“Yoga has to be a living, evolving process for every individual. And in the end of life, there’s meditations that prepare us for the end of life.” – Gary Kraftsow
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Gary Kraftsow is an old friend and mentor to Commander Divine. He is also the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute. Listen in as they discuss the current state of yoga in the US as well as the deeper meaning of yoga as a practice rather than simply an exercise.
- Gary’s idea of the Yogi, the Bogi and the Rogi and the genuine teachings of yoga.
- How yoga actually preceded any religious practice, including Hinduism
- The importance of breath control as a first step to a focused mind
Listen to this episode to hear more about the ancient practice of Hinduism and yoga and to understand yoga as part of a “science of spirituality.”
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Mark: Hey folks, welcome back. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks for joining me today. Super appreciate it. I am stoked to have one of my yoga teacher mentors here, Mr. Gary Kraftsow. We’re going to have a very interesting and lively discussion. You’re not going to want to miss it and I appreciate you being here, so, thank you very much.
Before I start and introduce Gary a little bit more in depth, let me remind you that next year, in 2019, we’re shifting focus and what we have been calling the Unbeatable Mind summit is becoming the Unbeatable Mind academy. We’re going to be running it twice a year in March and September. And the focus is going to shift more to training than just inspiration. So, fewer speakers, much more of my time training you on the big four principles of mental toughness, visualization, breath control, mental development and task orientation. As well as unrolling the whole Unbeatable Mind operating system so, you can peak your performance, advanced your potential, connect a little bit deeper and serve more powerfully in the world.
So, you’re going to want to learn more about that. You can check out the link below on this page and maybe there’ll be a special offer there from my team. Who knows? Probably. See you there. Hopefully.
All right, Gary Kraftsow – my beloved, dear friend Gary, who I spent 500 hours with over the last couple of years.
Mark: More than that. Correct. Getting a certification in American Viniyoga, the yoga of yogas. I can’t wait to talk about what all that means.
Been a huge influence on my life in how I teach our program of Kokoro Yoga Program of integration. And so, Gary, I’ll let you give a little bit more depth, but I know that you were one of the few people to actually study, meet and study with Krishnamacharya and his son Desikachar who recently passed away.
And the true lineage of like a lot of western yoga and a lot of the flow yoga and the things that Ashtanga and Iangar got all that came from Krishnamacharya’s teaching. It’s fascinating.
And so, you brought a more of an authentic form of what he originally taught…
Gary: I hope.
Mark: To the United States. We hope, right? Yeah.
Well, thank you for being here.
Gary: It’s an honor. And thank you for inviting me.
Mark: You’re going to be presenting at our summit this afternoon. We all can look forward to it. We’re going to talk about yoga. The science of mental development.
Let’s start there. So, well actually… I told you we’re going to start with your background. I want to jump right into yoga. Let’s start with your background. How did you get inspired? Where did you first learn about yoga, right? In your growing years? Your youthful, formative years?
Gary: So, it’s an interesting question because a lot of people think that yoga is about physical exercise and I was in high school and I was a gymnast. And when I went to college, I went to Colgate University, which you went to maybe 10 years after me. I dunno, I forget…
Mark: ’85 I graduated.
Gary: Okay. I graduated ’76, so, nine years apart. I ended up… I was always when I was a kid… Interesting. Because of your work. I was always interested in China and I was always interested in martial arts. And I confess when I was a kid, before Colgate, I used to enjoy watching Kung Fu. So, when I went to Colgate, I thought I would study Chinese philosophy and who knows, maybe go to China.
Mark: Did you study the martial arts? As a youth?
Gary: I had not studied martial arts. I was a gymnast. And so, I thought I would do it.
And I went to Colgate and there was a Phys ed requirement and I took this, it was a karate class. The guy was a Korean War vet, the teacher, but his energy, it didn’t, it wasn’t what I was interested in. But I was in a religious studies course and while I was studying the karate in the Phys ed requirement, I took a class on Hinduism. And in that class on Hinduism I encountered Patanjali, which is this great source, this great mind source of yoga. And I was interested in inner transformation even before I went to Colgate. I was interested in religion but not from a kind of religious perspective, but from a perspective of the meaning and purpose of life and how we can actualize our potential as human beings.
Mark: Do you remember where that impulse came from? Was that influenced by your background, your religion, your father, mother?
Gary: That’s a great question. it was there in me from earliest childhood. I remember asking my parents about death when I was six years old and them kind of freaking out and not knowing how to respond.
Mark: Wow, interesting.
Gary: So, this is like an early thing for me and I’ll tell you something about what my yoga teacher said about that later when we get there.
But so, the next semester for the Phys ed requirement, there was a yoga class. I had encountered Patanjali in the previous…
Mark: And Patanjali for the listeners wrote a treatise on yoga.
Gary: Yeah. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is considered to be the source text of yogic teachings. It’s not that he created yoga, but it was the first kind of systematic presentation of this science of yoga practice.
Mark: Distillation in a form that was understandable by maybe a wider audience.
Gary: Yes. More accessible.
It’s not what we think of as prose writing. It’s a sutra style. So, it just means the… they call them “aphorisms.” They’re very short and they’re unique commentary or explanation from a teacher. It’s not like you can read a sentence and understand it.
Mark: Right. If you picked up a copy of just the pure sutras, it’d be a like five-page book, right?
Gary: Yes. It’s very… there’s something like 200 sutras and sutras are short.
Mark: So, the commentary is everything. And what I’ve noticed is every teacher has a different kind of take on what they mean. Cause you know, they’re passing it through their understanding.
Gary: Yes. And some of us have had the great good fortune of receiving what we would call a living transmission of it. And then some are academics who are just sort of trying to figure it out or making – excuse my language – making shit up, which happens in the modern yoga world.
Gary: Anyway, so, I ended up in that Hinduism course taking karate. I didn’t like the karate class the next semester there was a course on Buddhism. I took that. So, I found myself interested in studying the sort of the spiritual traditions of the world and for the Phys ed requirement, there was a yoga class and I took that course and the woman was a student of Krishnamacharya from the early 1960s. She went to India with her husband…
Mark: Was she a Western woman?
