Tom Richter Yoga Instructor and Meditator
Tom is a dedicated long-time Ashtanga Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation practitioner. He is a passionate Yoga teacher, inspiring Yoga business & life coach, and whole-food & healthy-living enthusiast, based in Germany.
As a Yoga teacher, Tom believes in the benefits of learning yoga through the Mysore style self-practice classes. He encourages students to develop their personal practice rooted in the Mysore tradition yet incorporating their individual needs.p
Tom studied with many senior Ashtanga Yoga teachers and is grateful for the guidance by his primary teacher Paul Dallaghan, who also initiated him in Pranayama practices in the lineage of the Kaivalyadhama Institute.
He mainly leads a traditional Mysore program and Ashtanga Intensives at GaiaYoga School & Shala in Croatia as well as at phoenixarising, a school for Yoga and consciousness practices in Dresden, Germany, and together with his partner Sandra teaches yoga retreats in India.
As a coach, through applying the principles of Yoga, as well as his experience in business and management, Tom supports and inspires Yoga teachers to become aware of their unique gifts and how to share them successfully with the world. In workshops, online programs and one-on-one-coaching sessions, he offers tools and techniques to aspiring Yoga teachers and practitioners to help them get started and/or stay focused in walking their yoga path while supporting the growth of others through their teachings.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you end up on a path of Yoga Meditation?
Tom’s brothers both did Yoga, so he got into Yoga based on his brother’s interest of Ashtangha Vinyasa Yoga, and he also broke up with his girlfriend. He was inspired by David Swensen, a well known Yoga teacher.
He started doing this every day. Because of the emphasis on deep breathing, it makes you go deeper into the practice. He got more into it by reading books about it and started practicing it deeper.
In Ashtangha Vineyasa Yoga (breath aligned yoga) Every movement is aligned to your in-breath and exhalation. There’s never a movement without breath happening.
When you follow those 3 techniques, Ujjayi, Trishti, Bandha, that creates a kind of moving meditation.
For many people starting with sitting meditation is hard. With Ashtangha you go more steps before that. Maybe it is easy to connect, but it is easier to use the body, so by moving the body, you have something to do.
If you keep those 3 things in mind, you don’t have more capacity to think. And that creates this moving meditation.
Additionally you always have the same sequence of postures. You just do the same sequence ideally 6 days a week. This Yoga practice creates kind of a mirror every day where you can see the changes over time. Some days are easy, some days not, some days focused, never the same. But a good reflection that everything is changing, and you just have to accept that.
What changes have you notice over the years from your practice?
Tom got a lot more:
- More aware what he’s doing from waking to going to bed
- More in tune how he feels , what is beneficial and what is not so beneficial, due to this mirror of practice. For example, if you fold yourself in a pretzel position, you will feel it if you had something unwholesome to eat the night before.
If you do constantly something else, like different asana sequences, or different sports, you always have something to distract yourself.
If you always practice the same sequence, you really start to appreciate more detail. You start to feel, because it is always the same, you can see where your resistances or emotional distractions are. You can then relate that to your life, like an argument with your friend, or boss. Instead of letting your emotions take over, you can see more from an observer perspective. You notice it, and then you can stop it, and look inside, there’s a longer response time, a witnessing component to it.
Tom talks about the corpse pose. Good ideas come for Tom from the corpse pose. On a spiritual level there’s a little dying every day. You do your practice, you lie down, and your body lies down. And you let go of your body every day just for a moment.
So it helps you not over-identify with your body?
Yes, it feels like a little detachment of the body. That’s how I feel. All the good ideas (like for his business) often come from that corpse pose.
14:00- 16:00 How did you go deeper into yoga, like reading Patanjali Sutras?
Yes, he started reading and studying more and more, and going to India, and so then all those aspects got more and more integrated. He didn’t think he would go that deep 10 years ago. Slowly through the physical practice it opened him up. And there are also other books, like “Awaken the Mind“. It talks about the brainwave patterns, and also about meditation. It has a more scientific approach, putting the spiritual practices into a more explainable to a rational western mind. He also knows how it feels from his own perspective, and now he can also explain it.
Patanjali’s 8 limbs, Ashtangha Yoga, these 8 steps lead to Samadhi (liberation, divine bliss, experience of oneness state)
- 8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine
- 7. Dhyana Meditation is the 7th limb.
