Yoga and Meditation Today – an interview with Rod Stryker
by Celeste Adams – June 15, 2001
CA: Did you develop an interest in meditation at the same time that you began doing yoga?
RS: I practiced yoga for approximately three years before being introduced to meditation. Mani Finger, who was a South African yoga master, along with his son, Alan, brought me to understand that meditation was as much a part of yoga as were the exercises.
CA: Are most yoga teachers knowledgeable about meditation?
RS: No, it’s ironic but most teachers have little knowledge of the depth of meditation. Yoga today has become synonymous with exercise. The explosion of yoga has done little to grow meditation – in spite of it being meant to be the culmination of yoga – as well as, the most rewarding and transformative part of the yoga tradition.
My teachers have been of the teachings of the Vedas. My first teachers were disciples of Yogananda, Shivananda, and the Tantric master Bharati. In the last years, my mentors have been from the Tantric tradition of Sri Vidya. They all transmitted to me the depth and power of meditation, as well as, the science of yoga.
CA: Why has the meditative aspect of yoga been lost in the West?
RS: Convenience. One of the reasons yoga has grown in popularity is because we have modified and adapted it to suit the personality of our culture, hybridizing it to be a physically-organized approach. Generally, as a culture we are highly stressed, restless, and used to looking for immediate gratification. The task of sitting still can appear to be overwhelming.
The yoga tradition looks at the body and beyond it in order to optimize potential. To do that, some of us might have to do things unfamiliar or uncomfortable. Doing the exercise may be easy, but the notion of sitting still and looking inward might challenge someone. In the yoga tradition, the challenge of conquering the mind and patterning is considered more productive than doing the external challenge of exercise. For a really meaningful breakthrough to happen, we need to do more than maintain old and long-standing patterns or what we are used to.
CA: Are Westerners typically drawn to a vigorous form of yoga, since they are used to moving at a fast pace?
RS: Typically, the people that are ambitious and driven, who are now doing yoga, are doing aggressive yoga. Those who are calm and laid back have a tendency to be attracted to the easy, less aggressive yoga classes. The tendency is to seek out that which reinforces what and where we already are. To breakthrough we must begin to explore a different rhythm. According to the more profound teachings of the yoga tradition, the experience that arises out of silence is the most exalted of all. Yet, slowing down to most Americans is unfamiliar.
The good news is that the word is out, and more and more people are talking about and seeking out different kinds of meditation.
CA: What are the benefits of meditation?
RS: The benefits of meditation are so diverse and varied, and touch such a broad spectrum of human experience, it’s difficult to give a complete list of them. The physiological benefits of daily meditation include lowered cholesterol, improved digestion, development of the parasympathetic nervous system, and transformation of the endocrine system, which is the foundation of physical health.
In the mental domain, meditation reduces stress, increases insight, can be a powerful tool for problem solving, increases intuition and sensitivity, and heightens clarity. It can help us begin to see our reactive nature and also our patterned ways of behaving. It helps us become more open. Because of the way meditation requires us to slow down the rational mind, people who meditate often find that it helps them develop certain creative capacities. It helps one tap into the field of limitless intelligence.
There are also spiritual benefits. Meditation helps us become aware of a level of existence which sense and the mind is unable to perceive. It allows us to feel more at home in the world and our bodies. Meditation inspires, enriches life, and provides a vision of lasting peace. It increases one’s capacity to have a more fulfilled and meaningful life.
CA: Is meditation similar to the state of flow that we enter when we are enthralled with the work that we’re doing – whether it’s painting a picture, writing a book, or solving a mathematical equation?
RS: Whenever we are absorbed in something we love to do, we move into something like meditation. When we’re fully absorbed, feelings of limitation disappear; time stands still. We feel whole, one. When that happens, it happens involuntarily. We experience joy in those moments because when we are undistracted, our true nature is revealed. You can call it soul, essence, or Source. Whenever we experience an elevated state, it is our true nature that is being revealed.
CA: Do you think it’s important to learn meditation from a teacher?