Gary: She was a western woman, she was the wife of the chairman of the Music Department of Colgate university. He was an ethnomusicologist. So, they went out to India in the sixties – early 1960s – for his work in Carnatic music, which is a classical tradition of south India. Music tradition. And she went and she met Krishnamacharya. That’s a story about how they connected.
But anyway, so, six months after I took that course, she said, “we’re taking a study group from Colgate, to India to study music, do you want to come and learn yoga?” So, I said “yes.”
And so, that was in 1974. I went and met Krishnamacharya and his son Desikchar. And that initiated this process, which has been, my life for the past 45 years or so.
Mark: What was that first meeting? Not the actual day, but that first experience, the month long or however long you spent over there.
Gary: I was there six months.
Mark: Six months. Can you describe what transformation happened in you that led to a lifetime of dedication to yoga? Because that was a fairly formative moment it sounds like.
Gary: Yeah. But you know, interesting for me. I remember getting off the plane and Madras – it was called Madras then. It’s now called Chennai.
I remember that September 1974 getting off the plane and feeling like I was walking through pages of National Geographic or something. And at the same time, I felt like I was home and, and when I met a Desikachar, and even Krishnamacharya, I felt like I just, it didn’t feel like something foreign to me. It felt like this is what I was here to learn. I remember after those six months when we were leaving Desikachar said to me, “thank you for coming. And I don’t know whether we’ll meet again. So, I want to say thank you and goodbye.”
And I just remember in my own mind thinking, “Oh yes, you will meet me again, sir.” So, I came home and six months later, or no, actually what was it? I came home in ’75, so, a year later I graduated from Colgate and then I just went back to India for two years and lived another two years.
Mark: Right, of course…
Gary: So, to answer your question, I recognized that this was my Dharma. What we call Swadharma. This was really what I was,
Mark: it’s your calling.
Gary: I didn’t have anything else that I wanted to do. All I wanted to do was come back and learn.
Mark: Right. And I’m sure most of our listeners will know that yoga and Hinduism believe in reincarnation. Do you think you were a Yogi in your past lives?
Gary: So, you asked me about what initiated my interest in this stuff and what Desikachar said to me early on in our relationship is he said, this is a quote, I can remember it because it was shocking to me. He said, “don’t think you know what you know about yoga from what you’ve learned from me.” And I was like, “what are you talking about?”
And then he said, you’re a Yoga Brasta, which is not exactly a compliment. I mean what it means is that you’re a fallen Yogi. It means that I’ve been in this path many lifetimes and not that I fell off, but that I died before I had completed the journey. And so, he said that this is in you.
Mark: To be fair, that’s not uncommon, I imagine.
Gary: No, I imagine it’s not at all uncommon.
Mark: I have a feeling that that’s my path as well.
Gary: Yeah. It’s clear that we’ve been doing this. If we believe in that. Reincarnation. It’s clear that some of us have been doing this a long, long time.
Mark: Right. And then it’s just a matter of finding it again. And you know, the earlier you’re finding it that you get back on the path.
Gary: And it’s very interesting to find it, you know, to emerge in the Western society in that now we’re in the 21st century. To see how alive these ancient teachings are and how relevant they are.
Not only relevant but like lacking and needed.
Mark: Right. You know, you said one thing to me that was probably passed down by the Rishis is that it takes an individual a thousand lifetimes to find yoga. And now that yoga is in every corner and every strip mall in the United States, do you think that is true anymore? Or is it that they’re really talking about the intention for enlightenment, for mastery or for unification? As opposed to putting a pair of Lulu lemon pants on and finding yoga?
Gary: Yes. I think that yoga is changing in ways that our… Dilution would be a diplomatic way of saying what’s happening to yoga. I think that, you know, with every thousand practitioners, maybe there’s 10 who have a deeper orientation to what yoga is really about. Of every hundred teachers, maybe there’s one or two that have actually an authentic living connection to the depth of the tradition.
Just a lot of reductionism in yoga to the physical aspects of practice and a kind of materialistic sort of self-development. That’s all about me.
Mark: So, be stronger, look better, live longer, be happier, get the cute guy or girl.
Gary: Yeah. And it’s not really the… Sometimes I talk about the three words – Yogi, Bogi and Rogi. They rhyme together, but Rogis cognate to the English word rogue. And a rogue is kind of a crook. A rogue is somebody that’s after their own self-interest, even at the expense of others.
Mark: Some of the most famous yoga teachers have been Rogis in the west.
Gary: That’s true. And so, one of the things that Krishnamacharya said is in this yoga and that means in this time period, it’s very difficult to find authentic teachers. Because even those who have that knowledge, they’re using it for their own self advancement, their own self-gratification, their own egos.
So, the Rogi is the crook, the Bogi is… They’re not bad people, but it’s all about enjoying… What we think of… I think the best of Yoga in the modern world today is what we would call lifestyle yoga so, that we can be better people, we can be happier and healthier. And that’s a Bogi.
And then a Yogi is someone who sacrifices their own self-interest in the service of others. And that’s the way, one of the ways I was taught. And that’s rare today.
Mark: That speaks so, loudly to me because our ethos or our kind of premise in Unbeatable Mind and what people, you know who listen to this have heard me say is that we’re committed to mastery, but in service. They have to go hand in hand. To master yourself in service to self is… That’s a Bogi…
Gary: That’s a Bogey or a Rogi. And if you’re mastering yourself in the service of self but not harming others, you’re a Bogi. If you’re taking advantage of others, then you’re a Rogi. In that, in that three-word model…
Mark: That framework. Now we could create a little online course around that.
So, what is yoga? What did you learn from Krishnamacharya? I mean we’re dancing around it, but what’s the Second Sutra? What is Yoga?
Gary: Well, I can tell you like when I was younger and beginning this journey, what I thought of yoga was that yoga is about… it’s a process and a state. There’s the state of Yoga, the goal – which we can talk about in a moment. And then there’s a process of getting there. So, for me it was a process of self investigation and self-discovery, leading to self-transformation and then self-actualization.
