World peace starts with inner peace — and there’s perhaps no greater advocate of this worldview than Max Strom. Respected internationally as a motivational speaker and author, Strom has practiced and taught yoga since 1991. He travels the world sharing his insight on how to attain true happiness in a society increasingly obsessed with technological shortcuts.
Fresh from a talk to the World Government Summit in Dubai and yoga workshops in Nuremberg, Strom expands in this Q&A on how yogis can do more to guide others toward the true inner peace needed to soothe an increasingly turbulent world.
At the heart of your guidance to yogis is to “live the daily experience of a meaningful life.” How can pursuing this goal help people foster greater peace in the world at large?
It’s important to set priorities. Whatever is most important in life, I recommend writing it down and consistently analyzing it. It’s possible to make your own wellbeing for a while, and to even think it’s romantic by getting too little sleep or indulging in even more work.
But at some point, you pay for that with your health. And if you lose your health, you lose everything. It’s like having a car with a defect. If we don’t fix it immediately, it may still last awhile, but eventually collapses, and then the damage is much greater.
What are some principles of yoga that can be most useful in building better connections with people with whom we differ?
I introduce ideas in a way that a religious person or an atheist can both understand and agree upon. Instead of referring to God, I speak of the aspects of God: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, happiness, and how to heal grief, anger, depression, and so on. I forgo using Sanskrit terms or chants, because that causes many people never to return to the practice.
A religious person or an atheist both deal with stress and thus, both need to learn to control and heal the nervous system. And both need to learn to forgive. To be clear: people can sometimes misunderstand, thinking that I mean we should water down our message to reach more people. No. There’s a vast difference between watering down, which means diluting your message, and distilling your message. When you distill your message, you remove anything unnecessary, leaving only the most potent essence, so it actually makes it more powerful, not less. Remove what divides people so that we can bring people together, because this world needs uniting now more than ever.
Many Americans are experiencing feelings of fear and anxiety as the world seemingly becomes more turbulent. What helps bolster your belief in enduring world peace?
I find there’s so much news that people are missing a lot of the big stories of our time and are actually unaware of where the global society is heading and how it’s going to be done. We need to pay attention to the news, but identify what actual news is. Not just the most recent tragedy, fire, hurricane, or political arguments, but globally, what’s actually going on? What’s being invested in? We need to filter what we bring into our mind to make sure it’s, like food, of the highest quality possible.
You’ve been known to describe social media as “the white sugar of our time:” never really satisfying, leaving us wanting more of it the more we partake. How can we integrate technology in our lives healthily and productively?
Technology can be a great tool for learning, but we have to make sure that the content we’re learning is of the greatest value to us. Not just entertaining. If we record our verbal communications with people, we can improve our relationships. If we video record our interactions with people, we can improve our behavior and even put an end to destructive habits. But people rarely take “selfies” when they’re angry, depressed, or having a panic attack. Couples don’t video their arguments. We should. In this way, we can learn so much so quickly.
Also, if you want to be less isolated, which we all do, you have to be there in person. But it’s not just your lover — it’s your friends, it’s your family.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. This article was originally published in the YogaIowa’s Spring 2017 issue.