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.

Yoga Sutras – Om

When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om…


When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om. It’s like stepping through a portal. I usually chant it several times until I really feel a strong connection/punctuation… I chant it externally. Then I chant it internally. The vibration in my throat stops but the vibration in my heart-universe continues.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, expounded upon by Swami Vivekananda (also see) in his book, Raja-Yoga, particularly addresses the use of the syllable Om in aphorism 27 (The word that manifests Him is Om.) and 28 (The repetition of this (Om) and meditating on its meaning [is the way]).

Tom on Harmonium

What is God’s name?

I find it interesting that try as we might, it is impossible to put a definitive name to ‘God.’ Every thought in the mind has a corresponding word, a symbol. Thought and word are inseparable. If the symbol (word) corresponds to the thing signified then we are assured that there is a valid relationship: the symbol can then conger the thought. However, many symbols, many words can represent the same thought.

Vivekananda posits that there might be hundreds of words for ‘God’ across the globe. But there must be some underlying generalization that can be distilled from all these names. There must be some common ground in all these names. That common name would then best represent them all.

Patanjali suggests the common ground is Om.

Notice a variety of ‘God’-names: God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, Buddha… notice that each name contains the syllable, ‘Ah,’ closely corresponding to the first part of the pronunciation of the syllable Om (or AUM, Ahh-Ooo-Mmm). Speculating that someone from England might not recognize the Pakistani or Japanese word for ‘God,’ for example, never-the-less both might be familiar with Om and would recognize the underlying thought. It’s interesting to note that many ‘God’-names are preceded by adjectives to qualify them, like Personal God, Absolute God, Christian God, etc., limiters. Yet Om requires no qualifiers, having around it all significances.


Repetition of Om and Meditation on its Meaning

Whether vocalized or silent, repetition of Om creates vibrational energy in our bodies, minds and in the universe. As we have already determined Om to be divine, Vivekananda equates chanting Om to be, “…keeping good company with the mind.” And he suggest that, “One moment of company with the holy builds a ship to cross this ocean of life: such is the power of association.” So we repeat Om and meditate on its meaning. Om is the foundational expression for ‘God’ in this context. It is an utterance without qualification. The more it is repeated, the more it is considered, the greater the association and, “Thus light will come to you; the Self will become manifest.”

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (Image via Wikipedia)

Vivekananda really pushes the idea of keeping good company, specifically, good company with the purity of ‘God’ by virtue of repetition and meditation. We all have the old scars and wounds. We each have within us the potential for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Keeping evil company (thought, word, deed, associations, etc.) is like picking an open wound. It will manifest as a festering lesion. Repetition and meditation on the meaning of Om will bring to the surface those perhaps latent good impressions and qualities and build a strong foundation for introspection and the destruction of obstacles, those negative qualities which hinder our spiritual growth.

Chanting Om is as foundational as is breath. Ujjayi breathing is simply chanting Om using only the breath, foregoing vibrating the vocal chords.

When I first began my yoga life I truly thought the breath work was kind of trivial and silly; such a simple, almost inconsequential thing. I really didn’t see any real practicality about it. Most studios I frequented rarely chanted Om at the beginning and ending of a class. It was only that I was a singer that it finally dawned on me that breath control was so vital a part of the practice. My ‘home’ studio, Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio in San Diego, CA (my  employer) has always chanted Om at the beginning and ending of each class, one of several practices that endeared me to the studio.

Make the practice of chanting Om a daily endeavor.

Consider it’s meaning. Om is the unqualified expression of the divine. Let it spring forth from your heart as the first, the only and the last vibration… Be Om.



Featured image by MAMJODH, license.



The Roots of Yoga of Patanjali

Ancient Philosophy – Yoga is a great way to make your body and nervous system strong, balanced and flexible…


Ancient Philosophy

Yoga is a great way to make your body and nervous system strong, balanced and flexible. Yoga is also an ancient Indian philosophical system through which you can experience uplifting and mystical states of awareness. Yoga mean ‘to yoke, to bring together.’ Through yoga you can experience the unity, the oneness of the individual and the universal. In the yoga philosophy this is called “Samadhi.” It is an awareness of the “heaven within” or nirvana. This spiritual ecstacy and the joy it brings to life is the goal of yoga.

Yoga is one of the six ancient philosophies of India. The other areas of study were: grammar, mathematics, ethics, astronomy and metaphysics. From these emerged sciences such as astrology, ayurveda, hatha yoga and modern mathematics.

The Yoga Sutras and Vivekananda

The codification of yoga was done over 2000 years ago by the sage Patanjal and is known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The writing is composed of 196 concise statements, most no more than a sentence or two. Various commentators, both ancient and modern, have elaborated these sutras. My favorite translation was written at the beginning of the 19th century by Swami Vivekananda, one of the first yogis to bring Indian philosophy to the West at the Parliament of Religions in 1893. His book is entitled Raja Yoga.

The yoga sutras are divided into 4 chapters which describe the basic principles of yoga, the actual practices of yoga, the powers that arise through yoga and an elaboration on the higher states of consciousness attained through yoga.

It is interesting to note that only 2 or 3 actual postures—asanas—, are described in the writing and both are related to asanas for meditation and pranayama. Patanjali says the postures should be “firm but pleasant” in order to free the mind from bodily awareness.

The Yamas and More

Most relevant to modern Western yogis are the sutras in chapters 2 and 3 which describes yoga as being composed or 8 limbs or aspects. It is in these sutras that Patanjali talks about the Yamas—moral injunctions; the Niyamas—daily observances; Asana—the postures with which we are so familiar in the west, Pranayama—breath control, Pratyahara—the inward turning of the senses; Dharana—concentration; Dhayana—meditation and the ultimate Samadhi—the liberation of consciousness.

Learn more about the specifics of the yoga sutras through our videos and writings. Namaste.