So, it’s that kind of process of learning. The word Yoga itself is cognate to an English word, which is “to join.” That’s actually cognate to yoke, right? Yeah. To yoke, to connect, to join. And so, in relation to our own work, it’s to connect to or create a relationship with ourselves at a multidimensional level and then work with each level to actualize our highest potential at that level. All with the intention of overcoming sources of suffering so, that we can be stable, balanced… And then develop ourselves so, that we can optimize what this gift of life is to offer for ourselves, so, that we can then help others. And that’s the simple idea…
Mark: Simple but not easy. As we said in the SEAL teams.
Gary: Well, what’s so, interesting, how to look at what you’re really… What’s your intention behind what you’re doing and why you’re making the choices you’re making?
Like if it’s like, why would we do, I used to ask my older kind of colleagues when we were studying, I was one of the younger ones back then. Why are we doing this anyway? Like why do that posture, what’s it got to do with awakening or enlightenment? The deeper meaning of Yoga is freedom, actually. And when a famous spiritual teacher named Jay Krishnamurthy asked Krishnamacharya the meaning of Yoga, he said, Shanti, which means peace. So, peace and freedom.
Mark: It’s an outcome of integration or wholeness.
Gary: Is an outcome of integration, well said, in wholeness and it is also the goal of Yoga.
Mark: Interesting. I love that. So, – simple concept, but not easy. And so,, I guess for many people, as you already alluded to, they come to a yoga studio and stretchy bendy, but for the two out of the… whatever the number is that are drawn toward it, is there a specific starting point that everyone must start it or is it unique to the individual or where do, where do we go?
How do we go deeper? How do we find the path in?
Gary: Let me, let me tell you something. In my experience of working one on one with people for decades. There are two kinds of people that I’ve seen that come to yoga. And the first group is the majority, which is they come because they’re suffering at some level, they’re conscious of their suffering and they want to do something to help improve their condition.
And the other is the people maybe like us who had a deeper longing to go deeper into this path of self-understanding and transformation. And so, when somebody comes because they’re suffering…and of course today…
Mark: You can have both, actually. I had a longing and suffering that led me to Zen, which is like a Japanese version of yoga.
Gary: Yeah, of course. And I just want to add the third reason now today that people come to yoga.
It’s maybe they’ll meet a cute girl in the class or a cute guy or… That’s a whole other level. They’re not really interested in yoga. They’re just interested in finding their mate or being cool. But for the others, I think that you asked the starting point. If someone’s coming for suffering, then the starting point is for the teacher to be able to understand and provide for that student or client something they can do that impacts their suffering. And when they feel, “wow, I did that and I feel better.” That empowers them and gives them more interest, more faith in the process, more faith in the teacher and more motivation to continue so, that they can learn what this thing has to offer them. For the people that are looking for something deeper, you have to see where their real interest lies.
But you know, the simple answer for everyone, no matter what the starting point for us – is always teaching the relationship between the multidimensionality that is between the physical body, the structure, the physiology, the mind, and the doorway is the breath. So, teaching people about inhale and exhale. And showing them that they can use inhale and exhale to cultivate a more conscious relationship with their spine. And through that develop their anatomy.
They can use inhale and exhale the cultivated conscious relationship with their autonomic nervous system and thereby influence their physiology. They can use the breath to cultivate a conscious relationship with their emotions and become the master of their emotions rather than the victim of their emotional reactivity. And they can even use the breath to start giving a moment of pause so, they can really reflect on where they’re going, the direction they’ve set and how that direction sets their influences, their choices in action. So, the breath is a doorway into this whole process of yoga.
Mark: I love that. And you know that I’ve been teaching military special operators since 2007.
Gary: Yes, I do.
Mark: And one of the first things we teach them besides how to pick up a sandbag or a body and throw it over your shoulder is the breath. Through the Pranayama or box breathing, which is simple one, one, one ratio. And I learned very quickly not to call it yoga. Cause they cross their eyes and they’re like, “what are we doing here?” I had to just take all the nomenclature. You know, all the, I call it stripping the “Fu” out of the Kung Fu.
Gary: Well, this is the deepest part of Yoga is to help people surface their cognitive bias. And actually, become freed from that cognitive bias. Their conceptual framework from which they perceive the world and make the choices that they make in their lives. That’s the deeper work in yoga.
Physical Suffering and yoga
Mark: So, if someone comes to you and says, “you know what, Gary?” I’ve got this back problem,” you know? Or “I was born with Kyphosis or you know, I’ve got something going on really bad and I heard that yoga can be a therapeutic tool.” So, this falls into that first category. First ease their suffering. Is there something that you do in your work with those people that can then activate a deep interest in the spiritual development?
Gary: Sure. Not with everybody. It depends upon them, but often I work with someone who’s suffering and the first change… Like if we can reduce or even eliminate the suffering, that’s great. Sometimes I work with clients who we can’t really reduce. We can reduce the pain, but we can’t eliminate it. But we can shift the relationship to it.
And so, like for me, a sign of success is even if the suffering’s still there, it doesn’t rule them. They’re not identified with it anymore. So, it really depends on the individual.
This is what we call a matter of Swadharma. So, some of us are naturally drawn to these deeper teachings and not all of us are. And my teacher used to say “wherever anybody is that’s perfect for where they are now.”
Gary: And that if they continue to do this work, if it’s within their Karma to go deeper into this work, then that’s not my business. Your job is just to be present with them and provide for them what that can serve them and you can guide them. But if they don’t pick it up, he said that yoga is Fatantra, which means you have to basically translate this. You have to stand on your own feet. You have to walk your own walk.
Mark: Makes sense. You can’t spoon feed someone.
Gary: No, you can’t.
Mark: And do you – and I imagine the answer is yes – but do you assess, let’s say someone’s on the second path. Identified that someone’s truly a seeker. Their intentions are there. And are you able to… How do I say this? Are you able to assess kind of where they’re at in their journey so, that you can offer them the appropriate tools?
Gary: Absolutely. I mean, absolutely.
Mark: Was that part of the original teaching?
Gary: Yes. That’s part of the teaching.
Mark: One size does not fit all in other words.
Gary: Absolutely not. And that’s the meaning of our word Viniyoga actually is that you see where someone is, you differentiate the context I used to say and sort of adapt the tools and then apply them appropriately.
