Interview with Max Strom

By the time Max Strom turned 19, he had studied most of the major religions, practiced meditation, and taken up qi gong. For the next 16 years, he played music in a rock band and wrote screenplays before discovering yoga in 1990. Strom, who began at Yoga Works, has trained with Dina Kingsberg, Eddie Modestini, and Gabrielle Giubilaro. For the past several years, he has taught his heart-opening blend of Iyengar, Ashtanga, and qi gong at Maha Yoga in Brentwood, California. In February, Strom—along with his partner, Saul David Ray—opened Sacred Movement: Center for Yoga and Healing in Venice, California, where they will teach alongside Shiva Rea, Erich Schiffmann, and others.

YJ: There are so many studios in LA. Why open another one?
MS: We really needed another studio dedicated to yoga as a sacred practice. There are a lot of people who have been practicing for three, four, or five years who are interested in more than asana gymnastics. They want to know about the yamas and niyamas, how to change the way we behave and relate to one another, compassion, and telling the truth. These are quite revolutionary practices.

YJ: Do you feel there is a “revolution” now?
MS: It isn’t 1991 anymore. In the early ’90s, yoga schools were really careful not to freak out students with any kind of spirituality. I remember seeing a Shiva statue, wondering if the place was potentially a cult. Now we have Madonna singing in Sanskrit and people wearing shirts with Krishna on them. We have Krishna Das touring the country and Eastern and Middle Eastern spirituality—Rumi—being absorbed and digested by masses of adult Americans.

YJ: Or is this commodification?
MS: Corporate America is trying to capitalize on it, but I think it’s a very sincere cultural movement that is happening very organically, not just commercially. I think it will survive.

YJ: Why did you leave the film world?
MS: Once the practice took hold in me, it was clear that I was no longer happy in the film world. Yoga made me feel at peace and allowed me to rediscover my path in life. I started phasing out of the movie industry and started teaching for free. It just evolved. I didn’t think teaching would be my path; I didn’t think I had that much to offer. When it started going well for me, I felt like I fell backward into my path—my life crashed and I rolled the car, got thrown through the windshield and onto my path. It was bewildering. I cut my overhead down and moved into a yurt in Topanga.

YJ: You just returned from India?
MS: India and Nepal. I moved from holy city to holy city. I didn’t go to study with Jois or Iyengar. I met a few saints, and being in the presence of such people just reignited my belief in what I’m doing with my life. I meditated with a Tibetan monk and sat with a woman with no legs. I got more out of being with them than most asana workshops I’ve taken.

YJ: What are some of the challenges of teaching teachers?
MS: At the moment, everyone wants to be a yoga teacher, so sometimes people who have barely practiced a year want to take a teacher training. It’s hard to be diplomatic. Also, yoga teachers should come together more, knowing that we are all doing the same thing ultimately. If we divide amongst ourselves, we aren’t practicing union. If we can’t come together, how can we expect Israel and Palestine to come together?

YJ: How do you pass along the essence of yoga to students?
MS: I continually ask them, “Why are you doing this?” to see if their intentions seem pure and clear. I refer to the precepts of ahimsa and satya constantly. We are dealing with human beings, and it’s more important how we treat them than where we place their feet. The main way we teach is through example. There is a quote I use by the Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan: “It’s more important who you are than what you say.”