Embracing the wheel of life, President of the New York Open CenterThomas Amelio’s journey has been one of deep spiritual practice and inquiry. YogaCity NYC's Kathleen Kraft sat down to talk with him about his path, the power of the chakras in the evolution of the individual—a course he is starting on April 22nd—and his strong belief in the practice of mantra meditation.
Kathleen Kraft: You are teaching a class on the chakras. What is the importance of this system in modern life?
Thomas Amelio: They can be incredibly important because they’re a proven map of the human psyche, the human impulse system. We all have an impulse for security and safety; we all have an impulse for sensuality and comfort, for action and confidence. We have an impulse to love and be in a relationship, to create and self-express, and to follow our dharma. We have an impulse to intuit things beyond the five senses as well as to think intellectually, and, ultimately, an impulse for cosmic consciousness. These impulse systems, when conditioned by the samskaras, are not necessarily in harmony with each other. For example, in the evening, I resolve to go to the gym in the morning, but, in the morning, I want the comfort and feeling of security and safety, so I stay in bed. You can work on these in all sorts of ways—psychotherapy etc.—but the yogic system maps the spectrum and works on these very clearly.
KK: How do you do mean they’re a “proven map?”
TA: They are a proven map since these instincts, impulses, and essences are universal, whether you believe in chakras or not. Abraham Maslow addressed these in a slightly different way with his hierarchy of needs. He stopped at the 5th chakra with Self Actualization.
KK: Were you able to figure out which of your chakras were out of alignment? How did you do it?
TA: It's easy to see when you have one impulse that conflicts with another. For example, the security chakra, unevolved, will be in conflict with the urge to self-express and follow one's calling/bliss (5th chakra). The unevolved 1st is happy—with safety, security, a regular paycheck, home, familiarity, etc. The 5th is a potential threat to all that.
KK: Can you figure out your “chakra issues” through asana practice?
TA: If you are sensitive to the body, you can tell where the energy does not flow. Certainly if you have an asana practice with a strong focus on breath, awareness, and sensitivity to the body's sensations, you will be much more aware of where energy is flowing or impeded. If your asana practice is primarily for physical exercise, this will be less so.
KK: You’ve also recorded mantras for meditation. Why are you particularly interested in this form of meditation?
TA: I’ve taught meditation for over 30 years, and I’ve found, over the years, that people who have difficulty sitting and witnessing can still their minds when chanting. When repeating these mantras, you’re linking up with the thousands who have chanted it before, and the people it was first revealed to. Mantra introduces a new idea to identify with—the divine.
KK: Is it similar to chanting a Muslim, Hebrew, or Christian prayer?
TA: You can use any language as long as your devotion is there. I’m a stickler for pronunciation because it can bring you to a higher level of connection, but it’s the intention that’s most important.
KK: You are incredibly busy. How do you have time for your own practice?
TA: I’ve learned that if you have a holistic mission, you have to live it to be effective. When I wake up in the morning, I want to make use of that time to set the tone for the day, usually through meditation or reading scripture. I also love to contemplate the Hindu symbols.
KK: You have so many spiritual interests—tell us how it started.
TA: It started with my father who learned yoga from books in the 60s—he never took a class, he just practiced. I was the only one of all my brothers interested in doing yoga; I remember him holding me by the ankles and turning me upside down against the wall. I was exposed to many ideas early on because of the books in the house—Edgar Cayce, and so on. As I got older, I read books on everything—ESP, Wicca, Kabbalah, yoga—and began to practice on my own. I became interested in concentrating my mind. It’s kind of laughable to me now—that I was a teenager trying to focus my mind.
KK: Eventually you went to Kripalu and stayed there for 19 years…
TA: Yes. I was going to Jefferson College in upstate New York and learned about Kripalu then, back when it was an ashram in Pennsylvania. We woke up very early and practiced several times a day. I wasn’t really an adult when I got there, so my adult years were formed by the rhythms there, the yogic lifestyle, and the work ethic—that is, work as an act of love and service, and blending the spiritual and the conscious with every aspect of life.
KK: How do you remember your father in connection to your work today?
TA: I remember him as being very intense, very committed, wanting to impart his values—to do the thing you fear. He would bring me into his office and coach me, and it was about facing fear. I hated when he said that! He died when I was 15 and he probably knew he didn’t have long. He had big dark eyes and, in his final days, his eyes kind of bugged out. When I visited him in the hospital, I took his hand and his eyes opened and he looked at me with all this love, all this longing and sadness. Those eyes still follow me.
Thomas Amelio’s 5 week class ,The Alchemy of the Chakras, begins on April 22. Click here for more information.