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Max Strom is a global speaker, author, yoga teacher, and trainer, best known for deeply impacting the lives of his students with teachings that reach past the limits of contemporary yoga culture. Over the past decade, Max has become a prominent voice of personal transformation skilled at touching the hearts of people from all walks of life, nationalities, and backgrounds.
1440: What sparked your initial interest in the breath?
Max Strom: When I started practicing yoga at the ripe old age of 35, I had done a lot of qigong. The breathing in qigong is centered around the belly, around the naval, and this is how a lot of yoga teachers teach it. But I was fortunate enough to be exposed to an Ashtanga teacher, Dena Kingsberg from Australia, who taught me to breathe by expanding my ribs laterally, like an accordion.
With this approach to breathing, I found I became very emotional after class. I would shed a few tears, and I would quickly wipe them off of my face because I thought no one should see a grown man cry. I kept this emotional release to myself, but friends started noticing that I was becoming happier.
By the end of the year, the tears stopped and what was once a far-fetched idea to me—that strong emotions, like grief, are stored in the body—I knew was absolutely true.
When I started teaching, I, of course, included the same type of breathing work, and have improved upon it over time. I'm happy to teach people postures to improve their range of motion and get stronger, but if I can teach somebody something to help them overcome a lifetime of grief, to release anxiety, to not be depressed anymore—that's something that affects their whole life and their family and their community. That's very interesting to me.
1440: Are these practices what led you to study happiness?
Max Strom: Yes, after practice I would find that I had this afterglow where I felt like I just didn't desire anything. I would feel happy and content in my body and in my emotions. I didn't have a desire to eat or drink or go anywhere or hold anyone or go on a date or watch TV. I felt like I was glowing like a small sun, perfectly happy right where I was.
I realized that my practice was taking away my overhead—everything I had been doing to try to get me into this state I now found myself in. I realized I didn't need all those other entertainments and activities to feel happy and whole. Up to that point I'd been a musician, a screenwriter, and a budding director and I lost all ambition for some kind of renown. I dropped it all because I realized it wasn't a healthy lifestyle and that these practices made me feel better than any of that ever would.
In a world of tumultuous change, where can we look for stability and wisdom? Unlock your capacity for healing and empathy by looking inward to the power of your breath. Join renowned yoga teacher and coach Max Strom for a...
1440: What's something unexpected or surprising that you've learned from more than three decades of committed practice?
Max Strom: I learned that it's astonishing how much of our behavior is caused by our unreconciled past. Whether it's childhood trauma or difficult parents or whatever, we soldier on and suppress the pain. But once we begin doing these practices and healing these wounds, that changes everything. I love the word "reconcile" a lot.
As we reconcile our past it changes things in the present.
It changes our relationships and the choices we make—to live here or there, to eat this or that, to do that thing or this thing. And through these thousands of choices our life changes.
After all these years of teaching, I can now meet a student and get an idea of where they will be in five years if they stick with it. If someone comes to my training and they want to be an actor but they also start teaching yoga and breathwork and they love that too, I know that after five years they're likely to drop the acting.
Once they teach and make a real impact by being themselves (and not pretending to be someone else), they realize there's no greater recognition than to be acknowledged for their authentic self and they no longer have the need for the spotlight. This isn't true all of the time, of course, but I've seen it enough to say that if people stick with the practices, their personality and their life will inevitably change for the better.
This interview was conducted on behalf of 1440 Multiversity by Jenn Brown—a freelance writer, editor, producer, and educator.