Michael Hewett has been a yoga teacher in New York since 1997, and a popular instructor at Lucky Lotus in Brooklyn for nearly a decade. He is an accomplished composer and musician who has published several albums of his work. He also founded and runs the Sarva Yoga Academy, a school that brings together (among others) the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism and The Fourth Way. YogaCity NYC’s Stephen Treffinger sat down on a beautiful late fall afternoon to talk about his recent activities.
Stephen Treffinger: At Lucky Lotus, you teach a style of yoga you call Sarva Yoga. What that is?
Michael Hewett: The word Sarva means complete, entire, or whole. It goes into my background, being raised in The Fourth Way, which is basically called that because they bring together practices: The path of the athlete: people who reach their flow states through the body. The path of the joyful devotee: someone who is into service, bhakti perhaps, people who reach flow states through the heart. And the path of the intellect or scholar, the path of the mind. The fourth way says take all three of those and make that a path.
By branding classes as Sarva Yoga, it acknowledges to the students that we’re going to take some time for satsang, there’ll be time for asana, there’ll be time for meditation. We’re going to try to give you the fullest combination of experiences possible in the time we have. Everyone has a different way to enter into the flow state. And it’s not always asana yoga.
ST: How would you characterize the asana aspect of class?
MH: My influences are from Jivamukti, Anusara, and Ishta yoga, the style I started off in. All of those are heavily influenced by vinyasa. What i like about Anusara is it’s more influenced by Iyengar. It’s so easy to accumulate injuries in vinyasa if it’s done with flow and no structure. I bring together attention to the detail and the boundaries of joint alignment. I love the flowing style, but there’s also the structure and form, so we’re flowing in a way that’s sane and respecting the body’s boundaries.
ST: What is your teaching background?
MH: I started with Alan Finger way back in ‘96 and went to Om Yoga with Cindi Lee and David Nichtern. And then I studied Jivamukti yoga for about 9 years and was married to a Jivamukti teacher for a long time. I appreciate how they combine music and artistry and creativity into an expression of yoga. And through them I met Geshe Michael Roach. I’ve studied Tibetan Buddhism on many levels with Kimberly Theresa and Douglas Veenhoff, two senior students of Geshe Michael. I’ve gone through Lam Rim I don’t know how many times.
ST: How has your training and your teachings changed your presence in the classroom?
MH: As a teacher, I come to class with a tremendous amount of information, and am able to interact with the students in a more satsang way, to figure out what they’re interested in. The challenge is to deliver just the right amount so that it takes root in them and keeps the conversation going. I don’t lead with dharma -- just straight-on asana. It works a lot better if the student asks, rather than the teacher tells. I’m sly, just “asana guy,” just teaching. Then I drop the seeds in.
ST: How does this affect you as a practitioner?
MH: As a practitioner, it keeps me in my beginner’s mind. Having a physical aspect to my spiritual practice allows me to quiet my intellect and just come back to simple presence.
ST: What are you studying these days?
MH: Lately I’ve gone to Buddha Dharma through the filter of neuroscience. Look at that as Buddhism before it was a religion. The Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. He was just an awakened person. This is what reality looks like from the perspective of being awake.
But no formalized structure had formed other than his discussions with different types of people. And based on who he was speaking with, he would teach differently. So if you look at the Buddha Dharma and try to find any kind of cohesive message, you won’t find it. Not everyone was ready to hear everything he had to say.
ST: Where do you see all this going?
MH: These are unprecedented times for learning the various teachings. You can get them anywhere. You can get them out of order. That’s why Sarva exists. As an ordered series of steps: first, it’s empirical, the attention training; next, we go through the Lam Rim, and this form of Lam Rim ends up with two basic discussions of Tibetan Buddhist Tantra –– without going into great detail, but being able to let go of any strange ideas people have about what Tantra is. Over the three years of teaching, I feel that it is a very healthy course of study, and seeing the students stay in contact and meet with their own groups and report back the benefits in their life. To me, that’s the living experiment that it’s healthy.