RS: People don’t necessarily need a teacher around to practice. A simple, systematic approach should be enough to guide you through meditation and ideally towards a depth of experience. However, a lot of us need more than just a sketch of what meditation is, and it’s very useful to have either a teacher or a guided practice. It’s particularly meaningful, at least in the beginning to have a guide. Once you become familiar with the terrain and the right technique, then it’s best to do it on your own.
CA: Why did you make the CD ”Three Meditations to Live By”?
RS: People often have a more profound experience when they are led through the practice, rather than when they go at it alone. When you are doing it yourself, you are both the leader and the led. If someone else is leading you, then you get to be completely receptive. Plus, if you are being led by a qualified guide, then the guide is able to impart, through words, presence, and experience, some of the depth of meditation. I created the meditation CD so that people could have a piece, in a direct way, of what I teach. The beauty of a CD is that when there is silence, there is really silence, and that is when meditation reaches its final.
CA: Will you make other meditation CDs?
RS: I’m in the process of doing more guided-meditation work. There are many guided practices that suit the needs of people in our culture today. For the most part, we are stressed out, with a serious shortage of time. People need to rest and repair. Rest and repair are incredibly pertinent and important elements to living a complete life.
CA: What traditions do you utilize in your practice?
RS: The tradition I teach from – Tantra – is so varied, so comprehensive, that it includes the breath, awareness practices, visualization, mantras, and a vast array of other approaches.
CA: What is the most important thing meditation has done for you?
RS: Simply, it changed my life. It awakened me to the person I was supposed to be. One of the things American culture is preoccupied with is our psychological self. But our psychological self is just a tiny part of who we are. Yet self image is enough to shape us and shape our destiny. What is psychology? It is all the layers of experience and condition that pattern our view of self. Meditation allowed me to outgrow some of the negative parts of my conditioning, and to find my voice, power, and purpose in life.
CA: How can a person who is always moving around, always busy doing things and obsessed with achieving goals, begin the practice of meditation?
RS: They just have to do it. Yoga is a great place to begin. They should find good teachers and the works of good teachers, and apply themselves. The benefits start to unfold fairly quickly if you are working with a good instructor. Once someone has gotten a taste of the quiet that comes from Yoga, meditation is the natural next step. That’s not to say that meditation is easy, and I don’t want to say that it’s hard. All one need do is begin.
CA: Have any of your students spoken to you about the beneficial effects that meditation has had in their lives?
RS: Recently, a woman approached me in Chicago, and it was a stunning experience. She had a congenital heart problem and she also was pregnant. They were worried she would pass the problem on to her son. She felt that she had to make a change, so she got my meditation CD and listened to it during her pregnancy. As it turned out, the child was born without any complications or heart problems, but they were very concerned about her heart defect. They began a medical procedure after the child was born, to test the condition of her heart, but the doctors found nothing wrong with her heart. The irregular rhythms were gone! She told the doctors that the only thing she had been doing was meditating. They could hardly believe it since this was a disease that was thought to be incurable. This is just one. There are countless stories.
CA: When you teach one-on-one, do you recommend particular styles of meditation that suit the individual needs of your students?
RS: Although I work with large groups of people, I also work with individuals, and I continue to particularize meditation for them individually. There are generic values to all forms of meditation in the yoga tradition, but there can be no greater way of practicing than to have a teacher give you practice that suits your particular needs. One individual may have strong emotional challenges, and another person may have difficulty focusing; others might be challenged by ambition, or creativity. It is best to find the most effective technique for your specific needs. A good gardener will tell you what a rose needs – more sunlight, or more water. The rarest of meditation teachers can do the same for their students.
CA: Do you think that if more people meditated there would be peace in the world?
RS: The world would be a different place. I’m tempted to leave it at that. As human beings, it’s natural to want peace in the world, but what’s much more critical and possible is inner peace.
If you’re going to address what creates more peace in the world, you’re really dealing with deep principles concerning laws of life and existence. In this age, there’s going to be conflict and violence for a long time – even if people are meditating. I will say that anyone can reach inner peace through meditation, and if everyone did that, their experience of the world would change. That’s where I suggest people put their attention.