Ep #17 Michael Johnson on how to defeat your fear and develop self-control through yoga

If you want to grow your confidence, defeat your imposter syndrome and stop your fear from controlling you, this episode of The Discomfort Zone Podcast is a must listen.

My guest, yoga teacher Michael Johnson, has the exceptional ability to make the practice of yoga and the understanding of yoga philosophy relatable, light hearted, and relevant to navigating your discomfort zone with courage and strength.

In this conversation, Michael shares how his own journey into the study of yoga began when a teacher helped him start to focus on, and control his breath, which in turn, helped him start navigating his ADHD with more self-awareness. 

We cover so much ground in this conversation including breathwork, meditation, neuroscience, the 8 limbs of yoga, Ayurveda and a major strategy for having a breakthrough in your discomfort zone.

If you think you know what yoga is, and what it can and can’t do for you, think again, and listen to this episode. I promise you’ll come away with powerful tools and new insights on how to live your life with less suffering and more joy. 

About Michael

Michael Johnson ERYT-500 YACEP is a life-long student and practitioner of Yoga.

He has been a full-time instructor for over 22 years, a teacher trainer since 2003, an advanced teacher trainer since 2007, and now teaches Sanskrit and Yoga Philosophy for Dr. Vasant Lad’s Āyurvedic Institute.

Michael is also the founder of Clearlight Yoga that offers a 195-day challenge twice a year (next one starts June 20, 2024). He also offers a variety of on-line courses for continuing education on Yoga Philosophy, Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Meditation, Sanskrit, Vinyāsa, Mantra, Anatomy, and Alignment.

How to connect with Michael:

https://www.clearlightyoga.com/

FB: https://www.facebook.com/michael.johnson.7545708

IG: @michaeljohnsonyoga

Anna
My guest today, Michael Johnson, is an ERYT 500 Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider and a lifelong student and practitioner of yoga. He has been a full -time instructor for over 22 years, a teacher trainer since 2003, an advanced teacher trainer since 2007, and now teaches Sanskrit and yoga philosophy for Dr. Vasant Lad’s Ayurvedic Institute. Michael is also the founder of Clear Light Yoga that offers a 195 day challenge twice a year. Next one starts June 20th. He also offers a variety of online courses for continuing education on yoga philosophy, asana, pranayama, meditation, Sanskrit, vinyasa, mantra, anatomy, and alignment. And I have taken workshops with Michael and I really appreciate his approach to yoga and Yoga philosophy and I’m excited to have him here. So thanks for being here. Michael, welcome.

Michael Johnson
Thank you for having me.

Anna
So I like to jump right in to this conversation by asking, when I say discomfort zone, what comes up for you? Like, what do you see, feel? Tell us about that.

Michael Johnson
The discomfort zone, as I experience it, is a threshold of being able to tolerate stress that can ebb and flow. I think Dan Siegel has a term for this called the window of tolerance. And we can all tolerate a certain amount of stress and still function fairly well. But once it starts to eclipse that window, we get disregulated and defense mechanisms start taking over. And usually we try to get away from it or fight it or just like check out. And that’s all, you know, contrary to yoga. So yoga is a discipline of developing self -control. And rather than letting your defense mechanisms control how you live your life, it’s the ability to maintain a fairly clear window of tolerance when possible and to notice when you’re being eclipsed and to not make that your default, but rather to recover your autonomy. So in a yoga class, typically the class starts off really gentle and invites people to come as they are. Some people just already come to class stressed out. They have like anxiety about paying bills or…

unresolved issues from relational distress that’s all like weighing on us. And we don’t necessarily realize that until your yoga teacher asks you to just notice your breath, how it’s coming and going. And rather than judging yourself by how your breath is, just creating some space around that. So you can say, oh, okay, I already have a lot of stress here. And that’s before you do the first posture.

And sometimes you can increase your window of tolerance by just lengthening your exhales and inhales and usually take that time to resolve the distress to some extent. But yeah, as far as like the window of tolerance, I think it’s a good model. People call it Watt, window of tolerance, W -O -T.

Anna
Nice. Yeah, thank you. I think that’s it. Yeah.

You know, throughout my conversation so far for this podcast, which have been with a lot of outdoor industry types, one of the common themes that I was surprised at was that almost everyone has said that a strategy for stepping into and through discomfort is breath work.

And I’m surprised, not because I don’t believe it, because as a student of yoga myself for the last 30 years, it’s been key and instrumental and it’s a daily practice for me. I can remember a time when outdoorsy types, like that would have been woo woo to say, you know, like turn to your breath or, you know, the breath. For a long time, I’ve said the breath is the cheapest, always available stress, relief that we have. And so I guess I’m surprised maybe by the change in attitude towards it. It seems like a lot more people are embracing the breath. Have you experienced that shift? I know you’ve been very much in yoga. So I don’t know if you’ve seen or experienced a shift where more and more folks are turning to the breath and not seeing that as so woo -woo.

