfboard to the contestants’ waiting area. After a few last minute suggestions from the team coach, I paddled out into the line-up with the five other surfers in my heat. It was a nice, sunny day with a good clean southwest swell running 4 to 6 feet amid light offshore winds. Just perfect!!!
Soon I saw a beautiful wave coming right to me. Knowing well I could impress the judges on this ride, I was already thinking of which moves would score the highest points. Yet as I started paddling into position, something strange happened. Time seemed to stop, and my mind drifted back to my yoga on the beach. I felt a longing for the non-competitive, artful practice, which always gave me a deep sense of awareness for all nature, expanding to touch every aspect of life.
As the wave approached, I saw it with the renewed sense of peace my yoga had given me. It was much larger than it looked from a distance and as the water quickly sucked up the face, I spotted a lone dolphin playing in the energy. I watched as the wave hit the shallow reef and jacked up, its beautiful blue-green lip curling upward in the golden sunlight. I spun around and began to paddle for the wave, but then something came over me, and I quickly unstrapped my leash, dove into the breaking wave and body surfed, with all my senses on high.
I was free, like the dolphin...
I was free as the sunlight and the wave
Those few moments lasted a lifetime as I rode inside the barrel with no board. Since I was in no hurry- on nature’s time- I finally reached the shore and walked up the beach, knowing full well I had lost my heat and probably my sponsor too. But I had gained a deep sense of peace, contentment and freedom.
For some time, up until that instant I had very much enjoyed competitive surfing, and the friends and sponsors who believed in me and made it all possible. But it was time for me to move on.
In one way or another many philosophers have said, “Our thoughts often create seeds and seeds grow into action." This idea was certainly true for me on that day. My subconscious had already chosen a new path and it just took one amazing yoga practice and a few subtle hints from Mother Nature to make it happen.
I officially resigned from competitive surfing and then decided to temporally detach myself from distractions to think about my next move. I even ignored my best friends who wanted to hang out. I realized I had a larger purpose than competitive surfing, so I disappeared for a few weeks, practiced yoga in remote areas, took long hikes and went soul surfing in uncrowded waves.
Then a clear vision of my dream was manifested. All I had to do was find a way to bring my idea to life. At this time in the surfing community, there were some really cool, low-budget surf movies, which inspired us surfers and the general public to play in the beauty and magic of the ocean- which also launched a fashion frenzy.
My idea was to make a beautiful film highlighting pure surfing in less traveled places. It would also weave in yoga practice in remote areas, and highlight living off the land.
It would be a documentary about searching for the perfect wave, which was not a unique idea, but the quest was just a metaphor for finding inner peace.
I wanted the movie to show that we live our whole lives and quite often cannot see the most obvious things. Yoga can instill a much deeper appreciation and gratitude for every aspect of life, both large and small. The ocean is a reflection of two kinds of energy — visible and invisible. The visible is the wave itself and the invisible is the energy pushing the wave.
Yoga creates awareness of energy and the vinyasa acts as a connecting link, uniting each asana to the next. The word vinyasa literally means 'to step or to place in a conscious manner,' and practicing this concept through yoga translates into living every aspect of life with a deep sense of awareness.
Our actions are guided by our thoughts and our thoughts then grow into our reality.
My colorful vision was to travel from one place to another, with a heightened awareness of all things, and not just surf, but become the waves, be a part of the ocean and all of life.
Yes, the movie highlighted surfing, but the message was that in daily life each separate moment is like a yoga asana, or a beautiful wave seeking only to be, and that by practicing yoga, enhanced diet and embracing deep appreciation of nature and simplicity, everyone can find “Harmony Within” without traveling anywhere.
To begin the process, I knew I had to recruit the two most wonderful souls on the planet to assist me, my little brother, David Swenson, and my best friend, Paul Dunaway. I thought it would take a great deal of time, lots of convincing and promises of fame and riches to get them on board, yet no sooner had I said “yoga and surfing” they agreed! The adventure was set.
We made a mutual alliance to be equal partners and we agreed that our message was the main motivation and much more important than trying to get rich. In the coming weeks, the three of us brainstormed ideas for possible titles of the movie and remote locations to film. We planned on what type of cameras to use, the travel logistics and getting visas. Of course we also needed some custom-made surfboards and a reliable vehicle.