So, you know, the answer to your question from a traditional perspective is yes, the job of a teacher is to be able to see where someone is and then provide for them a means of moving forward on their journey. Now, whether or not every teacher can do that, you know, there’s master teachers and there’s beginning teachers. And so, from a teacher perspective, we try to train teachers to how to recognize where someone is in this inner journey and how to use what we call Darshan mirrors to help them see themselves so, they can identify or they can recognize what they’re identified with and attached to. And then give them practices that can strengthen their will. So, that their will can become stronger than their habits. So, that they can… you know, it’s really about habit change and really surfacing what’s deeply important for you.
Gary: Sometimes we do, if they’re strong practitioners we can even use death meditations because that brings in a level of ultimate seriousness to it. So, you know, this is it. Like, what do you really want? I mean, I imagine in your field you are confronted with life and death situations…
Mark: Being a navy SEAL is a death meditation in and of itself. Because every day you wake up you might be your last.
Gary: Right. Now what I’m encountering with people, clients like – not you of course – but clients that are in your field is the opposite, which is hyper vigilance. They’re too aroused and they can’t relax. So, the breath is important for them. But for this life journey we want people to really recognize impermanence and then use that awareness to surface what their deeper values and interests are. So, they can really orient their lives to achieving what they want to achieve before life is over.
You know, that old joke, “if you continue doing what you’re doing, you’ll continue getting what you’ve got.” So, you have to break people out of that. So, they may have the longing to go deeper, but their habits are stronger.
Mark: Yeah. What’s really interesting to me and a lot of people who are listening are probably thinking, “wow, I didn’t realize that yoga was like psychology.” But we don’t use the traditional tools of like psychotherapy, which is a great gift to mankind by the way. You know, firmly recommend people do that because often just opens their eyes and there can be a lot of self-awareness, but you teach self-awareness through the inner practices of breath, meditation, concentration, sensory awareness, those types of things. And so, that’s a powerful contribution to personal development and leadership development. And any type of development. Regardless if you’re interested in yoga or not.
Gary: Well, I would say that yoga is arguably the first – I use the phrase, the western phrase, depth psychology. It’s really the first system of depth psychology that we have. And the extraordinary science of mind. The reductionism of yoga to physical exercise is this sad thing.
Mark: And it’s a relatively recent thing actually.
Gary: It is a relatively recent – past hundred years, maybe 150 years. The traditional yoga was always really fundamentally about the transformation of mind and mastery of mind.
Mark: I think Patanjali mentions poses only like once or twice…
Gary: Out of 200 sutras, there are three.
Mark: Three references.
Gary: Yeah, three, three or four… No three, I think three… Three sutras on Asana.
Mark: So, it sounds to me like variety is really important for yoga, variety of practice in terms of each individual’s going to need a different variety or a different mix or matrix of tools. But also, is it likely that an individual would need different tools, let’s say, at different stages of their life or times of the year? Or different things happen to them?
Gary: Of course. I met Krishnamacharya and Desikachar when I was 19 years old. I’m 63 now. Where I was at physically, structurally, physiologically, emotionally and mentally or cognitively when I was 19? Very different.
Gary: Then I came back from India and, and got married. That, changed everything. Then I had a kid. That changed everything. Then I got divorced. That changed everything. Then I had a diagnosis with a serious health condition and surgery, which I of course survived, because here I am. But that changed everything. So, we have, we change through time and the practices have to constantly be adjusted to suit where we are, where we’re going, what our needs are, what our interests are. So, Yoga has to be a living, evolving process for every individual. And in the end of life, you know, there’s, there’s meditations that prepare us for end of life.
Now, my teacher, when I was 19 years old, said, “so, die now.” What he meant was that… He told me then that the real purpose of yoga – and this is a very traditional idea – is preparation for the moment of death. And I looked at him kind of curiously and he said, “well, because when we die, it’s not over.” That’s their belief. And what happens to us is based on the momentum and the Karmas that we’ve generated in this life. And he says that that instant or moment of death really influences what happens to you next. Right?
Mark: The quality of mind and the thought that’s in the mind at the moment of death can send a trajectory like that momentum of the soul is going to go in a different direction, if… And so, to prepare for that so, that you’re consciously aware at that moment, is that right?
Gary: Exactly. And he said “die now,” meaning that the moment of death’s uncertain, so, there’s no time to waste. Because it can happen at any moment. So, now’s the time to begin this inner work so, that when you get there, whenever that is, you’re ready.
Mark: Some of the Tibetan yoga practices, that’s all they do.
Gary: That’s all they do. Well, that’s not all they do, but yes, the Tibetans perhaps more than any other tradition have mapped the death and dying process. But it’s very consistent with the Vedic approach as well. What I’ve learned, because I had a long relationship with Tibetan Buddhism, what I’ve learned from them is very compatible with what I learned in south India. This is that great Himalayan yoga tradition. Those teachings are pretty consistent.
Mark: I remember reading that in “Book of the Dead.” It was very hard to understand, but there was a great interpretation called “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.”
Gary: Yes, I’ve read that book. Sogyal Rinpoche.
Mark: Fantastic. Right. And some of the meditations in there and some of the descriptions of the yogi’s death process were mind-blowing.
Gary: it’s totally mind-blowing. Yeah. And that model that you use for death meditation, is a model that you can use in relationships and in leadership. Which is something maybe we should talk about another time?
Mark: Yeah, I’d like to do that.
Gary: Well, they use this model that we call in the west the “Chakra symbol system,” the seven Chakras. And it’s a sort of a map of the personality. In death you’re dissolving your attachment to things sequentially. And in fact, what the Tibetans say is in the death process actually the gross physical elements – this is also in Vedic teachings – are sort of gross manifestations of the subtle elements that are also like a fractal kind of thing. Our mind and our emotions.
So, in the actual physical death process, the earth element, which is the root Chakra dissolves into the water element, which is the second Chakra. Then the water element dissolves into the fire element, the fire element into the air element, the air into the space element, the space into intelligence and then intelligence into the divine. So, that’s the death process.
And that is also a model of our psychology. So, the first Chakra has to do with our sense of safety and trust. Second Chakra has to do with our enthusiasm, interest, vitality, creativity. Third Chakra has to do with our sense of personal empowerment, our self-confidence, which a lot of the things that you’re emphasizing in Unbeatable Mind is to increase people’s self-confidence and sense of personal empowerment, right?