Michael Johnson
Well, as far as public perception or the current zeitgeist of our generation that constantly changes and might appear differently depending on who you ask. But yeah, as far as my experience with it, when I first got into yoga, the first yoga class that I took, the teacher had us lie down in Shavasana and just watch the breath.

And we were asked not to change it in any way. Just notice however it comes and goes. And then when we started doing the postures, he asked us to lengthen the exhales, but without pushing it, and lengthen the inhales without drawing it in. Just let the breath kind of flow on its own, but longer and softer. And no one had ever clearly given me this instruction before. Whenever I tried to manipulate the breath before, it’s like, it’s way too harsh. It was like, pfft.

Anna
Heheheheh

Michael Johnson
Like you go to the doctor’s office and they say take a deep breath. They put this cold metal on your chest and you’re like, you want it to like the other way as quickly as possible. Here, I was given this direction to just let the breath flow on its own and guide it. And it was like the first time in my life that someone gave me a tool and some clear instruction on how to use it that helped me self -regulate my attention. So.

For as long as I can remember, I always struggled with attention deficit disorder. My mom had me diagnosed when I was like three. She was deeply worried, but instead of doing the medicine, at the time it was speed, I think it was Ritalin, it’s what they were giving kids. The doctor said, you could just let them, you know, fight it out naturally and see what happens. And that’s how I grew up. I had used coffee when I was in my late teens, because I discovered that helped a little bit.

But here I have this much cheaper and more reliable method presented to me by just lengthening the exhales, felt more calm, lengthening the inhales, felt more awake. Doing this repetitively, I felt more in control over the activities of my mind.

It’s not the only way to relieve or reduce stress or develop self -control, but it is a way that is universal and very powerful. There’s a whole neuroscience explanation for it. And I think maybe that’s why people are taking more interest in it because of the field of neuroscience, not just being something that is beyond what people can understand, but actually something that’s made understandable practically.

Anna
Yeah, I agree. There’s so many podcasts on neuroscience now that affirm both yoga, what yoga and Ayurveda have been saying for thousands of years. And I really appreciate that. I love being able to pull evidence -based resources to affirm what I’m, how I’m coaching my clients, you know, with Ayurvedic technique and knowledge and…

So I do think that that’s part of it. There was something else you just said that I really, let me see if I can get it back.

Yeah, I’ve lost it, but yeah, that’s right. I can go back. Exactly. Oh.

Michael Johnson
We have it recorded.

Anna
Oh, also another resource that I think folks have really, uh, at least in my circles and when I recommend it to my coaching clients, they really get a lot of benefit out of it is the book breath by James Nestor that is, you know, evidence -based for how important breathing through the nose is. And, uh, so I think that book as well. And.

When I read it, it was so stressful actually for me as a practitioner of yoga to read about how he blocked his nasal passages for two weeks. I was like, I don’t know, I couldn’t do it, you know? And I think, you know, it just, yeah, stressed me out. And even adopting things like weird things like taping your mouth shut at night can, you know, really be helpful. And my husband and I have actually been doing that for a couple of years now and it’s…

amazing how again, they’re simple. Yeah, it’s weird when I tell people sometimes they’re like what, you know, and there is evidence that it is helpful and anecdotal evidence as well. So I think more resources like that are also helpful.

Anna
So I really, when I was recently in a workshop that you co -taught about yoga and neuroscience and meditation, I really appreciated this concept of yoga as a practice of self -control. And you’ve mentioned it already about self -regulating stress.

Is there anything else you want to say about that and about meditation actually as well in terms of not allowing our habit patterns to rule us?

Michael
Sure. Yoga philosophy is very rich and deep. And it seems that a lot of people don’t understand it because they think they already do. And this is actually the root problem. It’s called ignorance squared. Like not only do we not know, we don’t even know that we don’t know. So we think we do know. We hear someone say something like, yoga means union.

It comes from the verbal root, huge, which means to unite. And then they just take that and they go off and like, oh yeah, union with everything is yoga and oh, and they think that’s all there is to it. And unfortunately, that’s like, as Wolfgang Polly might say, that’s so wrong. It’s not even wrong.

The antidote to ignorance squared is to admit you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s something. And then to be curious enough to find out. And if you were to do that with yoga philosophy, you might find that people have been attempting to develop self -control, self -mastery, self -determination for thousands of years. And the Yoga Sutra is the earliest known philosophical text on yoga that is systematized. It’s about 2000 years old and it’s just to the point, it defines what yoga is. It’s not making it up, but rather drawing from thousands of years of experience and literature that preceded the Yoga Sutra. And it describes yoga as yoga, yoga is attempting to control the activities of the mind.

And if you do so, you get to abide in your own form. Otherwise, you identify with the activities of your mind and they control you. And then you’re easily at the mercy of the weather or whatever sensations are happening or the thoughts in your mind or what other people think about you. And that’s the opposite of yoga. So that distinction is clearly made in the text, but isn’t always clear when people take a yoga class.

