Richard Freeman is one of the West's most respected teachers of ashtanga yoga. At his popular Yoga Workshop school in Boulder, Colorado, he follows the traditional approach of his teacher, K. Pattabhi Jois of Mysore, India, in emphasizing the philosophy of yoga, as well as mastery of the asanas (postures) we more commonly associate with its practice. Here Richard discusses the “yoga matrix,” a foundation of the philosophy that unites the many different schools of yoga.
Sounds True: Your new teaching program is called The Yoga Matrix. What is the meaning of this term?
Richard Freeman: Well, by “matrix” we mean “context”—the ground from which things are born which envelops them and penetrates them. When we refer to “the yoga matrix,” then, we're talking about an awakening awareness of the context from which all of our immediate experience arises, and the deeper process of the mind revealed as we practice yoga.
Sounds True: And by “yoga,” you mean ...
Richard Freeman: In our philosophy, yoga is the observation of the inner depths of the body, the breath, and the mind, and their complete release in the experience of freedom. By “freedom” I mean the ability to experience the full, open spectrum of life without contraction or limitation.
Sounds True: On The Yoga Matrix program, you describe achieving this freedom by “opening the core of the body.” Please describe how this process works.
Richard Freeman: Entering the core of the body means insight into the mind in which it is enmeshed. Feelings, sensations, ideas, and emotions that are deep and primordial, that transfigure everything for us, are in the core of the body. Literally we are referring to the central axis of the body, from the middle of the crown of your head, right down through the core of the heart, the roots of the navel, and into the middle of the pelvic floor. The various practices of yoga can open this core from both the inside and the outside. Then the patterns of even simple experiences connect through the core to everything else.
We so often keep this core closed off. We tend to stay out of it because the core is too wonderful, too intelligent and alive. The experience of it might cancel our ego's program for keeping us miserable and alone.
Sounds True: You describe the human body as a “temple” and “place of worship” that is immediately available to each of us. That's not the typical approach to yoga as many of us understand it.
Richard Freeman: The body is much, much more than what we think it is. It's actually a mystery; a fascinating, wonderful manifestation of the entire universe. By learning to pay close, meditative attention to the body's simple sensations, feelings, and mental processes, we can discover the truth about what is sacred and what is immediate in life.
If we look for the sacred only in objects or processes outside of our bodies, we never transform what is most immediate in our experience. We never develop the habit of looking within for what is most significant. I think if people would look at their own bodies as temples, we could relieve much of the conflict in the world over what is and what is not “holy ground.” It would erase a lot of the confusion we have about who we are and who others are.
Sounds True: You see confusion arising from our lack of connection to our bodies.
Richard Freeman: Right. When someone says they are confused about what's important in life, that person tends to ride their body around as if it were some sort of machine to exploit. They reduce their body to a theory of their body, an object, and then they try to get pleasure out of the body in ways that are uncaring and abusive. Because the mind/body is a matrix we also then reduce others to theories. Is it any surprise that our relationships with others are often exploitative, and less than loving? When we reorient our awareness to see that the body itself is sacred, a place of worship, we stimulate all aspects of our lives in the most beautiful way.
This brings us back to the concept of the matrix, and our mutual interdependence. Nothing that you pull out of a matrix can exist separately. And so we ourselves—our minds and our experiences—do not exist separately from the whole matrix of the universe. Through yoga, we come to the direct realization that we are interlinked with other people—that our cores can't really be illuminated unless we open our hearts to everybody.
Once you take the yogic path, and become aware of the matrix and our interdependence, you manifest a kind of natural love for others. You find that your happiness is really inseparable from the happiness of other people. And when you are able to encompass all other beings within your own heart, then you know that your practice of yoga is really working.