Mark: That’s the Warriors Belly, right?
Gary: And then the fourth Chakra is this service orientation to helping others and accepting others as they are and loving them as they are and courage.
All of that. And communication. And then discernment. And then inspiration. So, you can work with this to work with your difficult relationship with your mate, with your parents, with your children, with your employees, with your employer… And with your own death.
It’s an extraordinary model, not well understood in the west. And really one of the deeper… We would call this part of what the tradition, we would call it tantric yoga.
Mark: Right. And most people think tantric yoga has to do with sexuality and enlightenment through sex.
Gary: Yes. And you know, that’s the same idea…
Mark: Which is another conflation.
Gary: Yeah, well like yoga is exercise and Tantra’s sex. I can tell you a funny story. You know, I lived in south India in the early seventies and not only did I meet Krishnamacharya and Desikachar, but I also, because I had to do this university thing, Colgate, I had to do… So, I got a private tutorial with a great master named Davison Oppettee, who was the chairman of the Religious Studies Department at Madras University, but he was a mystic, a Shaivite Siddhanta tantric master.
So, that, those words are a little complicated for people. But, so, I studied south Indian Shaivite Tantra the same year that I was beginning to study the Vaishnavite yoga of Krishnamacharya. So, I had both. And I came back to Maui after…
Mark: So, Vaishnavite is Vishnu. Shaivite is Sheva. Those are different manifestations of God.
Gary: Right. So, they’re different lineages. Yeah, we got it. So, I was studying Shaivite, Tantra and Vaishnavite yoga. And I came back and while I graduated Colgate, I went back to India for two years. My parents meantime moved from Colgate, I mean from Philadelphia where I grew up to Maui. So, tough for me. I had to go home to Maui instead of Philadelphia. And so, I came to Maui and when I got to Maui, there was Tibetan Buddhism, right? That was just beginning there. So, that was great for me.
And then there was all this Tantra, so, I was all excited and it was this California sex therapy. So, I thought to myself, “wait a second, this is not what I studied in India. I mean, I think I need this, but it’s got nothing to do with what I learned with Tantra.” Right?
So, you know, it’s true that there’s a reductionism of yoga to exercise and of Tantra into sex. And sex is not really… Tantra includes teachings about sexuality, but about diet and about breathing… You know, it’s about all of these things.
Mark: That’s just the second Chakra. So, they just stopped there. Right.
I want to like expand way, way out here. I was reading a book yesterday, a fascinating book by this guy named Noah Yuval Harari. “Sapiens.” and he wrote “Homo Deus.” Fascinating. Guy’s a great author, secular Jewish guy, brilliant historian.
But he made the statement about, you know, was talking about religions and the impact, the meta impact of religious on the world and cultural bias and personal biases that have come from religion. And it’s the second or third time recently I’ve seen someone referred to Hinduism as a polytheistic, you know, multiple gods religion. And I’m like, “no, that’s not accurate.”
Gary: It’s a misunderstanding. A very common misunderstanding.
Mark: But here’s a historian who sold 21 million books. Who’s got this major misunderstanding. Hinduism is not polytheistic, is it? When someone says Vishnu or Krishna or Shiva, that’s not God. That is God. That is God. But it’s the same God but different faces of God, right?
Gary: Yes. So, what we have in Vedic teaching…
Mark: Also, Hinduism isn’t yoga.
Gary: That’s also correct.
Mark: It’s a mystical arm of Hinduism that people conflate. Sometimes.
Gary: You want me to give you some…?
Mark: Yes, please. So, that’s why I went there.
Gary: Yeah, it’s all right. So, first of all, this misunderstanding, it started over 150 years ago when the Western people first came to India and started looking at Indian tradition. Because there are many gods in the temples, different names, representations. In Vedic teachings, there’s this idea called Saguna and Nirguna. Saguna means “with qualities” and Nirguna means “without qualities.” And for the true Hindu teaching, the one God that we talk about in the West, the oneness of God, the capital G God, that’s the fundamental teaching of Hinduism as well. It’s called Nirguna Brahman. So, Brahmin is that absolute, that’s what the Catholic Church, we call “God the father.” Right? But if you look at the Catholic Church, you have, I mean there are American Christians who think that the Catholics are polytheistic cause they have the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.
So, those are three, but they’re not a different thing. They’re just different manifestations or forms or ways that human beings can relate. I lived in Italy for a long time. You know, you see in Italy you either see Madonna, mother Mary or baby Jesus. But then for some Italians, it’s the passion of the Christ in the crucifixion that’s their focus. So, really these different deities, which is different than the one God in Hinduism are different sort of aspects or manifestations of that oneness. So, there’s no true polytheism in Hinduism. That is a western misunderstanding. And not understanding that the Vedic tradition and which is also the root of Buddhism, and this is also true in western traditions. They talk about three planes of existence. The causal plane, that’s the plane of God the father, of the oneness. The subtle plane. That’s where the angels in western traditions are. Or if you studied Kabbalah. That this author should know about. Sphero those are different. They are god from the causal plane into the subtle plane and then the gross plane, where we are. So, in Judaism the Torah is the living word of God and Christianity. Jesus is God in the flesh.
So, that’s the same idea. The deities in Vedic teachings are equivalent to the subtle plane where Nirguna Brahman is the causal plane. And then the manifest gross plane is the incarnations like Krishna, you know, they are what they call avatars.
Mark: Would incarnation as Krishna be equivalent to incarnation as Jesus?
Gary: I don’t want to get into a religious fight about this. So, because people have different, I understandings of it. But I would say that there’s an equivalency that for the Orthodox Hindu Vaishnaivite Hindu, Krishna isn’t anything other than God manifested in the flesh.
For an Orthodox Catholic or believer in Christianity, Jesus is God in the flesh. So, the idea is very similar.
Mark: Fascinating. And where does the soul fit in the concept of yoga? Does a human being have a soul?