It was all sounding extremely awesome except for one small detail — we added up our total combined net worth and found we had just $562.17 between us. Obviously the next order of business presented itself. We needed to get jobs to fund our yoga-surf adventure. My brother David and I decided to work at the local natural food restaurant coincidentally called “Ye Seekers Horizon.” It did not pay much but had the benefit of free meals, discounted products and low stress, so we hired on. Paul, on the other hand, decided to work for his father as an assistant tugboat captain. Yes, it was a more prestigious and higher paying job, but it also carried quite a bit more stress and responsibility. So our status quickly changed from unemployed, surfer-yoga bums to respectable, actively employed citizens of society.
After work and on our time off, we met and worked out our travel plans. We decided we would film in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America due to their good waves, beautiful tropical flora and amazing shorelines where food grew right on the beach. We split the necessary jobs. Paul would scout around for a vehicle, I would investigate camera equipment, and David would swing some deals for new custom surf boards.
A few months later we met again and came up with an awesome idea. We decided to recruit musicians to play an original soundtrack. We all knew people who were in bands, practiced yoga and surfed too, so we bartered for free music in trade for PR and copyrights to their songs. Our musical friends jumped on board and were totally stoked to be a part of the home-grown adventure project. By chance, David knew someone who was a great artist and in time he cut a deal for him to paint a vison of our dream. This would become our movie poster.
Work, work and more work, until one day we realized we had enough capital to make our dream a reality. We set a date for March, loaded our VW van with cameras, surfboards, and yoga mats, and the adventure began.
We all agreed that Paul would bring his big German Shepherd This was mainly for security reasons, but Zariah was a cool dude too. Our journey began in South Texas, not too far from the border, so logic suggested we first travel down though Mexico, then on toward Central America.
The best thing we had going for us was that we were not on any specific schedule. We were in the moment and going with the flow of destiny.
Entering new countries is always an unpredictable adventure in itself, so we had a policy that we would pull over a few miles ahead of each border crossing and practice our yoga on a hill, in a meadow or by a river.
This way, we always confronted immigration with a relaxed energy and mental clarity. This seemed to work. We always had positive thoughts and visions of our goal, knowing that with a peaceful state of mind and good intentions the chances of success were greatly enhanced.
So all was well as we crossed the border into Mexico with no problems and we were off heading south. By the way, the roads in Mexico and Central America are not always as smooth as creamy peanut butter. They were more often goat trails through the mountains, jostling us and all of our equipment around in the van as we made our way farther and farther away from civilization.
After an eight-hour day of driving, in remote areas of Mexico, we stopped alongside a beautiful river to practice yoga and have a nice lunch. As we practiced, Zariah was swimming in the river and playing with the fish, his version of yoga.
We planned to travel across Southern Mexico the next day, and after checking our map, we decided to camp for the night so we would be fresh to make the long journey from the Gulf of Mexico to the West Coast and Pacific Ocean. All was going well. The days and weeks passed smoothly as we surfed, practiced yoga and filmed in Mexico, then moved slowly on to Central America.
One of the favorite places we discovered was a very secluded area of Costa Rica, where, to our divine pleasure, there were few people, amazing waves, and beautiful beaches lined with coconut palms, bananas and mangos, papayas, almonds, and cashews.
Weeks passed and we developed a blissful daily routine. We woke up, drank fresh coconut water and ate papaya, then paddled out into the ocean for about two hours. After surfing and filming we returned to the beach for another yoga practice under the cool shade of the palm trees. Then, it was time for a nice, healthy lunch as we relaxed. We had much gratitude for these moments in paradise. In the late afternoon, we returned for another couple hours of surfing, then bathed in the river and had an amazing dinner. We camped on a grassy area under the palm fronds, and always had peaceful dreams.
As we continued filming, after two to three weeks in one place we would travel to the next location, practice yoga, surfing, filming and living the dream. We kept going until finally we realized our money was running low. With just enough to cover gas to make the long journey back to the U.S., it was time to leave.
I think we all knew the simplicity of our daily routine during those few months would be difficult to leave behind and yet something we would remember and cherish forever.
We would also never forget the interesting locals we met along our path — farmers, fisherman and an occasional tourist.
While they were wonderful, we found our teachers and gurus in nature. The constant background sound of ocean waves, the melody of the wind through the palms, and the sweet voice of time speaking in silence.
After the trek back to the States we had mixed emotions. We were sad to give up our utopian lifestyle, but excited to finish our movie. We had to go back to work to fund the completion of our vast project. The editing was exciting and tedious, and we continued to meet with our musicians to coordinate the music to fit each separate scene.
This all took place in a simpler time. There were no personal computers, no iPhones, no digital anything. After another four or five months with lots of effort from many people who helped make the movie a reality, we had achieved our goal. We completed our low-budget, grass-roots
movie, that we titled “Harmony Within,” the movie pioneered a unique message, which we hoped would be a priceless gift to the public. We booked a screening tour, showing the film in college auditoriums and surf shops around the country.