- 6. Dharana You need concentration to get to that, that’s the 6th limb. How do you get to concentration?
- 5. Pratyahara (control of the senses) Well, you need to keep from getting distracted senses, so withdrawel of the senses is the 5th limb.
- 4. Pranayama (energy, breath control) Attention goes where the breath goes, the 4th limb is control of your breath energy. without that you will be unfocused. So breath control is that 4th limb. How to control your breath?
- 3. Asanas (Body Postures) You have to control your body, so that’s the 3rd limb, the Asanas and postures (which means a seat that is stable yet comfortable). You need all these ingredients
- 2. Yama (Universal Morality) The second and first limb are the Yamas..
- 1. Niyama, the do’s and don’ts the morality, be disciplined, be content, those are kind of the foundations.
All those limbs, you can practice at once, it’s not a consecutive thing. You don’t have to perfect one step to go to the next. The Asana part is to get your body healthy. Your gazing point should always be concentrated on one spot. When you combine all those things, you create this meditation in movement.
You should make sure you don’t do a posture that hurts yourself. I love this philosophical approach to this physical aspects.
Would you say that most folks would get introduced to Yoga through the Asana limb?
Yes, we have a hard time relating to the subtle thing, if you don’t have any relationship to that in your normal lives. Just sitting and doing nothing and focusing on the divine, many can not relate to that in their normal lives. While standing on a yoga mat, and learning to breathe, you get a more gradual introduction to the more spiritual aspects.
We’ve talked about the importance of the Asanas, and how they are a form of meditation themselves. Does this in a way lead the practitioner to seated meditation?
With regards to Asana Yoga:
“This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body.”
But Tom cautions against getting too stuck on the body, you should start a relationship with your body, if it has gotten lost. Meditation for Tom is a state that you cannot just switch on. There are many techniques, like mantras, that invite us to get into a state.
Is this limb and other limbs often divorced or uncoupled from the Yoga that has been brought in to the west?
Or do folks after doing Asana yoga naturally gravitate towards learning more about meditation and the other limbs?
When Tom was working in a consulting firm, he just practiced in the hotel rooms. So you have no excuse not to practice.
But some folks stop practicing because they forget. Yes, for me what kept me practicing day after day, is that I miss it if I don’t do it. There are of course also other motivations to keep practicing.
But the main part, is the way I feel when I practice. It feels good, that is one motivation that keeps you going. I can’t tell folks to practice though. It’s really up to the individual.
There’s also no finish line right, always a beginner, not like a certificate at the end? Which helps you get into the present?
Yes, it’s tricky. Some folks can get attached to the practice. But there are fewer and fewer people who finish the harder sequences. So there’s always a new Asana that you can learn, but there will always be a harder one after this next Asana cross road. You shouldn’t attach your happiness to a certain result or the fruits of your practice.
The path was the goal all along. You just have to love every moment, find your happiness on the path, love the present moment.
Advice for folks just starting out with Yoga?
- Find a good teacher that’s helpful, someone give guidance at least at the beginning.
- Just do it, don’t worry about the benefits, don’t worry in general of course too.
- Try it consistently for a period of time, not just once a week. Or you won’t feel the benefits.
- Muscle fever will go away if you do it a few days a week.
“Before you practice the theory is useless, after you have practiced, the theory is obvious.”
So don’t read books too much, just try it, experience it, and go from there..
How do you bring your Yoga into your daily life?
Tom finds Yoga practice a rehearsal for his life. Whatever happens, just keep breathing. That’s what he always does, whenever he has a tough situations, just come back to himself, and just breath for a few moments.
As simple as that sounds, it is super powerful. Whenever you’re in rush traffic, lecture in front of thousands of people. If you feel unease in yourself, just come back to breathing. And go from there.
There are three things in life, things that are your responsibility, think that are other people’s responsibility, and god or the universe’s responsibility.
If it’s raining, or sunshine, that’s god’s responsibility, so no use in getting upset. Then there are thing that are mine, as long as we care for our own responsibility, we can then be much more happier.
So in terms of Yoga, my responsibility is to show up that day and do the best I can do. If my body feels stiff that day, or some other thing gets in the way of my practice. I can deal with it, but look at my own responsibility.
Letting go process