Gary: Yes. I mean, again, language is tricky. And what we mean by soul may… when you say the word soul, the way I hear it may not even be what you mean. And so, we have to be careful about really taking more time to explain what we’re talking about. But in Vedic teaching, there is the what’s called Atman, that comes from the ancient Vedic revelation. In Yoga language, we use the word Purusha and Atman or Purusha refers to that part of us that is unchanging, not part of time and space. It’s defined as eternal, unchanging, and pure awareness. So, the Atman is defined as the source of pure awareness.
Gary: Just awareness itself. That phenomenon of consciousness…
Mark: How does Atman relate to Brahman, which is the universal…
Gary: Now you’re moving into mystical teachings now. So, perhaps the greatest insight of Vedic revelation, that means the revelation thousands of years ago, you mentioned the word, the Rishees, these are the, these are the prophets, the seers, is the translation of it. Like Moses for Vedic teachings, is that the totality of everything, the cosmic totality, Brahman is that. It’s everything.
Mark: Everything not including matter.
Gary: No, no. It includes matter. It includes everything, all of existence. That’s Brahman, the totality, the essence of that. The essence of each individual, if you and me, who we truly are, the unchanging source of pure awareness is Atman. And then the great insight, and there’s a text called Mandukya Upanishad, which is one of the great source Upanishad texts that says, I am Atman Brahma.
Verily this Atman is one with that Brahman. So, the essence of who we are is one with the essence of the totality…
Mark: And you use the metaphor of the wave arising out of the ocean is as wet as the ocean, but it’s a distinct, unique thing.
Gary: Yes. The wave and the ocean are one.
Mark: And so, we’re the wave and Brahman’s the ocean… We’re the wave, the Atman is the wetness and the Brahman is the ocean.
Gary: You can say it like that. These are metaphors. So, we have to be careful, right? Of course. So, whoever is listening may understand this differently than the way we mean it. But these ideas are deep, profound ideas.
Mark: So, is the soul, as you understand it, the same as Atman?
Gary: Atman exists on the causal plane. And what I think we mean by the soul is Atman as it manifests in the subtle plane.
Mark: I see and relate let’s relate this to death. So, when the subtle system is dissolving and then as in Tibetan Book of the Dead, you know, an advanced Yogi who’s practiced death, you know, they’ll sit and stasis and all of a sudden, their forehead will blow out. What’s coming out? Is that the subtleties or the causal?
Gary: So, it depends upon their level…
Mark: I think we just blew some people’s minds probably by the way, speaking of blowing out really.
Gary: It really depends upon that individual’s level of development. What the Tibetans say is that when we die, we’re swept up into the winds of Karma. And that’s in the subtle plane. If we have resolved our Karmas, then we awaken at the level of the causal plane. Is a quick way of saying this. Very complicated ideas.
Mark: But what we all have been around… Not all of us, but many of us have been around, someone who’s passed. And this happened to me several times in the past two years where at the exact moment in retrospect because it’s impossible for us to know the exact moment, but in an exact moment, there’s this like unbelievable stillness, like time stops. And this like almost a lifting feeling and a little bit of change in temperature, but it’s probably a… you know, maybe that’s a subjective perception.
There’s a sense that something’s leaving, something’s happened. And then everything comes back to normal and the individual has passed.
Gary: Yeah, they’re gone.
Mark: What’s leaving? Isn’t that the soul? Is it just energy dissipating back to the cosmos?
Gary: Look. Let me say that….
Mark: From the yogic perspective.
Gary: Yeah. Well, actually from, I would want to say that I’m giving you an answer from almost the journalistic perspective. That is, I’m talking about what I as Buddhist disciples said. “Thus, I have heard.” I can’t say this from, you know, direct insight from being conscious of my last death and birth and rebirth.
Mark: I got it. Yep.
Gary: What the tradition says is that when the gross body dies, the subtle body and all of its Karmas, which inhere, they’re called Vasana. So, some scars are patterns of conditioning that we in yoga want, break and transform our dysfunctional patterns.
Mark: Your Karma is accumulated energy of those actions.
Gary: Yeah. And tendencies then that propel us into that influence our future action when we die. What inheres in the fabric of our subtle bodies called Vasana. So, if when we die, those Vasanas are strong, they move our subtle body, which is Atman plus this subtle substance into the next birth. If we’re what they call ready to awaken at a higher level, when we die there’s no more Vasana then we merge into at the causal plane back with the divine or with the totality or the whole. Something like that. If that makes sense. These are advanced topics.
Mark: It’s pretty esoteric. I get that.
So, what…? Gross, subtle, causal. If causal is, let’s use the term, the dwelling of the soul or kind of the energy, the source energy. Could you say the…?
Gary: Source is a good word for causal.
Mark: Okay. So, what about mind? Is mind subtle? Is mine. Cause in the West people conflate brain with mind, and I’m trying through my teachings, trying very hard to say brain is a meaning making organ, heart, belly… your whole body is your mind. But to be more accurate, the mind inhabits the body through the subtle system.
Gary: The mind inhabits the body. I mean in a way we would say that the body is within the mind.
Gary: this is that Panjamaya model that I talked to you about. The gross physical body lives in the mental body and the mental body lives in…
Mark: This is the nesting doll theory, right?
Gary: Yes. The reverse of what we tend to think about it. So, the aspects of mind that mind is an instrument of perception, cognition. So, I perceive things accurately or inaccurately. I have ideas about things. That’s all part of the kind of gross, subtle manifestation. When we talk about the subtle plane of the deities, that’s not mind, right? That’s a different level of the subtle plane.
Mark: But it might be their mind. Without a physical body.
Gary: Exactly what it is. Exactly how it’s understood.
These are your – it’s funny – for this podcast you’re asking very deep questions. And so, let me, let me just make this context, you know, to understand these things requires what we call Purvanga, prior work to build an agreement about language and to understand the sort of the metaphysical context in which these teachings emerged.
So, in Vedic India, there’s this idea, and in yoga there’s this idea of the dualism of the seer and the seen. Consciousness and then all that is perceived by consciousness. And that dualism then is countered by a non-dualistic philosophy. So, these are what we call epistemological models. If we have conversations about esoteric topics like this without reaching an agreement about the construct that we’re working from, it just leads to more confusion. And that’s part of the reason why there’s so, much interfaith conflict and why there needs to be real interfaith dialogue so, that we can examine the cognitive framework from which these ideas emerge.