In the end, we lost most of our investment, yet presented a beautiful gift to the public and gained priceless memories and a sense of accomplishment and pride in what we had done. From the beginning, financial success or failure was not our goal. We were motivated by one simple idea: “to live a natural and beautiful existence, to embrace harmony within,” and at the same time sharing our vison with the public as we bring a dream to life. Success was already ours, and we hoped those who were lucky enough to see the film would appreciate what we were trying to say.
There is a sacred thread of energy which connects all living things. We are but one small piece, and those who see this will feel immense gratitude and compassion in the most simplistic moments, where peace prevails.
Sometimes this Earth spins a bit too fast. Moments, friends and surf movies- made on 8mm film- often get lost. Yet, the amazing memories they leave behind are priceless gifts which continue to light the soul in times of darkness.
~ Leave Only Wisdom ~
In the end, the greatest human who ever lived
Left only footprints in the sand...
And wisdom to expand...
STORY NUMBER FOUR
Managing Your Ego In Yoga and Life
The ego is a part of your daily existence in each moment and every decision that arrives. You must consider if your response or action is appropriate, or if it is arising from an over-inflated ego telling you what to do like an intimidating boss. One of the best approaches in managing your ego is to first develop awareness of ego itself and then adopt an essential plan for balance. The true essence of ego can have either a positive or negative influence on your personality and greatly affect your peers, group thinking and all of society as a whole.
The definition of ego can have many different interpretations, perhaps partially because the human ego gets in the way of its own logic, much like gazing into the mirror and ignoring the things we do not want to see.
The actions and thoughts of many yoga students today reflect the shining ego controlling a driving force to achieve the perfect asana. Ironically, yoga practice in itself is designed to eliminate the ego. Therefore, we must seek a conscious approach to find clarity and balance. The ego can be your savior in times of need, or it can destroy and dismantle all things good and holy, leading to failure and lack of integrity in yoga and life. Looking at ego in yoga practice and beyond, I have highlighted some valuable approaches and suggestions to work with the positive side of ego, which can enhance your yoga practice. I also hope to shed light upon precautions to help avoid and overcome the negative side of your ego.
According to Freud, the mind can be divided into two main parts:
The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. A part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness. Freud called this ordinary memory the preconscious.
The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.
The ego arises from the conscious mind based on perception since birth and with communication from the unconscious mind.
YIN AND YANG OF MR. AND MRS. EGO
Yoga Practice and Positive Ego
On the positive side of ego, we find pride, self-esteem, and integrity, which are very beneficial and lend themselves to productivity, success, contentment, and inner peace in daily yoga practice and life. This welcome face of ego, like a good friend, is always there when we need it and helps us to be better at our yoga and our daily work — feeding us with inspiration at home and reflecting the kindness of humanity.
Yoga Practice and Negative Ego
On the negative side of ego, we find an exaggerated sense of self-importance feeding upon self- destructive energy and conceit. This side of ego is arrogant and self-infatuated, driving us to see ourselves as flawless entities. It relies on the subconscious mind to dictate irrational actions. This
side of the ego becomes its own worst enemy and often takes down many innocent bystanders along its path, like a black hole in the universe.
The negative aspect of the ego tends to thrive on domination and seemingly endless control, driving forward on a quest for survival at the expense of anyone, or anything, in its path. Ego of this quality has no compassion, no genuine love or selfless generosity, and will devour sacred acts and spirituality for lunch without even blinking.
When relating directly to yoga practice, the negative side of ego can cause physical and mental injuries to ourselves and others — while causing us to adopt boxed thinking and tunnel vision.
Imagine the individual yoga student, teacher, or organization that does not want to listen to any other viewpoints, suggestions or upgrades, even if this information could help prevent injury and provide enhanced education. This would be a reflection of stubborn self-righteous pride and ego, ultimately contradicting yoga practice itself, and blocking physical and mental progress.
Needless to say, this negative side of the ego is definitely not an example of yoga integrity, philosophy or lifestyle. “Wow, dude you are harshin' my mellow!” No worries, the pleasant side of ego will arrive on wings with open arms and a warm heart to rescue you from failure.
The origins of ego extend far back to when we were young children, learning things like ownership and desire for our favorite toys or foods. As we grew, we “progressed,” to striving to acquire a nice car, a trophy mate or a fancy yoga pose ... "Give me that — I want it now!"
