Max Strom is a leading speaker, teacher and author known for his work in personal transformation, spirituality and yoga. Max’s system guides us to live better life and to find the meaning of this life. His teaching includes a philosophy for living, self-enquiry, breath-work, yoga postures, and meditation.
Max storm has been the keynote speaker at various forums and conferences. He is the author of well know book entitled “A Life Worth Breathing” and his second book will be release in this August. You can also experience his work with his home practice DVDs.
Learn more about Max Strom.
Here is the Transcription of this Audio Interview with Max Strom
Jignesh: Max, once again, thank you very much for your time. So let’s begin with the questions. Can you please tell us how you started your journey with personal transformation, spirituality, and yoga?
Max: Yes, and you’re very welcome. It’s an honor to do this interview with you. In terms of time, I think I have about 30 minutes – I hope that’s okay.
Jignesh: Yes, that’s absolutely fine.
Max: Okay. So to answer your question, I really became quite interested in personal transformation at the age of 15 years old.
I had a small awakening where suddenly I saw life in a different way than most 15-year olds, and became very interested in the big questions of life, you know? Why do we have this life? What happens when we die? Are we eternal or immortal? What is the point of human existence, etc. So that started at about age 15.
Jignesh: Okay. But that’s very tough – you know, at that early age, we are not that much mature to understand why we are here on this earth, so according to you, how you got the answers of all these questions?
Max: Well, I received some answers and understanding through study. I started to read quite voraciously. Any book I could find on eastern religions particularly such as Daoism and Buddhism, and then later, the yoga text.
I also studied Sufism, and Esoteric Christianity, and some other things as well. And even some of the Greek philosophers.
And so this gave me a greater mental perspective because I found that I wasn’t the only person who asks these questions, in fact, they’ve been asked for centuries. And many people who are much brighter than me had discussed them, and thought about them, and come up with multiple series, and so on – so that was the beginning. This led me to a meditation practice at around 16 years old.
And I didn’t have any formal guidance; I would just go out into nature. I lived in the country, so it was easy to just walk out into natural surroundings with no people around and sit for periods of time. I used to like to sit at sunset time so that I twilight you know? I thought that was a very wonderful time. So I would begin meditation it would be light, and when I finished, it would be dark – that was my favorite time to meditate, and then walk home in the dark.
Jignesh: Oh, wow. I personally did meditation courses with “Art of Living” by Sri Sri Ravishankar, so sometimes I’m also practicing the guided meditations. But what I personally feel is it’s very difficult to focus or sometimes our minds, our thoughts are coming of a mind and we cannot focus on meditation. So what exactly is the advice you’d give to improve the focus in meditation?
Max: Well the answer is somewhat dependent on who I’m speaking with at the time – who asks that question.
It would be like someone saying, “what should I do for exercise”, is the person I’m talking to a Special Forces soldier, or someone who has not exercised in their entire life, and is in ill health? So we have to prescribe different regimes for different states or qualities of life and capacities. For someone who has a very busy mind and a lot of stress, the first advice I can give to that person is to not have a lot of stress, but people don’t want to hear that answer, you know? They say, “I can’t I have to have a stressful life because I have to have this job that makes me work 50 hours a week”, as if there’s no way of avoiding this, you know?
And people say, “I don’t have time to meditate”, but they have time to play video games for 2 hours a day. “I don’t have time to meditate, but I have time to watch” –
Jignesh: To watch movies.
Max: “To watch movies or TV. I don’t have time to meditate, but I have time for social media.” So, we do have time, but I suggest to people who are new to meditation to not sit quietly and try to still their mind, as they will be – and I’m generalizing here – and capable of doing it. I think the way a beginner should start is with guided meditation.
Jignesh: I personally feel it’s real helpful to follow the guide and all that stuff.
Max: I just have one more thing to say, guided meditation or japa-mala.
Jignesh: Japa-mala, yes. The chants are “Aum”, or something like visually helps us to focus more.
Max: What I suggest to people is that they create their own statement to say, something that has meaning. I mean, if you were brought up – let’s say you were brought up in one of the Hindu lineages, –
Max: Yes, “Aum” would have meaning. But if you’re talking to a Jew, “Aum” has no meaning. I would say then use something from your religion, or to a Buddhist, from your religion, or to a Muslim, from your religion. If you’re an Atheist, I suggest you create your own statement, which has great and deep meaning to you.
