Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 3

Wow. It’s so great to speak with someone who can elucidate these subtle spaces so well…


The Yoga Dana Foundation

Sujantra: Wow. It’s so great to speak with someone who can elucidate these subtle spaces so well.

Let’s talk about your foundation. We’ve graduated about 150 yoga teachers from our studio here in San Diego and for me, it’s so inspiring to see people excited and inspired to teach in studios or to take their teaching out into the world. We have a recent graduate who has MS and she teaches yoga to MS patients. You have the Dana Foundation. Can you tell us about that?

Yoga Dana

Richard: We started out as the California Yoga Teachers Association, a non-profit organization that owned Yoga Journal. The Board of Directors had a hand in running the magazine. Eventually Yoga Journal got into a little bit of financial trouble so we sold it to a man named John Abbott, who was the white knight in shining armor that came in and saved Yoga Journal. He’s done quite a nice job over the years to build it up while keeping it true to the yoga tradition. Then he sold it. The California Yoga Teachers Association had kept a percentage of Yoga Journal so when John sold it we would get some money as well. We invested that money and we now have money to give away every year. The IRS tells us we have to give this money away. We have an application on our website for towns in the Bay Area. We’ve given money to cerebral palsy center and the Piedmont yoga community, the organization that supports teaching to disabled students and cancer survivors, we’re giving money to a gentleman that works at San Quentin prison to teach yoga there, and a Parkinson’s yoga class that I used to teach but have since turned it over to a friend. We’re supporting teachers who teach in prisons, jails, low-income, homeless, disabled, abused teenagers, you name it and we’ve given money to these organizations.


Sujantra: Wow, that sounds like fantastic work and you’re touching thousands of people a year.

Richard: I don’t know about thousands, but certainly hundreds! The teachers go out and work with a number of community health centers, elementary schools. We have a program that is teaching yoga in San Francisco high schools.

Sujantra: Congratulations, that’s amazing.

Richard: We’ve been doing this for over ten years and we’ve given away over $1 million.

Sujantra: That’s what the world needs more of.

Richard: We were talking in our last meeting about trying to find ways to promote this movement and make it more nationwide. Modern yoga, which is very different than old yoga, is very inclusive. Old yoga was very exclusive. Our goal is to bring in as many people as we can no matter their physical state or financial situation.

Happy Yogis

They All Go Home a Little Happier

Sujantra: You mention the whole range of underserved populations, yet they are all benefitting from the practice of yoga. How can yoga help someone who is homeless, imprisoned?

Richard: It’s different benefits for different groups, I’d say. For instance, people with Parkinson’s, yoga helps alleviate the symptoms. It’s not a cure-all for Parkinson’s but they all go home a little happier than when they came in. People in prisons or juvenile hall they learn to deal with their emotions a little bit better. Some of the people in health centers do benefit from some of the health benefits of yoga so it really depends on what the population is.

Sujantra: One of the things I notice here at our studio is watching the students who have been coming for a month or two and you can observe their breathing is calmer, their posture is better and that just flows into any problems they’re dealing with. It sounds like you were right there at the ground floor when Yoga Journal was happening.

The Potential of Yoga

Richard: Yoga Journal was started in 1975 by my friend, Judith Lasater. I came on the board of California Yoga Teachers Association in 1990 so I wasn’t exactly on the ground floor.

Sujantra: Okay. But you’ve seen the growth of yoga and I’m wondering what you see happening in yoga over the next ten or fifteen or twenty years. What do you think the potential is?

Richard: The potential is enormous but it depends on how the people of this country direct it. I think there are two streams. There’s an exercise stream which is perfectly fine, I have no objection to that. It just makes people healthier physically which has a precedent in traditional yoga. There’s a text saying that if you do this practice your hair will be black again, your belly will be flat, you’ll…

Sujantra: Be as strong as an elephant.


By Mister-E (Angry elephant ears) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard: Right. I don’t remember which book it’s in but it states that if you look like Kama and you’ll be irresistible to the opposite sex. (Laughs.) That didn’t work with me, but…(laughs). Hopefully there’s another stream that I see with people becoming more. The yoga in this country is in its early stages. We usually credit Vivekananda for bringing yoga to this country in 1893 but that’s just not really true. He brought a form of meditation. Hatha Yoga didn’t really come and get established until the late 1940s when Indra Devi came and opened a studio in Hollywood. So basically, we’ve had yoga in this country for 60-70 years which in relation to the 2500 years in India, it’s a blink of an eye.   We are the yoga babies right now lying in our crib wiggling our fingers and toes. The people who are teachers now, and the students who are coming through these yoga trainings, have a huge responsibility and will to a large extent help determine the course of yoga in this country and in the West. We will have to see what they do. Hatha Yoga is incomplete right now. It had to be altered in certain ways to make it more accessible to a mass audience and I think there are some things that are missing in the practice that need to be added to it to make it a more transformative practice. What those things are, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s something that everybody that’s becoming a teacher right now needs to think about.