Michael Johnson
Or even when they like study it for many years on the surface and end up teaching it for many years. So I thought I knew what yoga philosophy was for like 20 years as I was a yoga teacher. And it wasn’t until like maybe four years ago that I realized I was under the spell of ignorance squared. And I had to, you know, admit that I didn’t know and seek to find out. And what I was pleasantly surprised with is that yoga philosophy is way more interesting than I thought it was.

This was way more valuable. And when you’re applying yoga philosophy, utilizing the breath, you’re basically taking the reins of the mind and you can steer. So you might not have control over what other people are doing or outside forces or even the next thought that comes up, but you can create this space where you abide in your own form and choose your response to that stress, to that thought or to whatever that person is doing or not doing, the weather. And that can make a big difference. The breath is one of many ways with which we can reclaim that space and continue to do so even as obstacles arise.

Anna
Yeah, well said. When you talk about…

you know, to me, it’s having the courage to, you know, look at the, what did you call it? Ignorance squared, to be willing to uncover our blind spots. And that is a discomfort zone for myself. And I think for a lot of folks, cause it’s scary to look at, oh, what could I be wrong about? What am I missing? What am I not seeing?

And so can you say more about how that happened for you? Cause you said you, you know, you were going along, I’m a yoga teacher for 20 years, you know, I’ve got a handle on this. And then, and then you realize, Ooh, maybe I don’t have a handful on this and there’s more to learn. Can you say more about that process for you?

Michael Johnson
Yeah.

Hmm. Certainly. So when we just take one little surface aspect of yoga and then think that we know everything that yoga is based on that, it’s kind of like the analogy of the elephant and the six blind men. Six blind men meet an elephant for the first time and they all get to touch a certain part of it and they think they know the rest of the elephant when all they know is the ear or the trunk or the tusk or the leg or the tail or whatever.

And that’s kind of how we are about yoga. And we think, oh yeah, yoga is stretching. Oh no, yoga is all about the breath. Yoga is unity consciousness. And those are all aspects of the elephant, but not quite the elephant. And…

It is uncomfortable not knowing something, especially if you’re put up in front of a class and you’re supposed to pretend that you know things. We live in a culture where it’s so common we don’t even see it, but basically we look at people in positions of power as authorities and we treat them as such. And if we understood yoga, you could then see that’s actually an option.

A person who’s in a position of power isn’t an authority. They don’t have the power to tell you what to do or what not to do. At best, they’re an expert. They know things. And if you listen to them carefully, they might be able to help you become an expert yourself. And that’s a very different ethical theory. So when yoga is confused with authoritarianism, you get a whole bunch of people looking up to this person and thinking that they know the answers to things and

I’ll just defer my thinking to them. And that is a recipe for much dissatisfaction. And if you’re in that system and you’re pretending to be an authority, you have to know the answer. And the fact that you might not know it will cause your nervous system to freak out. So that window of tolerance that I was mentioning before, if someone questions your judgment or questions what you’re saying, can cause your breathing to start to become whack – your hand goes from like being really still to like all of a sudden like

Anna
He’s shaking his hand for those of you listening.

Michael Johnson
Okay. And that basically is what dysregulation looks like. And one of the ways that a person might deal with that is by not dealing with it. And they’ll just cling to their answer with a death grip. That’s called a bhini -vesha, grasping. And it’s an affliction that actually is the opposite of wisdom and knowledge. It controls you. So yoga, if you are…

understanding the theory correctly and you’re not mixing it with your beliefs and experiences has a solution to that problem. So we often call it narcissism, where we think that our view is the right way and that everyone must be, has to agree with us or they die. That is not an enjoyable way to live life on either side.

The other alternative to that if you don’t have a solution to the problem is imposter syndrome, where you feel that you aren’t good enough and you’re constantly questioning everything and looking to outside sources for reassurance and you have a confidence problem. So the ethical theory of yoga is unique in that it basically is saying yoga is a discipline of developing self -control without being attached to the outcomes. And it’s kind of a novel ethical theory in India, which hasn’t always been called India. The sub -Indian continent is typically called South Asia. And yoga has been around long before the country of India for thousands of years. And who knows, maybe before that, but only documented for a couple thousand years. And in that respect, it offers a novel solution to this problem that not only helps a person navigate their relationships and their nervous system, but can also have an impact on how societies, how families and communities and civilizations unfold. If you stop putting people up on a pedestal and treating them as an authority and be subservient to them and start practicing self -control and treat other people with respect by choice, then this can be a…

a way to avoid narcissism and imposter syndrome. And when you don’t know something, instead of being attached to this feeling like you must know, you can just be like, yeah, I don’t know. It’s almost like a relief. But to think that you don’t know and you’ll never know is a step too far. You can actually learn if you want. And that’s a move that we can all plan.