And in fact, that next heart/mind I’m doing, which you’ll see soon about, is all about examining these epistemological models.
Mark: Interesting. Is there any international grouping of religious or spiritual leaders that are trying to have this dialogue?
Gary: So, I was blessed besides those teachers I’ve already mentioned of having one great teacher who also passed a few years ago. Raymundo Panikkar, who was the guy that established the first interfaith dialogue conference, like a United Nations. There are meetings occasionally. They, interestingly, a lot of them have been in Assisi in Italy, the land of Saint Francis, with gatherings, of high religious leaders including the pope and the Dalai Lama. So, people at that level.
There is an attempt at doing this, but it hasn’t progressed, I think, to the degree that it could be so, meaningful and useful for what’s happening on the planet.
Mark: These things exist outside the churches and the institutions that have become really calcified and corrupted through the years.
Gary: Yes, when I first got involved with Yoga, as I grew and Desikachar said to me, “look, if you get another job, you’re going to have to spend your time there and you won’t be able to go deeply into this work. So, you need to become a teacher.” That’s what he said to me. I didn’t go to India to become a yoga teacher and he just told me “that’s what you should do. That’s your Dharma.” And I saw three areas. One is health and fitness, so, yoga has already sort of penetrated that market. The next is therapy and self-care and that’s what we’re doing with Yoga therapy and their national association of Yoga Therapists.
But the third is personal growth and transformation that includes this inner journey and interfaith dialogue. And that is yet to really happen at a way that it could be useful for the world.
Yoga is a nonsectarian science of transformation. And Yoga is a nonsectarian science of spirituality. It’s nonsectarian, but traditionally it was never secular. It wasn’t like world gym and Yoga gym.
Mark: Conflated to Hinduism because it came out of that and a lot of the language.
Gary: Yeah, correct. But Buddhism came out. I mean, this is the implicit and if you studied deeply the teachings of the Church or the synagogue, you’ll see that implicit yoga teachings are there as well. In a nonsectarian way. So, this is a science of spirituality that I think has a lot to offer. The crisis of
Mark: Christian mysticism and Yoga as a science of development are very similar.
Gary: Very, very similar. Yeah. We have to be careful saying it. You know, you have to be able to really show that not just a superficial, like a pot pouri or a silly soup of all religions.
Mark: The description of, Nirvana or enlightenment in Yoga is very similar to like Christ consciousness.
Gary: Yeah. metanoia is a Greek term.
Mark: Okay. And so, this has existed through all cultures. Yeah. Preceding modern religion by thousands and thousands of years.
Mark: Okay. So, let’s get back down to Earth a little bit. So, I thank you for my whole journey, but I appreciate you going there. Um, it’s my own fascination.
Gary: Mine too actually.
Mark: I knew that.
Patanjali speaks of an eight limbed path or journey. Most westerners they’ll jump into the yoga studio, stretchy, bendy, sweat a little bit and feel good. But then it often does spark, some peak states of deep awareness, maybe concentration. And then there’s certain discussions, flowery discussions by some yoga teachers about living in peace and harmony and non-attachment. And what was actually taught by Patanjali in terms of the process or a path?
Gary: That’s a very deep question I guess… But more concrete, much more practical and concrete. So, he lists these eight limbs, he calls it the limbs – Ashtanga – eight limbs of practice. And the first one is what he calls. Um, Yama.
And Yama has a lot to do with your intention of everything that you do and the way you meet the world. You know, the way you bring yourself to your practice. So, the first is to examine why you’re even doing this in the first place. And to do it in such a way that it doesn’t bring any harm, that it’s authentic, and that it helps you empty yourself of your own self-importance. Something like that.
And then the next is your Niyama in relation to yourself, which I think is a lot of what you may be teaching at an Unbeatable Mind. Disciplines. Being more clear about purification, about awakening to who you really are and being honest about that.
Letting go of your need to control everything. These are all in that realm of Niyama, right? So, if your relationship to the world around you and to yourself is balanced, then begin the Asana so, that you can cultivate a conscious relationship with your physical body as a pretext… The posture, physical exercise, yes. So, that you can cultivate a conscious relationship with your physical body as a pretext for developing your mental focus and also the side benefit of improving your physical condition.
And then Pranayama the conscious relationship with your breath again to develop the mind, but also, all of it’s about developing the mind, but also about cultivating conscious relationship with your physiology. Via the autonomic nervous system. This hypervigilance that happens with, you know, SEALs and so, forth. It’s because they don’t have the ability to influence sympathetic, parasympathetic activation.
Mark: Downregulate the nervous system.
Gary: They have to learn to down regulate and the breath is a tool for doing that.
So, then your senses. So, Asana, Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama. Then the next is Setpratyahara. So, it’s about how your consciousness is pulled outside to the world around you because of your senses. Advertising works because of that. Our job is to train people to become the master of their senses. There’s a beautiful image from Katha Upanishad, which talks about the chariot, the horse and the driver. The horses are the senses. And the mind is the driver and the reins are the intellect. And the owner – the Atman – is the passenger. For many of us, the horses are out of control. So, that’s about mastering the senses.
Gary: And then the last three are about attention. Mastering attention so, that you can be focused rather than distracted. That’s Dharna – understanding something more deeply at a profound level. That’s Theanum. And then losing yourself in merging with the absolute, that’s Somaya that’s the highest level. So, this eightfold path is an integrated path.
Mark: It’s not so, much linear. They’re all happening all the time.
Gary: That’s correct. But you may have certain practices that really come from…
They’re doorways into the system. And when you’re working with individuals with somebody, it’s going to be, you know, working with resentment with somebody else it’s their back pain, with somebody else it’s helping them sleep better or working with the breath. It doesn’t matter which way you enter.
Mark: This brings me back to, and we probably wrap up pretty soon after this, but you know, we live in a radically distracted, busy VUCA, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world and lots of…
Gary: That’s a nice word.
Mark: Yeah, right. Well that’s an acronym from the SEALs – or not SEALs but Spec Ops.
