Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Robert Butera, author of The Pure Heart of Yoga: Ten Essentials Steps for Personal Transformation Robert has studied meditation and yoga for over twenty-five years and is the founder of the YogaLife Institute in Devon, Pennsylvania, where he trains yoga instructors and publishes Yoga Living magazine.
Kala: Robert, thanks for taking the time to sit down with me for this interview. I enjoyed reading your book as it shares the philosophy that I’ve always aligned with, which I describe as the ‘essence of yoga’. You describe it as the ‘pure heart of yoga’. Can you define what yoga means to you?
Robert: Yoga is the spiritually infused life. Yoga is a path to a viribrant life and Yoga embraces all paths that lead to harmony of mind, body, spirit and environment. One classical definition of Yoga from The Yoga Sutras is that Yoga means cessation of the mind’s waves. (Yoga citta vritti nirodha). Thinking of Yoga in terms of the mind’s waves can be a good barometer regarding if an activity is yoga or not – simply ask yourself if that activity calms the waves of your mind. I am writing this with a smile, mind you!
Kala: In some parts of the US, yoga has become completely mainstream, and in other places, it is still being steadily introduced into communities. For beginners, who are just exploring the idea of yoga and are preparing to take their first class, what advice can you give to beginners?
Robert: Firstly, remember that each and every experience you have can be a source of learning. Finding your perfect style of yoga or the best teacher for you requires some investigation. So, learn from all classes and recognize that finding your perfect situation may take time as there is great variety amongst all the styles of yoga. If your first class is not a fit, remember to try another teacher as there is alot of variety. Be careful of absolutes. There are many physical body types and therefore many ways of doing yoga poses. Non-violence is a cardinal virture in yoga so make sure not to overdo anything or to stretch too far. At the start, read a few books to gain some perspective. In a beginner’s yoga class learn the breathing as it is noted as the top benefit for new students; relaxation is usually second and the interesting philosophy follows. Physical flexibility is often ranked fourth as a benefit to new students, while most think that flexibility would have been the first conclusion.
Kala: In your book, you share 30 main poses, what they represent and how to use them as tools to achieve physical and emotional balance. Can you discuss a few of these poses with us and how they help to create balance within the person?
Robert: As the book states, I recommend that everyone finds a teacher to meet at least once per week to avoid any mistakes. Then, perform a few minutes of a deep breathing exercises in a quiet place. Next, try a group of poses that move your spine in each of 5 directions; a reaching pose to elongate your spine; a twist to release tension; a sidebend for flexibility as the body rarely moves sideways; a forward bend to release stress and a back bend for energy. These exercise can be performed right at your desk during a short break during your workday. The final exercise for the busy person is to maintain the “Smile Pose” and attempt to navigate through the ups and downs of life realizing that the inner state of your mind is the ultimate pose!
Kala: The western world has a bad habit of taking an ancient philosophy and connecting to only a small part of the whole, in an attempt to bypass the full lengthy process and get quick results. For example, I studied Feng Shui for years, at first I studied the western version and I felt it was missing something at the core. I then studied traditional feng shui with two masters, one from China and one from Hong Kong. One of the masters referred to the western version as the McDonald’s version (fast food) of feng shui. I’ve seen this with some yoga practices as well, where it’s touted as exercise and skips over the core of yoga. What are your thoughts about yoga and how it’s practiced here in the west?
Robert: Well, Kala, you have hit a big issue that is a tough one. I went through a big let down in 1989 fresh off of the Yoga Ashram in India (theyogainstitute.org) when a friend gave me a popular yoga magazine. At the Ashram, men and women had separate dormitories, I wasn’t allowed to wear short pants… and the Yoga magazine had a scantly clothed model in a revealing posture on the cover. A point to remember is that the jewels of discovery are within yourself and not in the form of the body but in its essence. Many years have passed and one of my mentors mentioned the concentric circle approach to transformation. Whatever each one of us knows about life and reality can be honored. And however broad our knowledge, we can draw a larger circle around our present state. So, leave open the possibility to learn something new. What you know at this point can be honored and maintained as you circle your present experience with something new. Suffice to say, there is usually much room for authentic yogic wisdom to shine forth.
Ironically, when you learn the theory of yoga in more depth, the mind becomes more focused. This focus quiets the nervous system and actually improves the physical experience of life as well as the spiritual experience.
Kala: Describe for us what you call the body’s Energy Centers and how we can connect with these centers through a yoga practice…
Robert: These days most people have a fascination with the “Chakras” or energy centers in the body. Chakra means ‘wheel’ and in this case relates to a wheels of energy that converge at different areas in the body. The heart chakra is most easily perceived; a loving interaction brings warmth to the heart and sadness brings a constricted or cold feeling. After one performs the yoga poses for six months and understands how to breath and align the body in the poses, understanding the chakras helps go deeper in the poses. This is simply one area of discovery on the inner journey with yoga poses.