Anna
Right.

Michael Johnson
So in a yoga class or in a yoga setting, if you don’t know something and you admit it, it’s like a relief for everyone. Oh, well, they don’t know. But in an authoritarian setting, oh, they don’t know. Suddenly people are like, oh, this person is not fit to be in this position of power and tell me what to do. And they might leave and so be it. But if you’re practicing yoga, that was never a part of it in the first place.

So I hope that helps.

Anna
Yeah, there’s a lot there.

I think another discomfort zone when we are, you know, for, I’ll just speak from my own experience and in the Whitewater community as a teacher and also yoga less so, right? You know, I have a long career in Whitewater kayaking as an athlete and then as an instructor, training instructors, training instructor trainers. And so,

I think it’s vulnerable for folks, speaking from my own experience of being someone who people do look up to and who has authority due to a long career in whitewater kayaking, you know, as an athlete, trainer, coach, that it is vulnerable to step outside of circles where I’m not known. And I think that’s really healthy for me because I become very, a little, yeah, vulnerable, nervous because I don’t have that, oh, well, people know who I am. People know what I stand for. People know my skill. I have street cred, you know? And then I walk into a group, you know, I do like to challenge myself, take different courses, walking into a yoga room. Like when I’m a student of yoga, of a yoga workshop,

No one there knows who I am. We don’t know who anyone else is. And I like to remind myself, like the person next to me could be brilliant. You know, when my mind starts to go into judgment, they could have a, they might be like the author of 50 books. I don’t know that, you know, and I think that, I don’t know why this came up, but when listening to your, to you talk, I think a good practice for folks who are teachers, leaders in their field.

to challenge ourselves to go and be a student and be in a group where we’re not known, we’re just another person, just another human there to learn is so powerful. And it’s really scary. Like it’s a discomfort zone because I can’t hide behind this person that I am in certain circles. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think that it’s, it’s,

Michael Johnson
Mmm.
It totally makes sense.

Anna
It’s a really important practice, I feel like for leaders, for any leader. You know, don’t just, you know, my comfort zone is being the leader, honestly. And I noticed that in social situations, like I am confident when I’m leading, facilitating, and then when I’m not, that’s where I like, Oh, who am I? You know, how are other people viewing me? Oh, when I say this, is it really effective or not? How?

How am I impacting other people? So I think that’s a great practice.

Michael Johnson
That’s a fantastic practice. The root cause of discomfort in positions where we’re not in the power that we’re used to or being perceived the way that we want to is not necessarily outside of us, though it seems that way. Hence why it can be very dysregulating. But the root cause of that issue is what’s called asmi t ‘ha, or this…

image of self that we have that appears to us that we try to project onto other people called the persona, the mask. And to the extent that you’re attached to being seen a certain way, anything that threatens that will cause your fingers to shake and your breath to go out of line. But if you’re practicing yoga, you can flip a switch in your brain. And instead of letting this attachment to being seen a certain way, control you, you can basically create some space between you and that thing. And know that the choices you make certainly creates your character. But you don’t have control over your reputation. And the sooner you stop trying to grasp and control it, the easier your life will be and other people’s life will be. But when someone gets an unfavorable opinion of you, that will be something very challenging to sit with as that can trigger some very old switches in our brain that makes us want to avoid it.

But yeah, the root of the problem is called osmitah. It’s often translated as egotism. And as I was mentioning before, it usually asserts itself as narcissism or imposter syndrome. And all of us struggle with it. And the cool thing is you don’t have to. You have an option. You have this choice where you can create some space around that and stop letting it control your life. You can still be a good person.

But if you’re attached to being seen as a good person, that can make you do some of the most evil things to cling to that outcome.

One more thing that came up that I just wanted to address is when you’re in a position of authority where people like assume that you know your stuff about kayaking and you know, you never know who’s in your class. You never know who might like know something a little bit more than you do or just information. And they might say something, actually it’s this way. And then if you’re a teacher and someone is like questioning your authority, suddenly.

You know, your breath goes crazy and like this, this feeling in your gut becomes overwhelming. But that’s only if you’re trying to be an authority. If you’re an expert and you’re not identified with the activities of your mind and controlled by them, this new information that contradicts what you taught or believe is actually interesting to you. And you can be like, Oh really? I’ve never heard that. Would you like to say more about that? And it’s such a relief.

Anna
Right.

Yes.

Hmm. Yeah, that’s great. Yeah.

Michael Johnson
It’s, yeah, and the thing that might make it crystal clear is that when you’re practicing yoga and an error is made on your part, instead of you being wrong, which is what makes the feeling unbearable, you can create some space around that. Like, no, I was wrong about that, but I’m not wrong as a person. I’m just an expert that makes mistakes. I’ll work in progress. So are you, so is everyone.

Anna
Right.

Michael Johnson
And like, that’s totally doable. Doable.