Sujantra: One thing I see in our teachers is how they incorporate meditation, pranayama, the yamas and the niyamas in their own classes. Even when people are just coming for the purely physical. The student body is becoming more aware of the other dimensions.

Richard: I hope to say one thing that the yoga sutras is such a widely read book that there is a misconception that there are only five yamas. There are actually thirty or forty yamas, including compassion and bravery and things like that. I think there should be a greater awareness of those other yamas more than just truthfulness and non-harming.

Yoga FAQs

Sujantra: You’re working on a new book, “Yoga FAQs.” Is that something you’re going to touch on?

Richard: I’m really feeling bad about taking so long to complete this book. (Chuckles.) I’ve given Shambhala every opportunity to dump me. (Laughs.)

Sujantra: How long have you been at it?

Richard: I’m not quite sure, but more than a year that’s for sure. It feels like a long time. They’ve given me several extensions. They’ve been very generous. They really want this book written. I’m plugging away. I’m sitting here at the computer right now and was working on it this morning before you called. This is a book of questions about yoga. There’s a chapter in there about the sutras, hatha yoga, Sanskrit, modern yoga and more. I’m plugging away, let’s just say that.

Sujantra: On behalf of all the other yogis out there, I want to say thank you for everything you do to spread yoga, share it with others and help to keep yoga on track in America.

Richard: Thank you. It’s been very nice to talk with you.

Sujantra: Thank you so much for joining us. To all our listeners out there, I encourage you to read Richard’s books and if you want more information on the Yoga Dana Foundation you can find it at and also on our website in the resources section. Thank you again, Richard, I really appreciate your time.

Richard: Thank you very much.

Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 2

In looking at your books, you have so many different exercises and types of pranayama…


The Authentic Breath

Sujantra: In looking at your books, you have so many different exercises and types of pranayama and yet at this time in your own practice you now mostly observe your breath.

Richard: Yes. That’s exactly right. I’ve come all around, full circle. I’m back to the beginning again. I think it’s important to establish what I call the authentic breath. Parkinson’s has an effect on breathing too. I don’t know what the word is, but it shortens you in the front of the torso so it makes full deep breathing difficult. So I use my breath as a way to pry open the front of my chest. I am trying to pry things open a bit more by using the breath.

Sujantra: You use the term “authentic” which makes me think of rather than using an outer state, you use an inner state.

Richard: Well, it’s breathing that has a minimum of resistance and effort. A lot of my students have restricted breathing in one way or another whether it’s because of posture, tension and other things too. Before you start a pranayama practice you have to let go of a lot of those obstacles to breathing.


Sujantra: In my meditation classes here in San Diego, I teach that breath, body, mind and emotions are all intertwined.

Richard: Yes, of course.

Sujantra: When you say  the restricted breath it makes me think that maybe these restrictions could be mental or emotional.

Richard: Yes, there are all kinds of restrictions nowadays.

Sujantra: In your students, you see the restrictions in their breath and by helping them clear their breath you are helping them clear other things that you probably can’t even see.

Richard: Right. Sometimes they don’t want to be cleared (laughs). There is resistance and sometimes it gets pretty difficult for some students. The body holds emotions. When the breath triggers some of those emotions to the surface there can be some very unpleasant experiences. You have to be very careful how you teach breathing. I don’t think a lot of people understand the transformational power of the breath.

Deepen Their Pranayama Practice

Sujantra: If someone is going to asana classes and they’re enjoying some of the simpler pranayama practices, how do you recommend they deepen their pranayama practice without crossing that line?


Richard: Well, you have to watch yourself very carefully when you breathe. You have to make sure your emotional state is not being disrupted. In the old books, they say your mind should be sattvic before you even begin a pranayama practice.

Sujantra: For our listeners, sattvic means…

Richard: Clear, calm, quiet. You have to be very careful when doing pranayama practice. You don’t push yourself beyond reasonable limits. You can push yourself in an asana class if you want to touch your toes or whatever you want to do. Pushing yourself in pranayama is certainly a bad idea because it can bring up some very unpleasant experiences. You have to watch yourself. Over time if you have a bad day, you can just turn the page after that. But if you continue to have bad days over and over and over, then that’s something deeper and you should talk to a teacher about that.