Jignesh: Whoa, that’s good.
Max: So you’re not just saying something that someone teaches you.
Jignesh: Yes, that’s really great. So you know, how did you realize – take yoga and all this spirituality as professionally and personally as a teacher or and in your dedication your life to yoga and inspiration in your teaching so many people, your spreading words about improving our lives. When did you decide to take this as professionally and personally?
Max: Well, those are a little bit of two different questions. For personally, I didn’t discover Hatha yoga until – really until about 1991.
And before that, I was doing Qi Gong – which is you know, like Chinese yoga. So I already had a background in meditation and breathing, and breath-initiated movement when I came upon Hatha yoga in 1991.
In 1995, I started to teach it, but I wasn’t planning on teaching – I didn’t think I would ever make any money from doing it – I was just doing it because I loved to do it. But when I started to teach, things happened for me very quickly. People resonated with my form of teaching, and it evolved very quickly. And I became known more for teaching breath work, and the philosophy of yoga.
Jignesh: That’s great. So what do you love the most about teaching yoga?
Max: I think that I love – let’s see, the most – there’s so much I love about it. I think that what I’m best at is to help people remember who they are and what they are capable of. I think that that’s what I love doing the most.
Jignesh: That’s great. So what is in your opinion, the greatest health benefit of doing yoga?
Max: Greatest health benefit.
Max: I would say that doing Hatha yoga quiets the mind.
And when it quiets the mind, it brings life benefits – not only health – to the body.
Jignesh: Yes, that’s great. So let’s say someone who wanted start learning yoga, so how would you insist they begin?
Max: I think it’s important to work with a teacher.
I tell my students that – I tell people, I mean, if they’re just starting, to find a teacher that they resonate with very strongly. So maybe try 10 or 20 teachers, and then pick the one that you really feel a resonance with, and work with that person. I think the teacher is more important than the style.
Jignesh: That’s good. So let’s say – as you know that many people are working 12 or 14 hours a day and they don’t find the time to improve their health. What they should do to incorporate the yoga in this busy life?
Max: Start with a 30 minute practice – just 30 minutes.
And if you can’t do 30 minutes, then start with a 15 minute practice because what usually happens is if you say, “Well, I can’t do 30, but I’ll do 15 minutes”, at about 14 minutes you think, “you know, I can’t do a little more than 15 minutes”. It’s mostly just getting started within 30 minutes is easy, but sometimes you have to trick yourself and say, “I’ll just do 5 minutes only”, and the next thing you know, you’ll do your 30 minutes of practice.
Jignesh: Yes, and so I think I agree and I think sun salutations (surya namaskara), so begin with that – can really help. What do you suggest?
Max: I think that’s true. Sun salutations are a great beginning, but you are young. But if your grandmother asks me where to start, I think sun salutations might be too difficult for her. So, I would give her different things to do.
Jignesh: Alright. When I was watching the video of your TED talks, you had said that the student in school, we just tell them behave yourself, but how to behave, we are not telling them. So what advice will you give the person who is in school or something to learn the lesson of their life?
Max: Well what I was referring to in that talk was that children, I believe, should be taught basic conflict resolution courses. where they are formally educated on how to deal with people who disagree with them, or who are rude to them. But mainly, how to communicate their feelings and even to identify their feelings. For instance, a young child, if you hurt the child’s feelings and you say to the child, “how do you feel about Max?” He might say, “I hate him”. The child doesn’t know the difference between hate, anger, feeling betrayed, feeling frightened – they mix all their emotions up together so they just say, “I hate you”.
And so it’s a simple course of self-awareness. First, a child must be taught to distinguish between emotions, and then to communicate those emotions clearly and directly to the other person, rather than passive-aggressively or through inferring their feelings. Just to speak to them, and become good listeners would teach children these basic skills, I think they could learn to discuss their feelings at an early age.
Jignesh: Great. Okay, thanks. So you know, one more question. Let’s say – how to identify the meaning of our lives? I read many articles on many blogs in order to identify what you love to do – but sometimes it happens that a few days we like to do some activities, we really enjoy that and after a few days, we start hating the same stuff. So why are we on this earth, and how to identify the meaning of our life?