Anna
Yeah, there’s, especially when I was competing at a high level, I would collapse my self -worth with my competition results and it caused me a lot of suffering and yoga did help me and it still caused me a lot of suffering. That was a journey for me for sure. And it took me a while and, and,

Not only that, it was challenging because my husband also competed at a high level. And if he did well and I didn’t do well, oh, boy, because I was just. And so, you know, there’s I think that that has been that was really challenging on our relationship. And then there’s a choice. Am I going to let this cause me continue to cause me so much suffering? Can I pull apart like just like you said, my self worth is not my kayaking ability or how I competed today. I think that’s really important and that’s definitely a benefit of yoga of abiding in the self. In Ayurveda also, it’s not one of the official aims of Ayurveda. It is though part of Ayurveda, it’s a big part of Ayurveda. Learn to, we do all of these practices, diet and lifestyle, knowing, understanding our unique constitution so that we can abide in ourselves, you know, with more confidence and like you said, not being attached to the persona, not collapsing our self -worth with something that is just a story in our heads.

Michael Johnson
The goal of Ayurveda is health. And the word for health that’s often used is swastha. And swastha means to abide in self. So there’s a lot of connection between yoga and Ayurveda. That has been brought into question by academics recently as the critical history of India that we Westerners like to do. Like, well, I don’t know.

Anna
Yeah, abide in the self. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you.

Michael Johnson (31:25.992)
People say that, but like, is that true? And I mean, there’s nothing to be lost by looking critically if you’re letting the truth be the authority. But if you’re trying to be the authority, you’re like, what do you mean Yoga and Ayurveda weren’t married for thousands of years? Anyways, there’s plenty of evidence they were married for thousands of years. And yeah, our better wind combined.

Anna
Yeah, agree. When I coach folks and I teach yoga mainly through my programs that are for mental agility and yoga has helped me, the asana practice, which is the poses, because yoga has eight limbs. So the poses are only one aspect, one of the eight limbs.

Yoga poses have been very helpful for me in sustaining my work because it’s very physical, in addition to all of the benefits we’ve already talked about in this conversation. And in kayaking, in whitewater kayaking, we have a saying called, practice hard moves in easy water, which means practice difficult or…

do your difficult practices in a low consequence environment. And I like to coach people that yoga poses combined with the breath are a way to work on that resilience zone, right? And there’s the, you you know the sutra. So maybe you can tell it, you can say it for us about sthira and sukkha, right? That every asana, has steadiness and sweetness or steadiness and effortlessness, so to speak. But can you speak to that? I’m going to let you, because you are the expert on the Yoga Sutra.

Michael Johnson
Okay, I may know a little bit more than you on this, but yeah, I mean, we’re both experts, but the yoga sutra, it introduces what yoga is and there’s eight limbs of yoga. It just makes yoga more accessible. And yama, niyama is basically yama stopping the causes of suffering. Niyama is embracing the causes of wellness. And that’s typically what asana is. So asana is being firmly established, sthira, and the yamas and the niyamas, and that creates comfort, that creates good space. So if you want to… have a game changer in the discomfort zone. Instead of seeking comfort, where there is none, or relying on luck, or things outside of yourself, abide in your own self and create comfort wherever you are. So asana astira sukham asana is basically any, anytime you’re in a posture, which is pretty much all the time, be steady in creating a good space.

So for those of you who don’t know what the causes of suffering are, it’s violence, lying, stealing, cheating, and hoarding. And these are things that you can choose to not do. So non -violence, non -lying, also called truthfulness, non -stealing, non -cheating, also called respecting personal boundaries, and non -hoarding or non -greed are…

you know, basically choices that you can make and abide by and basically radically reduce the amount of suffering in your mind and in the minds of people around you. And Niyamas are basically creating the causes of well -being, such as Shaucha, which would be cleanliness of your actions, your speech and your thoughts. So just because you make the vow to stop the causes of suffering doesn’t mean that you’re going to be perfect human, you’re gonna make mistakes. So, Shao Ché is cleaning up the messes that we make and learning from them. And pretty soon you get so good at cleaning that you don’t make certain messes anymore, or you’re really quick at cleaning them up. And then the second one is called Santoshra, that’s being content with practicing yoga. Being content with practicing self -control, stopping the causes of suffering, embracing well -being, as well as being content with yourself as a work in progress rather than pretending to know everything and be perfect, you can just be human. And allow other people to be human too. It just makes everyone feel more comfortable about themselves. Then the last three causes kind of are set. So tapas is where you confront afflictions like ignorance squared or egotism. And instead of let them rule you, you transform them in the fire into the opposite. And swadhyaya, self -study, usually the study of spiritual books that are desert island texts, like texts if you were stuck in a desert island, you wouldn’t mind reading this one book a hundred times. It’s that good. Some people name the Bhagavad Gita as an example. I would certainly count the Yoga Sutra. I would also count the Four Agreements by Dharmakal Ruiz. Such a good book.

