Richard Schultz is a native New Yorker, co-owner of Yoga Dynamics in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur and a certified Yoga Instructor.
Having travelled throughout Asia learning all he could about Yoga, he is now in Malaysia passing on his skills to both new and experienced exponents. Richard has been kind enough to sit down with us to tell us about the basics of Yoga and to share some of his life experiences.
Hello Richard Schultz, thank you for taking some time off to help us to understand what Yoga is and to tell us about yourself. To be honest, we know very little about Yoga so if we start with the obvious question, ‘What is Yoga’?
Richard Schultz: Thanks for having me. Yoga is a vast subject, and no summary I can give will please everybody, but I’ll give it a shot.
Yoga is actually a spiritual discipline which dates back thousands of years in India, but in modern times, it is primarily a system for attaining holistic health. It’s the most effective system I’ve ever come across, in that regard.
There are techniques to strengthen the body, open the joints, detoxify the internal organs, regulate the breath and concentrate the mind. It’s an entire system of different techniques, all of which combined make it effective.
Yoga also instructs on topics like metaphysics, psychology, balancing the energies of the body, developing higher states of consciousness — I could go on and on.
But if you ask me to summarize it, I would say that in the end Yoga is using specific means — physically, emotionally, intellectually and metaphysically — to attain freedom.
I’m talking about freedom from the weight of social conditioning which causes so much conflict, freedom from ignorance and fear, freedom from regret over the past and anxiety over the future. Ultimately, Yoga is about learning to live in the now, learning to live in harmony with the mystery of life, and with your own mystery. This is something about which you may contemplate, but you may never totally understand, and this realization is the most liberating feeling in the world.
To grasp how utterly ungraspable the mystery is, is to live in harmony with it. And this is, ultimately, what Yoga is all about. But it all starts quite down-to-earth with fostering improved health of the physical body, which is usually what we focus on in class.
What are the main health benefits of doing Yoga?
Richard Schultz: Number one, it vastly improves your blood circulation. Just remember that your blood carries oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body, and you will understand why having good blood circulation is important. The Yoga postures irrigate the body by bringing oxygen and nutrients to every cell. Number two, it improves the health of the joints and spine.
I have seen so many people suffering from back pain improve their condition after a few months of steady practice. Number three, it corrects poor breathing habits. Normally, we are so engrossed in our thoughts, we breathe very shallowly. The constant breath awareness in a Yoga class helps remind you to breathe deeply throughout the day. I would say these are three of the biggest physical benefits of Yoga.
But, honestly speaking, the physical benefits of Yoga are secondary. When you get into some of the more profound yogic practices, like specialized breathing called pranayama, then this has a beneficial effect on your vital energy, which then has a beneficial effect on your mind and your state of consciousness. When we get to this point, we are really getting into the true essence of Yoga.
Do you need to be physically active to start doing Yoga?
Richard Schultz: For a beginner’s class there are no prerequisites. The Yoga practice itself will improve your physical state if you give it time. What’s most important is that you find the right style of class for you. If you’ve never done a single day of exercise in your life, and your muscles are as stiff as cardboard, then you’d better enrol yourself in a gentle and basic class. But if you’re relatively fit already, you may want to choose a more dynamic style to start out with, like Ashtanga or Flow.
I understand that there are different types of Yoga, what type of Yoga do you teach?
Richard Schultz: Not only are there different types of Yoga, but there are also different types within those different types! To give you a little background, originally there were four paths of Yoga.
They are different paths, but they all lead to the same outcome, in the same way, that all streams eventually led to the sea. The Vedic tradition is thousands of years old, remember, so there’s been plenty of time to come up with a good system, one that works for everybody and leaves no one out.
The different types of Yoga were meant for people with different aptitudes. I teach several types of Hatha Yoga. My classes are quite physical, and I try to teach students to be technically sound in the postures, without sacrificing rhythm and flow. I also aim to give the students insight into their bodies by emphasizing the anatomical and physiological benefits of each technique. Hatha Yoga originally served a system of Yoga called Raja Yoga, which is basically the Yoga of meditation and is mainly concerned with the mind.
But in modern times, with such an emphasis on fitness and health, Hatha Yoga has exploded in popularity and has also branched out into dozens of different styles and forms. Iyengar Yoga focuses a lot on proper anatomical alignment in the poses.
Ashtanga Yoga combines a set series of postures with heightened breath awareness and dynamic, free-flowing movements. Flow Yoga is a dynamic style that’s good for improving cardiovascular health and endurance. We teach all of these styles at Yoga Dynamics. There are so many styles, but in the end, it’s still Yoga.
From what I understand, Yoga is of great benefit to the mind, can you elaborate on this?
Richard Schultz: The average person has around 60,000 thoughts per day. As most people can probably relate to, it’s a non-stop running commentary inside of the head! Thought has created marvels in both the ancient and modern world. Thought has created the Pyramids of Giza, the Sistine Chapel, the Taj Mahal, as well as poetry and classical music.
