In anticipation of Carlos Pomeda’s upcoming Tokyo visit to teach at Be Yoga Japan in August, I was doing some looking around online and stumbled across this fascinating interview with him by Sonia Doubell on her YouTube show, The Secret Bliss, and thought to share it with you all. They discuss yogic philosophy, meditation, Tantra and other fascinating topics.
About Carlos PomedaCarlos Pomeda, originally from Madrid, Spain, has over 35 years of experience in the study, practice and teaching of the yoga traditions.
He received formal, traditional training in yoga during almost 18 years as a monk of the Sarasvati order, 9 of which he spent in India, in the Siddha Yoga Ashram, studying and practicing under the guidance of Swami Muktananda and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. During this time he learned the various systems of Indian Philosophy, immersed himself in the practice of yoga and became one of the senior teaching monks of the tradition—teaching meditation and philosophy to tens of thousands of students around the world.
Carlos combines this experience and traditional training with an academic background that includes two Masters’ degrees: one in Sanskrit from UC Berkeley and another one, in Religious Studies, from UC Santa Barbara.
Based in Austin, Texas, Carlos travels the world sharing his love of the Indian yoga traditions.
About Sonia DoubellSonia Doubell has been a certified yoga teacher since 2004. She is a member of The Yoga Alliance and registered with the Yoga Register. Sonia is also a certified NLP practitioner, student of Shiatsu and Chinese medicine; all of which serve to inform her practice and teaching.
Sonia started practicing yoga over ten years ago on a small Island in the Bahamas. Coming from a media background, Sonia was drawn to yoga’s bold claims to help one to achieve self-realization and true relaxation, that are not of a superficial nature, but an inner peace that come from knowing the truth. She wanted to know how.
Over the past decade, Sonia has practiced and studied many different forms of Hatha Yoga from many great yoga pioneers and this has gifted her the opportunity to explore, discover and nurture what truly resonates. With much gratitude, she now brings together all that she has come to embody and love to her teaching.
Here in Part 1, Carlos and Sonia talk about Carlos’ yoga background, how yoga spread from India to the West, social perceptions of yoga in the West, environmental awareness, Tantra, meditation and yoga philosophy. In Part 2, they talk about the long-term effects of mediation, yoga practice, prana, consciousness, asana, ideology and spirituality.
Hello everyone, I am Sonia and you are watching The Secret Bliss. Joining us today is the wonderful Carlos Pomeda. Carlos, thank you so much for being here today, it is such a gift.
Carlos has studied for 35 years. He studied, taught and practiced all the different traditional trainings of yoga and meditation.
You have been a monk for 18 years, of which you spent 9 in India, at the Siddha Yoga Ashram with Gurumayi Muktananda. An amazing experience, I am sure; so we will get into that as well. Carlos does a lot of teacher trainings. He teaches history and has two masters’ degrees. One in Sanskrit, and one in religion.
We have an incredible host of wisdom here, and I’m very excited to talk about the topic of yoga with him. So let’s just start and dive straight into it.
Carlos, as a historian, having all this background, why do you think yoga is such a part of our lifestyles these days? It’s a very special time. How did that happen?
It’s really interesting. We saw already something starting in the 60s and 70s. There was this wave, where you had all of this wisdom coming out of India and traveling everywhere. The yoga tradition, particularly through Hatha Yoga, but also meditation, started to grow in popularity. It is very interesting, that now some 40 years later, you actually see that meditation is becoming incredibly popular all over the world. In fact, out of the 30 something different courses I teach, the meditation courses are the most popular.
In the beginning, when you told someone that you were meditating, or learning to meditate, they thought it was strange. But now, there has been so much scientific research on the benefits of meditation that it has become accepted by the mainstream.
It is very interesting to me. If you look at the planet as a whole or humankind as a whole, and you think of the evolution in a collective sense, we currently face real unprecedented danger through lack of awareness; through the way we mistreat the environment. We currently face real danger for life itself on the planet. This is really no exaggeration anymore. I think, together with our danger, what is happening is the opposite reaction.