Anna
Do you know that almost so many people talk about that book on this podcast? Sorry, just had to, like it is wild. That book is coming up and actually people are reminding me of how many times I’ve recommended that book over the years. It’s wild.

Michael Johnson
I didn’t know. I’m not surprised though.

Michael Johnson
You know, it’s the closest non -yoga book that I’ve seen to the ethical theory of yoga.

Anna
Mm.

Michael Johnson
Anyways, the self -study, however, shouldn’t be confused with just reading books. It’s books that inspire you to take the reins of your life and practice self -control. So it’s self -determination. And the last way we can create the causes of well -being and comfort wherever we are is devotion to the ideal of sovereignty, the ideal of not being subservient to your mental activities, but in control of it.

And that ideal is perfect, kind of like health. Our ability to approximate it is always a work in progress. And if we can not confuse ourselves with the ideal, then we can get off the hot seat of being an authority and just be a human being in devotion to this ideal of self -control or health. And anyways, in an asana, sthira is being stable and doing all those things, like being firmly established in nonviolence, makes people around you like, not feel threatened.

Being firmly established in truthfulness makes the power of your word so much more helpful, fruitful, and basically you finish what you start. When you say something, you mean it. People begin to realize this about you. Becoming firmly established and non -stealing basically brings you all kinds of wealth, not just material wealth, but emotional, spiritual wealth. Being firmly established and respecting personal boundaries gives you great strength. People wanna work together with you. Being firmly established in non -greed basically allows you to have clear meaning on why you’re here, what life is about. And then being firmly established in shoucha cleanliness, basically it makes you learn from your mistakes instead of avoiding them, pretending they didn’t happen. You’re like, oh, I made a mistake back there. I wonder what that was about. And like, you just transform it into wisdom.

Being firmly established in contentment can allow you to enjoy the greatest amount of happiness. So whether you succeed in something or fail, it’s like, oh, I learned something. It’s more about the experience than the outcome. Being firmly established in tapas basically makes you fearless. Like, oh, I have a mental affliction or I got pain in my body. Let me take a closer look at that. The fire of transformation. Being firmly established in self -governance, not only…

allows you to hold the reins of your mind no matter what other people are doing or not doing, but it encourages you to want other people to do that as well. And, you know, encourage and inspire them to be the master of themselves. And being firmly established in devotion to sovereignty is also something that can allow you to have a light into the darkness, even in times of uncertainty, like, you know, concerns about death and basically have a compass to navigate some of the most trickiest things. So that’s the sthira and asana. And if you can become firmly established in those, it produces sukkha. So the next sutra that comes after that is, prayatna shaiti liyaranta samah patibhyam. And it says that one ought to practice the yamas and the nyamas with a balance of effort and ease. So effort, prayatna, and then, shaitilya, which is ease. So don’t work so hard, where you like run yourself ragged and freak yourself out and and don’t take it so easy that like you get overwhelmed. But there’s a balance there. And it also suggests doing this not until you reach a certain point, but just indefinitely. Ananta is just infinitely. And then it says,

Tatto dhwandhva na bhighata. Then asana is no longer being distracted by heat and cold, pleasure and pain. You’re no longer gonna give up practicing the yamas and the yamas even in the most intense discomfort zone.

Anna
Hmm.

Thank you. Yeah, awesome. There’s a lot there to unpack and well, not necessarily unpack. There’s just, there’s a lot there. So I’m, I’m stoked. I, I’m looking forward to hearing what listeners, there’s so much wisdom there. Thank you so much for sharing. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No, I mean, it’s just, it’s to be able to,

Michael Johnson
You’re welcome.

Michael Johnson
I’m so happy to share, I mean, what the Yoga Sutra says. That’s, you know.

Anna
I’m always so impressed with your ability to recite sutras and then share their wisdom in a practical way, for me at least, this is my experience of you, in a practical way that is easy to understand. Some of our listeners might not understand all the Sanskrit, asanas, yoga pose, and hopefully you, if y ‘all have questions, just reach out, because,

We’ll answer them. And yeah, so much wisdom, practical and applyable in our lives. Yeah.

Michael Johnson
Yeah, on that topic, there’s a lot of people who try to make yoga mystical and beyond understanding because they don’t know what it is. And they’re attached to being right. And it’s it’s all too common, but often a result of colonization, where people feel like they need to be authorities and take comfort and being subservient to other authorities. And that’s not yoga. That’s the opposite of yoga, but in a colonized setting that’s how yoga might appear.

Anna
Yeah. I feel like you’ve already answered this question a few times. I want to ask it though, because I want to hear what answer you have right now in this moment. What’s the biggest misconception people have about yoga?

Michael Johnson
Again, I don’t know what is in the private thoughts of other people or what the majority is. I guess one could do like a poll, like a well -conducted poll to get better intel on this. And I haven’t really done the research, so you just have to forgive me for not knowing. But from my small sample size of what I hear people say is that people often confuse yoga with their own beliefs and experiences.