Sujantra: I see. In terms of your pranayama practice, if you have one bad day then that’s okay, but if it occurs time and time again, then that could indicate something and you should speak to your teacher about that.

Richard: Right. Over time if your practice isn’t feeding you, making you happy, then there’s something wrong and you need to figure out what that is rather quickly.

Yoga Class


Complete Yoga

Sujantra: At one of the studios where you teach, your class is called Complete Yoga. Could you describe that class?

Richard: At this studio they don’t put levels up so they want the teachers to describe their classes and that’s what I came up with. The idea behind it is that I don’t just do an asana class.  All of my classes have pranayama involved. Intermediate classes have meditation too. Complete Yoga means there will be some breathing at the end of class.

Sujantra: And you put in some meditation for some of them and a little philosophy.

Richard: Mostly I do that with the intermediate classes and some of the advanced beginners too.

Sujantra: For those students who are familiar with pranayama but not meditation, how would you describe the difference between the two?

Richard: Pranayama is working with your breath. It’s kind of a false practice because you can’t really stand back from your breath entirely. The breath and consciousness are the two sides of the same coin. In your breathing practice you’re watching your breath and looking to see what your reaction is where you’re holding or resisting. You’re standing back from your breath. I take meditations from the hold hatha texts which include some sort of a visualization.

Sujantra: In “Autobiography of a Yogi” one thing that always stuck in my mind is when Yogananda talked about that in the state of Samadhi breathing stops because mind has stopped. Does it always have to be that way or is that one approach to highest consciousness?

Richard: That sounds like classical pranayama in which the breathing is slowed down so much that it stops altogether. There’s nothing else going on, the breathing movement is a fluctuation and you’re trying to calm those superficial fluctuations so you can look inward and find out what’s going on inside. So I would say that it’s a formula in yoga that says to stop this and that thing stops too. If you stop your breath the fluctuations of consciousness will cease as well.


You Can’t Stop Breathing

Sujantra: My common sense mind says, “you can’t stop breathing.”

Richard: No, we can’t.

Sujantra: So it slows down so much that the mind slows down and you reach deep peace.

Richard. Really slow. I’m sure you’ve had the experience where you have a project in front of you and you’re very intent on it, you stop moving, your breath slows down and you become inwardly focused. There are things going on around you but you may not even hear them until they become a little bit more intrusive. That’s a form of Samadhi right there.

Sujantra: That’s a super form of concentration right there.

Richard: Yes, well, Samadhi is really is a state where you enter into whatever you’re meditating on, you see it from the inside. Samadhi means, “put together.” You understand it in its essence.

Sujantra: Wow. It’s so great to speak with someone who can elucidate these subtle spaces so well.


Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 1

Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 3

Interviews Podcast: Richard Rosen Transcript Part 1

Today’s podcast interview is with Richard Rosen and he began his study of yoga in 1980…


Today’s podcast interview is with Richard Rosen and he began his study of yoga in 1980, trained for several years in the early 1980s at the B.K.S. Iyengar Institute in San Francisco, CA. In 1987 Richard co-founded the Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, CA which existed for nearly 28 years. It recently closed its doors in 2015. Richard still teaches seven weekly classes in Oakland and in the Berkeley areas. He’s a contributing editor for Yoga Journal Magazine and President of the Board of a non-profit organization that we are going to talk about, which is a wonderful organization. Richard has written three books published by Shambhala, The Yoga of Breath, Pranayama, and Original Yoga and he’s also working on a fourth book which we are also going to touch base on today. Richard lives in a cottage built in 1906 in Berkeley, California, and Richard, I assume you’re talking to us from your cottage.

Richard: I’m talking to you from the office that is outside my cottage.

Sujantra: Oh the office outside your cottage, wonderful! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.

Richard: I’m really happy to be here. Thanks.


Coming to the Practice of Yoga

Sujantra: My first question, Richard, is what brought you to the practice of yoga?

Richard: Well, I moved down to the Bay Area in 1979 to finish up a Master’s Degree at Cal and things weren’t going too well and I was sitting around this little apartment I lived in at the time, trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I thought of a book I’d read a few years earlier and had no idea what the guy was talking about. Then all of a sudden, a little bell went off in the back of my mind and I got up, got the book and it was like a 180 degree turnaround and I could all of a sudden understand what the man was talking about. The man’s name was Krishnamurti. It started me off looking around for other sources that might help me figure out what to do with myself. Eventually I found a book that said yoga was the best exercise there was or had ever been invented, so I just happened to also find a local newspaper at the time that directed me to the Yoga Room in Berkeley. I started yoga to help myself try and figure out what to do.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

Sujantra: What was it about Krishnamurti or his writings that woke up something inside of you?