And this is like an anti-mental development device, right? But it largely speaks to that fifth limb we talked about, the Pratyahara, which is our senses are drawn outward. Our senses are constantly drawn outwards. And then there’s this pattern or Samskara this addictive quality to a device like a mobile device with all of its sensory gloriousness.
Gary: It’s an extraordinary thing, right?
Mark: It really is. And, but it’s positive and negative, right? It’s a great trap.
So, what can…? Let’s go like really practical now, like straight up, like almost advice. What can a listener or leader do immediately to create adory through reducing distraction or the addiction?
Gary: I’ll come back to what I said earlier. For me the first step is introducing to people the power of the breath. And the ability through the breath to create state of focused mind. There is another tool, but it opens up a whole other level of conversation, that we’re not going to happen this podcast. There’s not enough time.
But besides the breath, there’s one other tool. Like if you asked me what are the two most important tools that the ancients developed? One is the breath, right? And that’s more accessible to everyone. And the second one is mantra. And this is the power of language and Meta language to change consciousness. That’s a bigger discussion…
Mark: I think we need to have a podcast on that alone.
Gary: That’s an important topic.
Mark: Mantra’s been a very powerful practice for me. Like supercharged.
Gary: I mean, it’s in some ways deeper than the breath because it relates, as you said, to meaning.
So, and the ability… anybody who’s listening to this has a drama. You can tell the story about why and excuses and this and that. And that whole drama is held in place by language. So, mantra’s metalanguage that rewrites the hard drive. You can rewrite your life with mantra if you understand how to use it.
Gary: So, it’s an important thing but most accessible to everybody immediately is the breath.
Mark: And I teach box breathing, which is a simple and I think safe one… like four count in four count, hold the breath safely.
Gary: We call that some of Samavriti Pranayama. It means all four parts equal, inhale equal, hold after inhaling equal, exhale equal, hold after exhale.
Mark: Yeah. And then once we get engaged with a client, we’ll teach them maybe some downregulation with a longer exhale or upregulation, like we’ll do some more intense breathing.
But for the listener, do you think that is a good practice to start with?
Gary: I would even do it simpler. I would say just start by paying attention to your breath. Notice the inhale and the exhale and then gently, progressively begin to lengthen inhale and lengthen exhale until you reach a comfortable maximum. Then hang out there for a while. Like a dozen
Mark: Just experience retention and the suspension without worrying about the count or anything like that.
Gary: Not retention, suspension, I’m talking about the length of inhale and the length of exhale. Start. Just notice inhale and exhale and then progressively make inhale one or two seconds longer and exhale one or two seconds longer until you reach a comfortable maximum. Inhale and exhale. With just a short pause, one or two seconds after inhale and exhale. And then hang out at that long inhale and exhale that you can do comfortably for a dozen breaths. And then gently, progressively shorten the breath till you come back to normal breathing.
We wouldn’t even go into retention suspension. That is hold after inhale, hold after exhale until later. I think it’s safer to just start by watching the natural flow of the breath progressively expand or lengthen inhale and exhale until you reach a comfortable maximum. Sustain that comfortable maximum for a dozen breaths, and then progressively shorten it to come back to normal breathing.
That’ll change people’s lives. Just that simple thing. And there’s no risk there.
Mark: Just modified my training regimen. Thank you very much.
Gary: Well, the box breathing four, four, four, four, that’s relatively safe. But you never know. There are people that have certain physiological conditions with that retention after inhale that can be risky for the heart and then the suspension after exhale can agitate peoples inhale. Or if there’s trauma suspension after exhale can be a trigger for trauma.
So, it’s a good thing. It’s safe if it’s short like that. But if you ask me what would be more universally safe, what I suggested I think would be a little bit less risky.
Mark: Yeah. Appreciate that.
All right, Gary, this has been an honor.
Gary: It’s a pleasure and an honor, sir.
Mark: Thank you so, much for your time. And, I will look forward to your presentation later today at the Unbeatable Mind summit. Thank you, sir. And to future discussions about who knows what will come up.
Gary: I hope that that that mystical discussion didn’t blow people away in a negative way.
Mark: I don’t think so. I think, you know, what I’m finding is people are hungry for that because there’s just not enough of it. You know, so, anyways…
Gary: I’m sorry to hear about that… people foster misunderstandings through media now and we know that with social media, but even with great writers and books that can be, it can give a false understanding of something and we need to come together rather not create more divisions.
Mark: Right. We had a great discussion yesterday about, you know, like a meta-analysis of what’s going on in the world is fracturing because of lack of integration, because everyone feels separate. Separate from each other. Countries separated from each other. Individuals separate from each other. Individuals separating from themselves.
Gary: And the science of yoga can reunify. Bring us back together and Panikkar said, acceleration is also a great source of suffering in the world today. Everything’s going faster and faster and we’re not evolving fast enough and integrating fast enough to be able to safely have acceleration without creating fragmentation. Right. Interesting.
Mark: It is interesting. I guess we’ll end there. That’s another subject for another day. All right, well thank you again, sir.
All right folks, that’s Gary Kraftsow. You can learn more about Gary by Googling him. Gary Kraftsow.
Gary: You just go Viniyoga.com, and you can read about the work that we do. American Viniyoga Institute.
Mark: And you’ve got some videos on your website, right? And
Gary: We have videos. We have download e-courses on training in all of this work, and you can access that through viniyoga.com.
Mark: Yeah, highly recommend you going to checking out his work and he’s got some great video trainings on breath and Pranayama…
Gary: And physical exercise. That one’s coming out. That’s new. One’s called “Pranayama Unlocked.” It’s about the breath. One’s called “Meditation Unlocked.” This new one will probably be “Asana Unlocked”, we’re not sure the title. And then there’s a bunch on therapy like sleeplessness, depression, anxiety.
Mark: Oh, that’s so, valuable.
Gary: They’re all e-courses.
Mark: Awesome. All right. Thanks again and thank you folks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the podcast today. It was a mind-bender for me as well. So, super enjoyed it and I appreciate Gary and Gary and I will continue to dialogue about these important matters. And so, until next time, stay focused, concentrate, do the work and be unbeatable. Hooyah. Divine out. up or should I say “who ha?”
Gary: You should say Shuba mastu “may good things happen for all of you.”