‘We can do more with our life.
We all know it, we all wish for it, but just how to do it – that eludes us.’
So begins A Life Worth Breathing, Max Strom’s first book. It felt auspicious to me that I had picked it up on New Year’s Day 2018, the year I hoped to create space in my life.
His teaching is straightforward: learn to breathe, calm your mind, make better decisions (major and incremental) and, from this, change the course of your life. Reduce your experiences of stress and anxiety, improve your sleep and your relationships. Conceive that it is possible to live a ‘a life with meaning, a life full of love, a life worth breathing’ and put it into practice, step-by-step.
Max has travelled extensively, working with individuals and corporations, speaking and teaching. He has developed his method (called “Inner Axis”) after many years of witnessing the results of breath-based movement first-hand. In A Life Worth Breathing, Max also tells his own story – his difficult start to life, suffering physically with long stints of immobility, his fascination with major world religions in his teens and his (ultimately unfulfilling) careers in music and screenwriting. Max describes the changes he experienced after he was introduced to yoga. For the first time, he gave himself permission not to strive to be the best, instead taking a path of allowing. He practiced diligently, his sense of contentment increased, and his need for stuff – stimulus, comfort – lessened. It is from this place, with joy in his heart, and a healed spirit, that he offers his wisdom.
His book is carefully set out, and comprehensive. He provides practices to calm the storm of the mind, explains how they work and gives them context in yoga practice and in life. He reminds us that our emotions are our own, and looks specifically at depression, anger, forgiveness, and gratitude. In the chapter on keeping ourselves in good physical health, Max introduces Hatha Yoga – the path of action. He speaks of unifying our mind, body and emotions with intention, breath and awareness. And he encourages us to consider our values; he speaks of activism as letting people know ‘what we are for, and not so much what we are against’.
Max is a gifted writer; he summarises so well what many yoga teachers struggle to articulate – ‘the ultimate practice of yoga lies beyond what the eyes can see’:
‘Hatha yoga, sometimes mistaken as simply a healthy form of exercise, is indeed partly a health regime, but good health comes as a side effect of a grander intent. Its purpose is to infuse our highest ideals (or spirituality) into everyday living, into our very bodies, wherein grace, harmony, and kindness become a way of life.’
I carried this book around with me for some months, not wanting to rush through it, allowing myself to consider and digest his ideas. I practiced and I taught his “ocean breathing” practice. I experienced the delight of my own enormous steady breath and the collective waves of breath of my students. I found Max’s teaching so useful that I attended his workshop here in London (a topic for another Friday Featuring…).
In my view, like Adriene Mishler, Max Strom is a leading figure in a quiet revolution of radical kindness, starting with ourselves. He says:
‘I believe that we can make things better globally, but it is personal transformation that is the keystone to this global movement. It is far more relevant than the new technology, because corruption, fanaticism, and greed are not technological problems, they are actions of individuals.’
A final quote (my conflict of interest duly noted!) – on the cost of yoga, Max points out that yoga is ‘the bargain of a lifetime … being unhappy and living in fear is expensive. Being a physical wreck is expensive. Lying sleepless at night wracked with worries is expensive. Destroying your relationships is expensive. Need to take medications to function is expensive. These things cost you your life.’
Do you practice regular breathing exercises? Please do share them with me below.
Breathe, make space, be compassionate.
I’d really recommend Max’s free, 30 minute YouTube practice and his Breathe To Heal TEDx. His website is also called Breathe to Heal and he travels all over the world, speaking, teaching and working one to one with individuals and with corporations.