Richard: I don’t remember exactly which book it was but it was very inspiring and it gave me insight into how and why I was feeling the way I was feeling. It moved me that there were other sources and books like that because before that I had never had this feeling whatsoever. It just really woke me up to the possibilities. I was recently teaching in Ojai and a place called the Yoga Crib and I actually stayed in the room where Krishnamurti had written so many years ago.

Sujantra: Wow, the big circle of life keeps going. That’s beautiful. You turned to yoga in 1979 for your own growth and years later you’re writing books for Shambhala and people around the world are learning yoga from you. Is there a specific moment when you felt that transition from a student of yoga to not just a student but also a teacher of yoga?

Richard: (Chuckles.) Sometimes I find it hard to believe I am a teacher. I still consider myself very much a student. I’ve been very fortunate being allowed to write those books and I really appreciate everything Shambhala has done for me. I still consider myself a beginner and a student, so thank you for calling me a teacher but I will pass on that for a while.

Inspiration to Teach

Nikole YTT

Sujantra: Well, here at our studio in San Diego we train a lot of people who want to be yoga teachers. What do you say to someone who’s inspired to teach to give them confidence and courage to take that big step?

Richard: Well, it is a big step and it’s a big responsibility. You have to think about it really hard before you decide to become a teacher and of course it requires a lot of training and you want to get the best training possible. It’s important to, in the old days, the yogis dedicated their life to the practice and we can’t quite do that nowadays, but we have to still make a huge effort if we want to become a teacher. We have to read the old books and the new books that are available to give us insight into the old books. We have to practice and it’s important to get out there and find some people you can teach, make your mistakes, learn from them and keep plugging away. It’s not a straight-line progress to become a teacher. Just how your practice waxes and wanes like the moon I think that’s the way your teaching career progresses as well.

The Yoga of Breath

Sujantra: One of the things I liked right away about the book of yours that I read, “The Yoga of Breath,” is that right away you come across quotes from the Upanishads and great teachers so you obviously revere and give a lot of importance to those source teachings.

Richard: I think tradition is important. Nowadays, the younger yogis and teachers I don’t know how much they know about tradition and that’s fine. I’m not sure how important it is in certain contexts but I do think that it’s important to have a little bit of knowledge about the old yoga texts. There were generations and generations of old yogis who were out there doing their practice and the wisdom they came up with is very important to know about.

Sujantra: Right, and the great teachers that have come to the West, they go right to those source teachings. I’m thinking of Vivekenanda, Aurobindo, and yogis like that. They are honoring the past and I think it’s important for contemporary teachers to do the same.

Richard: Exactly. I think it’s important. I don’t know how much you want to do that, depending on what school you’re teaching from, but you should know at least a little bit about the background.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease

Sujantra: And you mention the importance of teachers practicing and I am wondering after 35 years of your own yoga journey, what does your daily practice look like?

Richard: Well, I might let you know that I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease about thirteen or fourteen years ago. I don’t know if you know much about Parkinson’s but it’s a neuromuscular condition that makes you stiffer, weaker and less balanced which is pretty much the reverse of everything I had been working on for the first twenty years. My practice has changed because of that. First of all, I’ve been very fortunate with this condition. People that I know can progress very rapidly to the point where after just two or three years they are in pretty bad condition. I’m very fortunate. It’s very difficult to tell sometimes that I have anything like Parkinson’s. My practice still has changed to accommodate some of the shortcomings. My balance is a little bit off and I’m not as strong as I used to be. I use a lot of props. I go a lot slower than I used to do.

Pranayama and Meditation

Sujantra: Is your practice mostly an asana practice or do you incorporate pranayama and meditation?

Richard: Breathing over the years has become a lot more interesting to me than the asana. The asana is supported, using chairs and blocks and straps, but I spend a lot more time than I used to on breathing. I’m not doing anything special. For the most part, I am simply watching my breath. It’s very important to have a breathing practice as part of your yoga practice. Most classes nowadays are solely asana classes.

Sujantra: I read an article recently about Rodney Yee and he said if he only had ten minutes to practice he would do pranayama.

Richard: My good friend, Rodney Yee.

Sujantra: Oh good, he’s right up there, right? In that area?

Richard: He was but he’s living in New York now. He’s the co-founder of Piedmont Yoga.

Sujantra: Oh the two of you founded it together.

Richard: I’ve known Rodney forever. The two of us went to the B.K.S. Iyengar school together. We’ve known each other for about 35-36 years.