Max: Well, I think one has to go about it in stages. I mean, some people are blessed to have a great epiphany, or a great event which wakes them up at a very deep level. But for most people, they don’t have an experience like that. And so the first thing to do is to identify what makes you happy and even before that, to define what happiness is. For instance, is happiness just pleasure? You say, “Well, I’m happy when I have a good meal and I’m with my girlfriend. That makes me happy.” But if you eat too much of your favorite food, you’ll feel sick. If you’re with your girlfriend too much, you start to argue. So what is deeper than pleasure? And then the person finally figures out, “there’s something else called meaning. I feel meaning in my life when I contribute to other people’s lives”, for example.
Like a nurse in a hospital helps people every day. People who are suffering and they find great meaning in this. And so then you think okay there’s pleasure and that’s important, but meaning is even more important because I never feel sick afterward – ever. I always feel good afterward. And then you go a layer deeper, what is the meaning of life in general? Why am I here? What am I? And then you discover that you are a spiritual being, and what that means. And at this point, it has to be experience, it cannot just be intellectual. Reading about spirituality or discussing it is not the same as experiencing it.
Jignesh: So, that experience can come with doing meditation and yoga, right?
Max: Yes, but those are two forms or two paths toward that goal. But there are others as well.
Jignesh: Can you explain – can you share briefly about the other parts?
Max: Well, people discover – if you study history and you study the lives of people that we respect in history who were spiritual leaders, some of them had great spiritual experiences while in service to others, or through nature, or through an automobile accident, you know? Or through suffering great pain because of a disease they had as a child. There are different things that tend to wake us up as spiritual beings. Even war – some people, during a war, will have an awakening and become a different kind of person because of the experience around them. But we’re all different. For example, the writer, Viktor Frankl – are you familiar with him?
Max: You might want to read his book. It’s called, “Man’s Search For Meaning“.
Max: And his name is Viktor with a “k”, “Viktor”.
Max: And Frankl is “F, R, A, N, K, L.”
Jignesh: Yes, Noted !
Max: He was a philosopher and a psychiatrist and Jewish, and he went into the concentration camps during WWII in Germany. And they were all under the same circumstances – horrible, horrible circumstances. But he writes about how people reacted differently to these circumstances.
Jignesh: I will definitely read it. So you’ve written few books and your recent book was, “A Life worth Breathing”. So can you please say few words about your books?
Max: Yes. “A Life Worth Breathing” is my first book – I’ve written two. My second one will be out in August, and that is called, “There is No Out For Happiness”.
But my first book is really – it’s dedicated to teaching the essence of yoga, but not the postures. There are so many books out on yoga postures. Although I teach yoga postures every day, I felt if I’m going to put a book out, I don’t want it to be just another book on postures. I want it to be about how it’s changed my life, and how I’ve seen it change other people’s lives. There are very few books written in plain common language that talk about these things. I don’t use any Sanskrit, I try to just get to the essence of the teachings. And for me, yoga is not only based in the Vedic tradition.
I believe the essence of yoga can also be found in Taoist yoga, and in Sufi yoga, and in other places as well, I think the truth can be found all over the world in different cultures. Though in “A Life worth Breathing”, I bring forth essential teachings from many traditions, but I try to speak to the reader as if we were two friends sitting on a park bench talking.
Jignesh: That’s really great. The last question, say a few words for our readers.
Max: Oh, about what, anything?
Jignesh: Yes, whatever you want to suggest or you want to say, or whatever you feel, and whatever tips that can help people.
Max: I see, okay. I think that personal transformation is not only imperative for the individual because first of all, transformation is what is going to bring meaning and true happiness to your life. But also, personal transformation is what can save the world. I don’t think that the world is going to change very much until we change ourselves personally.
And then the reason is because of poverty, and corruption and war are not high-tech problems. They’re caused by people’s behavior. So to change the behavior, we have to change the person. So war, and poverty, and corruption will continue no matter what we invent through technology. We have to change ourselves personally. This will start to solve our personal problems, and global problems.
Jignesh: Wow, that’s really interesting. Thank you very much. It was nice talking to you Max, and thank you very much for your time.