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Ryan Spielman on Healthier Living
Ryan Spielman is an internationally renowned bodyworker and yoga teacher, and an advanced practitioner of ashtanga-vinyasa yoga who has completed the fourth in the series taught by yoga master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. Spielman’s students include Madonna, Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler. Along with teaching group and private yoga classes in London and other cities, Spielman leads various groups devoted to consciousness and personal awakening. In this interview, Spielman explains how yoga can help anyone live healthier.
What is yoga and what are its benefits?
In mainstream circles now, yoga is defined as something a little more than just a physical exercise, in that it’s a mind-body movement that works not just the muscles but includes concentration and a way to observe what’s going on inside your head while you’re practicing.
The myth about yoga is that if you do it, you’ll be happier and enlightened. I believed that myth for many years, but that’s not how I see it anymore. When I do yoga, I practice because I enjoy it. I like to feel my body in this way. So many people go through their entire lives and don’t really feel their bodies; they don’t get a sense of what it’s like to live in a human body, to feel all the joints and how they move, to reach the limit of a muscle’s extension and then to soften up, to feel all the internal organs and feel blood. And then to combine that with breathing practices that calm the nervous system, it’s like a drug in a certain way. It puts the body—and to some extent, the mind—in a certain state. In that state, there’s more possibility of experiencing ourselves from a very different perspective from where most people are coming from, which is ordinary consciousness or waking consciousness.
What about the more spiritual aspects of yoga?
Yoga can be whatever people want it to be, really. The way I see it, yoga has as much to offer as doing the dishes. If people want to do the dishes as a spiritual path, then that would be just as effective because the main thing is the energy that they put into it and their intention when they’re doing it. You can do yoga and if the intention isn’t there to be present—meaning to really feel what’s going on in your body and your mind—then you’re basically just doing some form of gymnastics or stretching or physical therapy. If your intention is to be present, then yoga can be an agent for spiritual transformation.
Is there a yoga practice for everyone?
Yes. There are so many different types these days: ashtanga, vinyasa (I teach ashtanga-vinyasa), Iyengar, Bikram, Sivananda, kriya, kundalini, svarupa and anusara. The list goes on, and there will be more. A general class that hasn’t evolved from a particular person is called hatha yoga. Some form of yoga is appropriate for everyone, from age three to 100.
What does a healthy person look like?
Happy. If you’re not happy, you’re not healthy. And that happiness filters down into all the levels of being human: emotional health, mental health and physical health. Someone once asked me if I’d rather be rich or healthy, and everyone thinks, “Well, if I’m rich, I can buy my happiness,” but it’s the other way around: Wealth doesn’t matter when you’re happy. Happiness means that even if there’s something going on in the body, it doesn’t matter so much.
When you meet someone, can you tell if that person is happy and healthy?
Yes. It can be expressed differently in each person but, generally, there’s softness in the voice and a softness in the energy of the person. Some people glow physically. Their body looks fantastic and they’re glowing—you can almost see it. They’ve really taken care of which foods come into their body and, as a result, their cells are alive. Everyone can see the difference—even in the face—when compared to someone who has been smoking and drinking coffee for 20 years.
What helps people get through big changes, such as adopting a healthier lifestyle?
The first thing that comes to mind is education. An example might be that if you’re starting to exercise, your body is going to hurt. And you’re not going to want to continue because it’s going to hurt again. But if you know that’s going to happen, you get into it for two weeks and you’re regular about exercising for a few months, then that hurt will go away. You actually start to feel good afterward. You have to accept that it’s just going to hurt, knowing that sometimes nothing works to ease the pain. You’ve spent your whole life doing something a certain way that’s unhealthy, and it’s going to be painful to change.
What’s your opinion about fasting and detoxing?
I love fasting because of how I feel when I fast. I like the challenge; I enjoy struggling psychologically through the day. I certainly feel as though we don’t need to eat as much food as we do. I usually do about three or four big fasts a year, each five to seven days long. I’ve tried a lot of different fasts and, at the moment, I like a juice fast. I still have enough energy to do all the things I need to do for the day, like yoga teaching, walking around and so on. I have as much energy as I do normally, and I feel much better.
What advice would you give to someone who’s starting on the first 30 days of better health?
You’ve got to move your body, whether it’s running, swimming, yoga or dancing. For it to be effective, you need to do an activity at least three days a week—and four is much better. Every day is ideal. You also have to become more aware of the foods you put into your body. Everybody has a different opinion about the right foods; for me, the lighter, more digestible foods you eat, the better. A vegetarian diet is good, made up mostly of raw food.
For more information on Ryan Spielman, visit www.trueryan.com.