Kala: You mention 10 Steps that transcend yoga and connect it with spiritual and emotional growth. Share some of these steps with us…
Robert: Beginning with a spiritual Intention for your yoga practice is an important first step. Start with your first motive even if it feels shallow, say weight loss was your first reason for starting yoga. Then, go beneath that and align weight loss to improved health. Take your nutritional choices and align those with received love in your heart… pretty soon, you have moved into an intention on love that is at the core of weight loss. Another interesting approach is to try to gain an understanding of the attitude of a posture. Inherent in each posture is an expression of an attitude. Yoga poses also relate to archetypes whch is an interesting exploration. There are also the energy centers, concentration points and emotional transformation. The recommendation is to discover one new aspect of yoga poses at a time. If you are a beginner, stick with the alignment and breathing. And as your practice grows, explore the other areas one at a time.
Kala: I view yoga as a way of ‘being’, rather than as some people say that they, ‘take a yoga class’. For example, when I say I’m a dancer, it’s part of my essence and spirit, how often I dance is almost irrelevant, I am a dancer at heart. To me, yoga is the same, one lives and embraces yoga. What are your thoughts?
Robert: My original teachers say that yoga is a culture of consciousness. Yoga studies physical health in great detail as we have been discussing. What few people know is that Yoga also discusses how to work at your job and turn work into Yoga. There are equally detailed teachings on relationships, meditation, psychology, higher knowledge and practically every field of living. So, yes, any activity that is taken to its depth penetrates a person’s consciousness and is a “yoga.”
Kala: Let’s talk about yoga and meditation. Many people picture meditation as sitting in an uncomfortable position for an hour while trying to stop their mind from wandering. Each pose in yoga can be an active, moving meditation. Can you discuss the yoga poses in regards to what they can do for the mind body and spirit?
Robert: Refering back to the definition of Yoga as stilling the waves of the mind; each yoga pose can lead to stilling the mind. A lot of folks ask if stilling the mind is boring, they ask in passionate ways, “Bob, am I supposed to turn into an android?” Ironically, a clear mind is one that loves deeply, it’s a mind that is free of negativity and limiting thoughts. A quiet mind is able to laugh loudly and feel passionately.
Kala: Robert, where does yoga take us next? What do you see as the evolution of yoga?
Robert: I am seeing the maturation of yoga in terms of an increasing interest in all the points that this interview asks, what is further? How can I go deeper in my life? How can I love more, how can I be stress-free in my life? As those who take the time to improve their health physically begin to experience the joy of having a balanced mind, more and more people will look into the theory of yoga. Just as you are helping people access this information, I am seeing an interest in meditation and activities that quiet the mind! Thank You for spreading this information!
Kala: My pleasure Robert and a pleasure to speak with you, thanks for your time. More info on Robert and his book can be found at: PureHeartofYoga.com
Robert: Yes, Thank You Kala, it is always a treat to discuss the essence of Yoga.
Robert Butera, M.Div., Ph.D., founded Yoga Living Magazine in 1999, with a vision of spreading the message of yoga philosophy and holistic living. After returning home from graduate school in San Francisco, where there were a multitude of free holistic publications Bob noticed that there was nothing comparable in the Philadelphia Area. He began to organize a list of natural healers, and what started as a small newsletter evolved into the present day full length publication. In addition to publishing Yoga Living, Bob is also the Director of The YogaLife Institute in Devon, Pennsylvania where he trains Yoga teachers, leads Seminars and writes on yoga. Bob is certified by The Yoga Institute, Bombay, India, where he lived for six months in 1989. His Ph.D. dissertation for The California Institute of Integral Studies (1998) concerned a Yoga healing program for the immune system. Bob has a Masters of Divinity from The Earlham School of Religion (Quaker) and has lived in and studied meditation and personal growth in Japan, Taiwan, India and the United States. Bob’s first self-published book, The Classical Yoga Study Guide is the foundation for all of the YogaLife Institute’s programs. Bob’s second book, The Pure Heart of Yoga: 10 Essential Steps to Personal Transformation was released in Sept 2009 by Llewellyn Worldwide.
Kala is an award winning author, intuitive and talk show host of the Explore Your Spirit with Kala Show. Her thought-provoking interviews entice listeners to tune in around the globe! Described by her guests and listeners as discerning, empowering and inspiring, she speaks with world renowned authors, artists, teachers and researchers delving into metaphysical, holistic and paranormal topics. Kala’s book, 9 Life Altering Lessons: Secrets of the Mystery Schools Unveiled delves into the mysteries of ancient Egyptian mystery schools and explains their wisdom teachings. Kala lectures on Esoteric Teachings, Developing Business Intuition, Working with Auras, Chakras and Energy Fields, and Wise Woman Wisdom (also known as the Divine Feminine). Kala’s Guided Meditations CD’s have just been released with Spirit of Hawaii and Egyptian Mystery Temple and Tibetan Mountain Journey. More info: www.ExploreYourSpirit.com
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