You know, when there’s more darkness, there’s more lightness and vise versa. I see both things happening at the same time: where on the one hand, you have unprecedented problems, unprecedented danger and on the other hand an unprecedented level of awareness. I see it everywhere, and my sense is that there has been this massive wave of awakening because I see it all over the world. Unfortunately it is the type of thing you never hear about in the news, because the only things you hear about in the news are all these horrible things that are happening.
It is like a soap opera for negativity.
Tune in and come and see!
I have to tell you, I have changed my views. I used to be much more pessimistic. Like 30 years ago, I was very pessimistic about the fate of humanity. The more I have been traveling, the more I realize how many amazing people there are all over the world, making a difference in their own sphere and really growing in terms of global awareness. We are in this together. That is unprecedented in history. We are more interconnected than ever; our actions affect each other more than ever. At the same time, I think we have more and more global awareness.
Of course, the Internet, for example, is a phenomenal thing and has been a big part of that. I remember the first time I went online. I connected to a university on the other side of the world. It was like, “Wow, that instant connection!” And so, happening simultaneously is this great shift in awareness.
This is something I was thinking about the other day, if we were all wiped out and somebody, e.g. a historian from the future, had to come back and describe our time now, what would they say? How was yoga kind of in our system waking up and… We will talk about the religious aspects later, but what would a historian from the future say about yoga today?
Right. Well, I’m an optimist. Life is easier if you are optimistic. Even if you cannot change what happens, you can at least enjoy the journey. Usually you can make much more of a difference if you are in a good state. It is precisely because we have all these dangers that the awakening that is happening is actually what is going to help us to overcome those things, even the consequences of our own ignorance.
Look at what is happening with the climate for example. There are still people out there who deny climate change. There are still people who say, “Yeah, the climate is changing, but that’s natural, no human activity has anything to do with it.” So you have a sort of persistent ignorance and so there will be consequences because of that. We are already experiencing it. Look at the draught in California; the worst in something like 200 years. All over the world, we have floods, stronger storms, etc. We are being warned.
We have got to stand up and just take notice of that. We really do.
If not, the awakening is going to be a painful one; but there’s going to be an awakening.
I know that the world is big and often we judge the world by our little circles that we live in. It is just filtering out. It feels that this massive awakening is happening and people are just taking their heads out of the sand and saying, “I want to be part of the change.” It is really powerful. I wake up and think, “Wow, we are living in such an incredible special time, where yoga is free. We are free. We don’t have to go underground to practice this kind of self-exploration.”
Religion seems to be quite often butting heads with yoga. Why is that? Why do so many people ask, “Is yoga a religion?”
This is an interesting question. I’m going to say something that’s probably controversial, but it’s my honest view. I had a religious upbringing. Born and raised as a Catholic in Spain, I have experienced the dogmatic aspects of religion. Now, I am not one of those who criticize, saying everything about religion is bad. I do not believe that. I see throughout history that religion has been a civilizing influence, has been first for good, and has been a moral compass. I think that the problems are not due to religion, but to human traits like intolerance and narrow-mindedness. That sort of thing doesn’t really belong to religion; it belongs to the people who practice the religion.
So, yes! It is true that a lot of horrible things have been done and continue to be done in the name of religion. But, looking at my own journey, when I discovered yoga, I loved it! When I was a teenager, I had come to a point in my life, where I became completely disenchanted with what I saw in religion, intellectually. The theology didn’t make any sense to me. The more I analyzed it intellectually the less sense it made to me. So I became an atheist. I completely lost all faith.
When I came across my guru and I heard his message about meditation and the self and so on… One of the things I loved about yoga was that I was not being asked to adopt any belief system or dogma. Of course, there are ideas being presented because nobody can live without a view of things, and yoga is no different. You have to have a view. Of course, the yoga tradition too has a view of the universe, a view of the role of human life, and so on, but you don’t have to adopt those views in order to practice yoga.
You are welcome to take it or leave it.
Exactly, but yoga is a practice, primarily, not a belief system. And so, in that way there is a profound difference between yoga and religion. In formal religion, you have to accept certain tenets. In fact, in certain religions you cannot call yourself a practitioner if you do not accept those dogmas; practice is secondary and belief is primary. I found that yoga is exactly the opposite; practice is primary and belief is secondary. You can do yoga whether you are an atheist, whether you are a communist or a liberal, whatever you are.