But thought has also created the atomic bomb, caused wars and environmental destruction, not to mention your daily fears and feelings of inadequacy. If you don’t understand thought, where it comes from, how it conditions the way you feel and how it shapes your perception, then you will be a prisoner to it and live with all kinds of delusions.
Without getting too elaborate, Yoga recognizes the conscious, subconscious and unconscious states of mind, just like modern psychology, but it also talks about a super-conscious state of mind, whereby you transcend conventional thinking and mental conditioning. It’s in this super-conscious state that one has the real mystical revelation.
Richard – You spent time in Burma as a Buddhist monk, something that I find quite interesting, as you are a Westerner. Tell us about that time and what you learned
Richard Schultz: Well, you’re not learning anything in the orthodox sense. I would say, if anything, you’re de-conditioning your mind so you can see things as they really are. We often hear such phrases like “see things as they really are.” Is there any substance to this kind of language, or is it just fluffy spiritual soliloquy? To see things as they really are is to see without the conditioned mind.
It is seeing with the whole of the mind, without judging, without duality. Life itself, whether materially or psychologically, is not inherently good or bad, but the conditioned mind will see it that way. It was the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said that to god, all things are good; but to man, some things are good, and some things are not.
This doesn’t imply, of course, that one should ignore suffering and injustice. One should, however, realize that while in a relative way there may be suffering and injustice, existentially everything is functioning to a utilitarian ebb and flow. What seems like chaos is actually the cosmos. It’s quite funny. Sometimes, when people find out I ordained as a monk for a year, they say, “Oh god, something terrible must have happened to you!”
Either that or they conclude I must have been seeking a meaning for life. People often say we seek meaning for life. But I think what we are really seeking is an experience of being truly alive, an experience where we feel life is sacred. We had it when we were children but lost it somewhere through adolescence and adulthood. The feeling comes back when you meditate seriously. It’s a very warm and familiar feeling.
You also studied Yoga in India, tell us about that period of your life?
Richard Schultz: There’s a saying: “If you accept the sunshine and warmth, you must also accept the thunder and lightning.” Looking back, this describes my time in India perfectly.
You see the best, and sometimes the worst, of humanity daily. And to be able to handle it you have to be able to let go and have a sense of humour because you don’t have any control over things — and what you can’t control is often comical. India is the most fascinating place on earth.
Obviously, the spiritual tradition which has been passed down is India’s greatest contribution to humanity. But I’m wary of the perception that India is only a place for feeding one’s spiritual inclinations. The India I know tests your patience and your nerves, saturates your senses, confuses you and even cons you at times, but above all India teaches you how to survive. And in a world where materialism has become God, this is probably what people need to learn more than anything.
How did Yoga Dynamics come about?
Richard Schultz: The concept for Yoga Dynamics first came about while I was living as a monk in Burma. Initially, as I was practising meditation for 14 to 16 hours a day, teaching was actually the last thing on my mind. I didn’t want to talk at all, because it disturbed my practice and weakened my concentration.
Every time I had to talk it took me half a day to regain the concentration to the level I wanted it. But, since I was basically the only foreign monk in this monastery, I was frequently sought out. Busloads of western tourists used to visit the monastery and gawk at the monks sitting in meditation.
They saw me and probably didn’t know what to make of me. One day, as one of these tourist groups, came through, the tour guide came up to me and asked if I would say a few words to the tourists about what I was doing. I was hesitant, but I decided to do it because I knew I could conceptualize meditation and Buddhist philosophy in a way they could understand, bring it down to their level, so to speak.
I de-mystified the whole thing for them. After that, the tour guide would seek me out every time he brought a group and I would give them a little talk about meditation and life in general. It disturbed my practice but it was fun. That was my first taste of teaching.
Can people interested in Yoga take a trial or sample class from Richard Schultz to see if it’s suitable for them?
Richard Schultz: They can try a drop-in class to see if they like it before committing to a package of classes.
Richard – Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, is there anything you would like to add?
Richard Schultz: It’s been my pleasure. How about I leave you with a Zen riddle? If you understand it you can have my job! Remember, don’t over-analyze it, just read it with your whole mind.
There were two philosophers sitting and arguing about a flag blowing in the wind. One said: “The wind is moving.”
The other said: “The flag is moving.” Now who is correct?
At that moment, a Yogi happened to be walking by. He smirked at them and said: “It’s not the wind, and it’s not the flag; mind is moving!”
The wizened old Yogi was too kind in helping these straw-brained philosophers. But would they understand? If they take his words at face value they are missing the point. What this Yogi is really trying to say is: “Stop, stop! Don’t speak! Don’t analyze! The ultimate truth is not even to think!” For as soon as you analyze, inviting duality, you destroy it.
How swift the mind is to analyze the present, and thus turn it into the past!
These two philosophers arguing about the flag were swimming in a sea of “good and bad.” The wind, the flag and the mind: aren’t they all of the same reality? Verily, when you know the answer you are no longer swimming in a sea of good and bad.
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