And, you know, that’s fine. I’m sure your beliefs and experiences will be pleasant sometimes. And for a while, you’ll have a positive, you know, like, opinion about what yoga is. But yoga, by contrast, is a methodology of setting your beliefs and experiences aside and just letting the truth be the truth. So it’s very much like science in that respect, but notably different. So science has this one ought. Things ought to be true. Someone makes a truth claim, it better check out. And like we have a whole method, a community and like ways to like hash that out. And if you want to have a scientific career, then you need at some point like learn to let the truth be the authority and tolerate being wrong from time to time. There’s a…

famous scientific philosopher David Deutsch, who started quantum computing, he calls it fallibilism. And basically everyone can be wrong. And when you take that position, you can listen to anyone, listen to whatever they say and evaluate that, you know, maybe this is right, maybe it isn’t. And in the respect that a lot of people, try to understand yoga through their beliefs and experiences, it creates kind of like a barrier to understanding the method. The method is quite simple, actually. And the main art is self control. So it begins with the choice to practice self control. That’s all that yoga is, is the choice to practice self control. And if you decide that that’s what you want to do, then you can’t rely on your beliefs and experiences. If you identify with them, they control you. So that’s antithetical to yoga right away. So…

I study with a yoga philosophy professor who calls that interpretation. We use the word interpretation quite frequently in our normal discussion, and it often just means like an opinion or my understanding. But he’s using it in a very analytical way that it means this trying to understand something through your beliefs and experiences.

So if I was like listening to you and you were telling me something that you wanted me to understand, and I said, let me get this straight. Like, I believe you said this because I had this experience back when I was two. You might be like, no, that’s not what I was saying. That’s a complete change of subject. I was actually telling you this thing and you went off on this tangent. That’s what he’s saying is interpretation. And too many people try to understand yoga utilizing that methodology.

And it gets really confused. So, you know, the telephone game, one person tells another person by the 15th iteration, it’s like, what? That’s what I feel like has happened in my lifetime with yoga, is a lot of telephone game going on and a few people actually applying the methodology of putting beliefs and experiences aside and just listening carefully to the truth. And, um,

Anna
Yeah.

Michael Johnson
Practicing self -control is not something you have to do. But if you choose to, there are better ways of going about it than others. And one of the ways that you could dramatically improve your understanding of yoga, other people, or any subject that you wanted to better understand is to opt out of interpretation.

Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s great. And this alternative approach to understanding is to admit you don’t know what you don’t know and be curious to find out and don’t confuse what you’re learning with your beliefs and experiences. It’s fine to have beliefs and experiences. That’s like part of the human experience, but to the extent that you’re identified with them, they control you and they prevent you from learning.

Anna
Yeah.

It’s awesome.

Do you have any questions for me or a question for me before we hit rapid fire?

Michael Johnson
rapid fire. I’m looking forward to that. So from my limited understanding, you have practiced yoga for many years. Obviously you have quite a bit of experience in kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. Is that true? And now Ayurveda. Wow, what a trifecta from my perspective. Would you mind like sharing?

What have you found in combining these disciplines of kayaking, yoga, and Aryaveda that is most useful?

Anna
Mmm.

For me, it’s the idea of freedom through discipline, which a lot of, I’ve heard folks from the military side say that this is a military philosophy or way of thinking. I first heard it in yoga, this idea of freedom through discipline. Like for me, some folks, for me, the biggest misconception about yoga that people have is that it’s all bliss when really it’s about discipline and showing up to your mat, showing up to your meditation cushion. On the river, the river exists because of the riverbanks. So without the boundaries of the riverbanks, there would be no direction for the flow. There would be no flow. The water would just dissipate and like, I don’t know, absorb into the earth. But because there are boundaries that provide this container for the flow,

The flow within that is dancing and moving and flowing over rocks and creates rapids and so much fun, right? And we can learn how to navigate that current. And so for me, I like to use, love that analogy of boundaries and discipline are not like bad things or yes, they are challenging and they don’t restrict our freedom. They create a container that directs the flow of our energy, our attention, our awareness towards what’s important to us versus just it, you know, I don’t know, absorbing, you know, our attention here or there and having no self -regulation. And so I think for me, because Ayurveda is about, in my experience, like Ayurveda is about, the boundaries, you know, your dosha are dosha’s. They are a set of boundaries, that which is most likely to go out of balance. And so understanding that and incorporating opposite action and quality and diet and lifestyle can help keep us in balance, you know, bring our minds and our bodies back towards health. And so to me that that Dosha is a boundary, the seasons, any cycle, right? The seasons, the day, time of day. I love that framework. It’s a framework. So a boundary in which we can experience great freedom for living a healthy life. And the same with yoga, right? The, you know, the eight limbs, it’s a framework. It’s a, you know, a framework for healthy living, for self -control, as you say. So that’s what I…that freedom through discipline is very powerful in my life.