We all have stuff, yet our things should not control our lives, or define who we are. In the end, the ego-driven quest for material things offers a temporary high that leads to unhappiness, causing us to act like drug addicts looking for another fix.
In yoga practice, we should strive to extend a warm invitation to the energy of each asana, instead of trying to defeat or capture a pose for our personal possession and bragging rights.
Yoga off the Mat
Seek yoga for the sake of yoga itself. Bathe in the art, practice and philosophy about this sacred lineage and enjoy its endless rewards both physically and mentally. Move away from doing yoga because it is cool, makes you look good, or impresses your friends. Try not to allow the title of “intermediate” or “advanced,” or your teacher ranking credentials affect your integrity. Always strive to be a good example of a yoga practitioner. Yoga teachers and students are supposed to set a positive example for the rest of society, highlighting the best side of humanity.
Yoga on the Mat
Set reasonable goals and learn to enjoy the rich benefits of yoga itself rather than becoming obsessed with seeking to conquer the yoga posture, yoga routine, or style. Find the balance. There is nothing wrong with having pride in your yoga practice and looking good, or working to excel or finding support with your practice mates. But don’t allow your ego to prevent you from using yoga props, or entice you to set a goal of being the best in your class or looking the most fashionable.
MY PERSONAL ACCOUNTS WITH EGO
From my first exposure to yoga and up until this very day, writing this book, it has always been necessary for me to keep a watchful eye on my ego, as a parent needs to watch a child to prevent him from getting in trouble. Here are a few occasions I can vividly recall when my ego was way out of balance and as result took over my words, actions and thoughts.
Ego Attacking the Asana
When I first achieved a moderate seated forward bend and had progressed far enough to be able to touch my knees, I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment, gratitude and self-esteem. Then, one thing led to another, and in time I found myself constantly hunting for new asanas so I could attack the poses, conquer them and then place them in the trophy case in my mind alongside all
the other asana I had slain. In this stage of my yoga practice I was always physically injured from doing battle with my practice. My mind was not at peace.
Later on, as I matured, I made friends with my yoga postures. We loved to hang out together and explore adventures in nature. Most of all, in present times, my goal is no longer just to achieve the asana. Now I place more value on the sacred quality and art of practice itself and the feeling I have after a yoga practice, regardless of which postures I practiced or how deeply I moved.
Ego in Daily Life
There were many other times the negative side of my ego ruled my mind and actions. I suffered from excessive pride in how I looked in a photograph, or caring way too much about how I appeared in the latest fashionable yoga clothes. Another episode along my path where adverse ego took over was when I was becoming more educated about an enhanced diet. Instead of just savoring my own progress to a much healthier place physically and mentally, I placed myself on a pedestal above people I considered lower-ranking eaters. I would constantly preach to others about what they ate and I would get irritated when anyone questioned me about my diet. I thought they were not worthy of my conversation.
Today, my diet is still very strict and I am quite healthy, embracing much mental clarity, although I no longer preach to others. I choose instead to quietly set a good example. I respect the choices others make and if someone questions my diet, or tries to talk down on the way I choose to eat, I just smile, respond politely and maybe drop a few seeds of information or encouragement in a subtle manner.
What I Have Learned
From watching myself and others, I have learned we should not be so attached to the value of our material goods and riches. We should not value our net worth or status as compared to the company we keep. Humility and awareness, laced with random acts of kindness and a deep appreciation for simplicity, are the keys to the golden path. Human society would be greatly enhanced if we could only try to see the world through the eyes of others, and most of all, try to see our own true selves from a non-biased and non-egotistical perspective.
IN CONCLUSION ~
Yoga is an incredible gift. You can practice yoga without money or a car. You can practice yoga without a house or a stage. The only essential elements you really need are your motivation, a small piece of ground, and knowledge. Like a true friend, your yoga practice will always be there for you, in good times and bad.
When you lose balance, the dark side of ego can gain control of your practice and push you too far. This can cause negative repercussions both physically and mentally, so just be cool, relax and take it slow. Express gratitude for having found the sacred and priceless gift of yoga that you can carry with you throughout life.
Always remember there are some yoga postures with your name on them. These yoga postures will love you and make you look like a rock star. On the other hand, there are yoga postures that will bite you in the asana every time and make you look not so great. Just smile and practice for the sake of practice. There is no evidence to indicate that the yoga student practicing more advanced poses, or more difficult routines, is any more intelligent or spiritually enlightened than the less flexible, or less strong student.
Compassion is in love, with random acts of kindness The ego is in love with itself...