It’s experiential. You have to feel it and if you’re not feeling it, forget about it. It is not about the belief system.
So here is the controversial part. I do believe, and I may be wrong, but in terms of the evolution of humanity, I believe we have outlived the usefulness of religion.
Because, you know, when you look at organized religion, as people become more educated, you start thinking for yourself, you develop critical thinking skills and you are not so prone to just adopt a dogma and start questioning it. That doesn’t happen. I think as global consciousness increases, more and more people…
You see this phenomenon in the last report by the Pew Research Center. It’s a US think-tank that surveys religious attitude. And what you see is a decrease in number of people who call themselves ‘followers of a particular religion,’ but an increase in the number of people who call themselves simply ‘spiritual.’ This is a really interesting shift that I see happening. I think in that sense, yoga really can be a breath of fresh air. I do believe that it’s part of the great success of yoga, because it allows people to find meaning and the spirituality I mentioned in their lives, but on their own terms, not with some imposed dogma, and not with some imposed belief system.
The beautiful thing about it is that the more you do yoga, the deeper you go in meditation, the more you discover your own nature, the more your behavior changes. You improve and become a better person in every way, but not because there is a ‘should’ or a ‘must’ imposed on you, simply because your own awareness is being transformed and it doesn’t really occur to you to do certain things.
It’s organic, exactly! And so from that viewpoint, I absolutely love what I see that yoga is bringing all over the world. Because maybe 20 years ago, we could question if it was a fad, but now, it’s clear, it’s not just a fad. Yoga is here to stay, as a global phenomenon and it is having a really positive impact. Of course, I am not only referring to Hatha Yoga, although that’s what most people understand when we say, “yoga.”
Looking back to the 60s, when the Beatles went to India, I think they had a huge part to play in bringing yoga to the West, didn’t they? Maharishi and this whole relationship?
Exactly. That was part of their popularity, and the method of transcendental meditation was a great force to reach many people helping them to discover their inner journey. In fact, it was the very first system of meditation that I ever tried: transcendental meditation. I did it for a while and it was my first discovery that this was possible.
How was that for you?
It was at a moment in my life when I was sort of drifting, and I get this proposition, that when you meditate you could find a space where the thinking mind stops. For me this was a matter of great curiosity. It was what drove me to try meditation. If my mind stops, what is left? I had never thought about that. I always thought, “Of course, I am the mind.” And all of a sudden, I’m being presented with a view that says, ”No, you’re not the mind.”
Your essence is actually something that transcends the mind. It was a great discovery for me that as the mind stops you connect with this pure center of awareness that doesn’t have any of the limitations associated with the body or personality. It doesn’t have any sense of temporal dimension. This transcendence of time is perfect in the highest sense of the word, in the sense that it is complete and it feels so natural. It feels like coming home, and to me it was a sense of recognition.
How could I have forgotten that? This is what we are. We are not men or women. We are this pure, beautiful, infinite consciousness. And so that was a revolution in my life. Interestingly enough, it was through that experience that I was later able to make peace with all the religions, to understand that there is wisdom in those religions too. But there is human intervention that sometimes takes things in the wrong way. This discovery is really what gave complete meaning to my life again, and became the focal point of my life. After that point, I knew whatever else I do in my life, this is it for me – making this discovery permanent, anchoring myself in this center of awareness, in this pure being.
I mean, even just talking about it makes me feel just still and happy. It’s a strange feeling.
Because we all recognize this. This was the thing for me, because, of course, how could I have forgotten this?
This is something that occurred maybe in the past few months or so. I hear this a lot, though. When you look at religion, and you think, “Religion is all these different faces with the same message.” and align everything. All the great spiritual speakers that we have today, trying to evoke the awakening of everyone, trying to inspire you to find yourself, have the same underlying message with a different recipe to get there. And a lot of what I’m hearing, just seems to be the same message over and over with different voices, “We have all forgotten that we are this pure light and consciousness.” Beyond the personality and beyond the physical body – which is a gift that we should appreciate, not push out of the way – is that playful, gorgeous energy that wants to live and experience life. I actually think that is what has been playing in my head.