Michael Johnson
Awesome. Thank you. You explained that really well. I appreciate how you tied in all of Arya Veda and even that this is not just limited to these niche types of disciplines but rather universal. It’s even in the military. Freedom through discipline.

Anna
Yeah. Love it. Thanks for that question. I appreciate it.

Michael Johnson
Thanks for the answer.

Anna
You’re welcome. Are you ready for rapid fire questions? Okay. What’s a morning ritual that sets you up for success?

Michael Johnson
We’ll see.

Every day I get up at 5:52 a .m. and I sit and I lead a 20 minute meditation from six to six 20 every day. That’s not negotiable.

Anna
And when you say you lead, you have people join you, don’t you? People can join you online.

Michael Johnson
I do. I do. One of the amenities for signing up for one of my online courses or the 195 day challenge that I offer twice a year is you get access to a daily live stream guided meditation if you want it. It’s not required, but it’s there. And I have quite a few people that just show up every morning for some reason, it probably helps them too. Can’t imagine why.

Anna
Great. I bet you can’t imagine why… Re -listen to this whole podcast. Okay. All right. Okay. You might’ve just answered this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Maybe it’s a different answer besides meditation. What is a non -negotiable self -care practice?

Michael Johnson
So in addition to meditation,

A non -negotiable self -care practice for me would be prioritizing fun.

This is the busiest time in my life. And if I wasn’t able to have fun during this busy time, I would probably stop growing and learning. So fun is necessary for learning, for creating space to abide in yourself. So I’ve learned to do that.

Anna
Great. What’s a favorite motivational book or talk?

Michael Johnson
Well, so many to choose from. I’ve already mentioned the Yoga Sutra, the Bhagavad Gita, and the four agreements.

Anna
I know.

Michael Johnson
But I’ll just go ahead and plug one more of Don Miguel Ruiz’s books called The Mastery of Love. It sounds cheesy, but it is anything but cheese.

Anna
Yep. It’s great.

Anna
I love that. Anything but cheese. It’s a good one. Yeah.

Michael Johnson
It’s, yeah, fantastic.

Anna
What do people get wrong about you?

Michael Johnson
Again, I don’t know the private thoughts of other people, but maybe I’ll just go out on a limb and suggest thinking that I’m an authority on what yoga is, and I’m not. Yoga’s been around for thousands of years before me. The truth is the authority. I’m just someone that studies it, practices it, and shares ways that other people can do the same. So I may know a lot more than other people, but I still make mistakes, and there’s a lot I don’t know.

So I’m not an authority on yoga, but I am an expert and I’m happy to help anyone else become an expert.

Anna
Great. Throughout the course of your life, have you felt like the underdog or the favored to win?

Michael Johnson
Both. You know, that’s like an interesting moral philosophy or moral psychology dynamic as we tend to just automatically favor the underdog. That’s like an instinct. And flipping that switch to like not favoring the underdog takes a lot of work. But sometimes we can do that if you choose.

Anna
Nice.

I feel like that’s a whole new other podcast topic. Okay, we’ve kind of already touched on this too throughout this podcast, but hard moves in easy water or flooding.

Michael Johnson
Oh yeah, for sure.

Michael Johnson
I like the idea of hard moves and easy water. Like that’s why you go and practice yoga every day, is you develop the skills so that when it does flood, you aren’t at a loss. And the Yoga Sutra mentions this in the fourth chapter, it’s the main argument. We should live as gardeners. Basically prepare now for the flood that is to come or the famine, and then you’ll be okay with whatever happens.

Anna
Awesome. One word that describes your comfort zone.

Michael Johnson
I like the word abide. Maybe it’s because of the big Lebowski or I’m not sure.

Anna
That’s awesome. Yay. Freedom through discipline or I do what I want.

Michael Johnson
I don’t see any contradiction with those two terms. They complement each other really well. Yeah, so like you said, freedom through discipline. To actually do what you want, you need to be disciplined. Otherwise, you’re just at the mercy of the mental activities.

Anna
Awesome. Say more.

Anna
Hmm. Deep. I love it. Okay. One word. Okay. Last question. What is one word or in one word, how, oh my gosh. In one word, what do you hope your legacy will be?

Michael Johnson
helpful.

Anna
Is there anything else you want to tell our listeners?

Michael Johnson
Thank you for listening. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions that I can help with. And if you want to take some continuing yoga education or sign up for 195 day challenge where you meditate for 20 minutes a day for 195 days, come to my website, clearlightyoga.com.

Anna
Awesome. And yeah, I highly recommend studying with Michael. I think I’ve taken a couple of workshops with you. They’ve been a little bit of time in between, but I always get a lot out of them. So yeah, thank you so much for being here, Michael. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. I really appreciate who you are in the world. And yeah, just thank you for being you.

Michael Johnson
Thank you for putting this together and thank you for inviting me and for doing what you do.