If you’re looking for a challenging, innovative yoga teacher who also happens to be encyclopedia of alignment, look no further than Noah Mazé. Noah is widely recognized as among the most advanced of yoga practitioners, with a fierce level of dedication that inspires his students to work to their full potential. He’s apt at spreading his knowledge, too—in 2003, Noah founded Noah Mazé Yoga, and later started YOGAMAZÉ in Los Angeles, 2012. This enriching program is designed to provide students with tangible yoga knowledge, which they can immediately apply to improve their focus, strength, and stamina.
Beyond that, Noah happens to be down-to-earth, approachable, and friendly. He’s passionate about sharing his knowledge, which is great, considering the guy has studied with Richard Freeman, Pattabhi Jois, and senior Iyengar yoga teacher Manouso Manos. In addition to snagging Noah for new instructional videos on Wanderlust TV, we were able to sit down and shoot a few questions.
What is the most powerful thing someone has said to you?
Some of the best relationship advice I have ever received is, “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be happy?”
When is a moment when you realized yoga transformed your life?
Perhaps the first major transformation is when yoga shifts from something you do, to who you are. That happened to me as a young adult, when I chose to pursue the yoga that I had grown up with. Before that, yoga was my parents’ thing, in which I certainly participated fully, but I was not yet empowered to choose it as an autonomous adult.
There is not one moment of transformation, there are many. It comes again and again, like waves. Sometimes the waves are smooth and pleasant. Sometimes they knock you down and when you least expect it. As soon as I get too comfortable with where I am at, yoga has a way of rocking the boat as if to ask, “What else? What more?” As much light as you step into, there is always more shadow, and yoga asks us to keep illuminating those shadows and doing the hard work. These moments of transformation don’t often feel “good” at the time Whether they are triggered inwardly or outwardly, they often point out the ways we are asleep or complacent.
In my experience, deeper transformation is much less of an outer display than an inner shift of perspective. It is a deeper navigation, integration, and activation of one’s own conscience with the social and cultural world and the natural world. The yoga traditions give us many philosophical perspectives on all of this, as well as endlessly creative mythic constructs, esoteric, and somatic practices, and an expansive vocabulary and modalities of expression.
What do you feel is the greatest misconception regarding yoga?
There are so many misconceptions. That said, what I (or someone else) considers as a misconception is almost certainly someone else’s fact, experience, or opinion. A big one is the notion that the postural asanas are ancient; most of the poses we practice are not older than 1930s-1950s, from the Mysore Asana Revival of Krishnmacharya. Historically, asana (literally ‘seat’) meant sitting for ritual and/or sitting for meditation. It did not mean Downward Facing Dog.
Another related misconception is what I call “Golden Age Thinking,” or that older is better. Many yoga poses are 5,000 or 10,000 years old, and the assumption is that wise ones from the past had it all figured out. If we could just re-create what they did and experienced, we too would be enlightened. But every important historical innovation of yoga arose out the sociological, cultural, and natural influences of that time, and can’t necessarily be recreated.
What is something you wish you knew when beginning your yoga practice?
Honestly, I don’t think there is anything else I needed to know. Everything I didn’t know at the time, I could not have known until I was able to receive the insight and process it. Knowledge and progress are the benefits of a persevering practice. There aren’t really any short cuts or magic pills, at least not if you are really in the practice for more than short-term gratification. Most of progress yogis experience is little by little, again and again. You have to do the work.
What trait do you most value in your friends?
Friends call you on your shit in ways that are supportive and loving, but also honest. We all need friends with whom we feel safe enough to have the more difficult conversations from time to time.
What are the building blocks of sustainable happiness?
I am not really in pursuit of sustainable happiness. That was more the goal in the spiritual tradition that I was reared in, but I’ve since outgrown the idea that a state of permanent resolution exists.
As far as I can tell, happiness needs to stay in relationship with unhappiness. Joy needs sorrow, virtue needs vice. How would you know one without the other? I guess that is my model of sustainability—the dynamic process of homeostasis. Like an ecosystem, it is in constant flux, never resolving into a permanent stability.
What is your personal mantra?
Love your life. Live a life worth loving.
What is the first yoga pose you do when getting off an airplane? Why?
My first poses off the plane are any standing balancing poses. Those help myself get grounded and also re-invigorate my hips and legs and feet and get the blood flowing. If I have the space, quad and hip flexor stretching (like Supta Virasana), backbends, and inversions are next. These poses counter pose all the sitting and reduce any swelling in my lower legs and feet.
What would you like to see change in the world?
Human capacity for altruistic behavior is truly astounding, and our capacity for willful ignorance, narcissism, and nihilism is truly terrifying. I would like to see the trend shift towards the former.
What would you like to see change within the yoga industry?
I would like to see the trend shift from the more superficial branding of modern postural yoga as a more “feel good” experience, towards a deeper appreciation and engagement of the richness of yoga’s history, philosophies, and mythic narratives with the full embrace of scientific modalities of modern biology, physics, psychology and sociology. I want to study and harvest the best of the past, update it with what we know now, and advance the conversations forward. Yoga is a living current of consciousness, and we are in it.