An interview with Waylon Lewis on ‘True’ Yoga and Positivity

How did you first come to yoga? 

I started about 14 years ago. I did a few classes around, then settled in at Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor’s Yoga Workshop. Loved that place—long classes (two hours), a focus on breath, alignment, adjustments, meditation, eco-responsibility. It’s hard to find that elsewhere, though there’s lots of great fun yoga studios.

And I grew up in the Buddhist community, which was fun and really helpful for me, so yoga seemed like a natural, more extroverted and happy extension of my Buddhist path.

Waylon LewisYou’ve written about “good yoga,” or “true yoga.” What’s that all about?

I’ve interviewed many great teachers over the years—Erich Schiffman, B.K.S. Iyengar, Seane Corn, Richard Freeman… All of them have one thing in common. Openness to truth. You’ll find a lot of teachers are almost the opposite—what we might call positivity, which I’m not a fan of. It’s good to be positive, of course, and there’s some wisdom to positivity. But we have to be careful about pushing away the true, if the truth is difficult, or critical, or negative. When we remain open—what Chögyam Trungpa or Pema Chödrön refer to as “the genuine heart of sadness,” or empathy borne of experience—we can connect with others, we can serve this world, we can truly enjoy our lives, and we can become truly independent, strong, with a sense of humor about ourselves and our experience.

The spirituality I often hear from yoga teachers is more about “push away the toxic, keep the positive.” That might sound common sense, but it’s actually horribly detrimental to a healthy state of mind and life. We need to be okay letting go of what we want, and strong and vulnerable enough to accept what’s negative or difficult with openness and empathy.

You often seem critical of yoga community. Why?

I’m a fan of our opportunity, as a yoga community, to help this earth, and ourselves, and to bring what we learn on the mat—breathing through stress—to the world. We could help turn this world eco-responsible, empathetic, and more open to one another.

But yes, I do think we’re shirking a great deal of our potential. Yoga isn’t about me. It isn’t about you. It’s about me and you and you and you and all of us, and animals, and politics, and our planet. Often we’ll share something up about equal rights or eco-responsibility or an election on one of our instagram feeds—we have nearly 500,000 fans—and a bunch of folks will say “don’t talk about politics!” “Keep it spiritual!” But spirituality, and yoga, is about life. It’s for life. It’s not an escape. It’s a practice to help us deal with this crazy life and mind and heart and world of ours.

If everyone reading this did one thing, what would you want them to do?

Just take a nice natural deep breath, with appreciation, and look up at the sky. We multitask, so often. It’s really careless and unhealthy. Put the phone down. Go for a walk. Don’t text and drive. You know. Enjoy this moment, and this life. If you’re on your phone, or laptop—great. Do that whole heartedly, with relaxed focus, just as you do with your yoga practice. As they say in Buddhism, “do all things with one intention.” And that intention, simply, is to be simply present, and through being present, to be of service.

What’s one thing yogis could all do that we’re not doing right now? 

I just did a video with Dean of Jade Yoga mats. It really struck me—I’ve blogged about it for years, but it really hit home—that most of us do yoga on toxic, PVC mats. The foundation of our path is literally toxic—bad for our planet, our air, and us. It’d be great to see yogis stop using toxic mats and stop using toxic to-go cups for our coffee. I’d love to see yogis become as passionate about healthy eco-responsibility: walking, biking, instead of driving, flying; offsetting what we can’t do without; going zero-waste; throwing in a little meditation before and after our yoga practice. That alone could really help to begin to transform our society and our entire world.