We have forgotten. I think we are meant to forget. We are meant to forget so that we could remember. It’s like when you lose something and you find it, and you suddenly love it that much more, don’t you? It’s almost like we don’t appreciate our body until we have an injury and suddenly we think, “Oh my God, I love my knee. I wish my knee was better.” We almost had to lose it to find it, so that that finding it would be an appreciation. We are able to value how amazing we feel.
This is very much a Tantric view of life. Tantra understands life as a sort of ‘cosmic hide and seek’ in which we forget and then it is the joy of the rediscovery that gives meaning to the whole thing. Of course, when you are in the dark and going through hard times, you cannot see the beauty of all that. But when you have glimpses, when you start reconnecting, when you start rediscovering, that makes everything worthwhile and this is very much the Tantric view of life.
And again it is what I see as the common message about what you were saying of the old traditions. I was sitting in the ashram in India reading Ascent of Mount Carmel by the great Christian mystic, St. John of the Cross. After having sort of rebelled against the Catholic tradition I grew up in when I was a teenager, I started reading St John of the Cross. I thought he was talking about the same inner journey that I was discovering through meditation. He is going through the same experience. It’s an amazing work and you realize that through his own tradition he has to retrace the same steps that you find in the tradition of meditation. He talks about how you enter this space; he calls it the dark night of the soul. “It is a dark night”, he says, “because you are still not there.” Still not, to use his words, “Not in God’s presence.” But your soul is naked in the sense that it has lost everything that was familiar. It has divested itself of everything that was comforting. You are in this in-between zone, but once you go through that, you start having glimpses and finally you get to the top of the mountain, and that is the meeting.
And you have arrived at the summit.
Exactly, and in the way he describes this journey, I started recognizing experiences that I have been having in meditation. He was talking about the same thing. I thought, “Wow!” This was a discovery and great transformation for me that through this beautiful path of yoga, I got an intellectual and experiential framework that allows me to not only make peace, but also see that there’s the same wisdom in every tradition.
If you look at the Kabbalah tradition or at Sufism, you will see a similar message. The language is different of course. Because when you enter a space that is beyond words and you come out of that experience, you come out of that space. Different people choose different interpretations and different words. But anybody who has been there can recognize they are talking about the same thing. This was for me a beautiful and deeply transformative experience.
I do see that there is wisdom in every path, that there is wisdom in every tradition. That is one of the things I have always loved about yoga. Not only is it not dogmatic but also it is completely tolerant. You have this similar idea in India from the very beginning. In the tradition of Jainism, the oldest yoga tradition, you have this notion that because reality is beyond words and because it is so complex there is no wording that you can use that will capture it in its totality.
It is like words become your Judas in that moment, because you can’t actually put experiences into words. Sometimes experiences are so sacred and I actually think I don’t even want to try to put them into words. I want to just hold that experience.
I had an incredible experience with the breath, and want to share it because it was so powerful for me. It happened about a week ago. It was at the end of a yoga session and there was nothing special about the yoga session. It was really standard. I came to the end and was lying down in Savasana. I took in a breath and suddenly it was as though the breath was speaking to me and I started to cry. The breath was saying, I mean for those of you who think I’m a little bit cuckoo, this is the experience I was having – the breath was saying, “I am your mother. I breathe you. I will give you life every day you are on this planet. I am your child’s mother. I am your husband’s mother. I’m your mother’s mother.”
As I was breathing in, I was just hungry for this breath and it was such a kind feeling that I cried. I felt it was saying, “I am the energy that lives everything and breathes everything.” It was so beautiful for me that when I came out of it, I was kind of shocked by the experience that I was having this conversation with the breath and really understanding that this passage of breath was the life force through all of us. It was what makes us all one. You know when we say, “We are all one.” For me, I needed to string that together and realize it’s the breath that makes us one. We are separated by our experiences as humans and our metaphysical form, but we are all one. This is such a gift. And it was so powerful for me. Sometimes those experiences are hard for us to put into words, but the breath and meditation are very important.
Continue reading with Part 2 of this interview.
For more information on Carlos Pomeda, please see:
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For details of Carlos Pomeda’s August 2014 workshops at Be Yoga Japan, please see: