Interview with Makaan Burt By Matt Rosenberg. Part Two.
Nature Stone Yoga.
(Read Part One here.)
Matt Rosenberg: Would you like to tell how your experiences in nature have shaped your own practice of yoga and your teaching of yoga?
Well as I said earlier, I started using stones for weight bearing, and it was probably because I’m in love with the energies of the stones. I did a lot of meditating with stones in nature: holding stones, finding circles, as well as just sitting on big boulders and stones while I was on my vision quests.
But I discovered they give you that sense of stira, which is the Sanskrit word meaning steadiness and durability. You may have heard the yoga sutra “stira sukha asana.” Stira is the steadiness. It also is groundedness. Sukha is the comfort or having a good space. Forestein translates it as being in a happy space or a good space. It’s as the same root as sucrose, a sweet.
And then the other reason I use them in teaching is because our Western World is so wrapped up in electronic devices. We go from car to phone, video to computer to TV. We don’t spend a lot of time just being grounded, letting ourselves sink into the natural state of awareness. So the stones help us do that immediately, almost instantaneously without even knowing it.
People recognize the stones as—and they don’t actually talk about this until I ask them for feedback. They’ll say it’s grounding, and they like them, but I see it in their faces in the classes. When they hold the stones, their bodies relax because it reminds them of where the stones came from.
Some people have spent a lot of enjoyable time looking at stones at the beach or along the creeks, and so it reminds them of those experiences. But even if they haven’t, they know it is a natural thing. It is not created in a factory. It’s created by thousands of years of being tumbled by water. These massage stones are smooth because of that. And they have an innate beauty that is subtle. It’s not dramatic. They’re mostly black and some of them are gray or green. It is a kinesthetically, visceral experience.
The weight of them also helps people ground. The other part is the philosophy and using nature thematically. I often will use images or elements of nature as themes in class.
Rosenberg: You mentioned that by using the stones it reminds people of nature, but would you say that there is an actual scientific reason why it actually has a grounding effect, the stones’ actual frequency, its vibration?
Yes, stones are stimulating to the electromagnetic field, which is our haras and our chakras. They have a slow energetic field, obviously, which grounds out magnetic field.
They have been used in India and China for massage over the centuries.
In India, it is called Shiila massage, which includes other plants as well as warm stones.
Stones that I use in massage have all been tested by a psychic. We’ve spent a couple of hours going through hundreds of stones that I have brought into my living room, and the ones that were harmonic and balanced and exotic as we say in yoga, we save for use just in massage. It was probably about 10% of the stones. And those because in massage they’re laid on the body for a good length of time, I wanted those stones to be more harmonic.
But all the stones that we tested are grounding and not crazy with too much energy.
I’ve never found, out of the many hundreds of people in asana classes, that the stones are agitating. 99.9% of the time, people like the stones. The only thing that they ever complained about is that they are cold or too cold and that’s kind of a space heating problem.
Most people really like the feel of the stones, and they like using them for balance as well. We balance them on the top of their head. We balance them on the top of the head which takes a bit of concentration to get them just right on top of the head, and then turning the head from side to side slowly while you’re balancing allows you to feel more accurately how your neck is placed in space. For that, we do a lot of twisting poses while we’re sitting and holding stones on top of the head.
After we do that, I ask them to take the stone off their heads, close their eyes, feel how they’re crown chakra had been rearranged because the stones stimulate the electromagnetic field. Anytime you put something new into an electromagnetic field and then you take it away, then it’s going to stimulate that electromagnetic field.
Rosenberg: In the class that I’ve participated the other day, we did just that. We used the stones, and we put them on the top of the head, and then we did some twists. And then after we removed the stones, I definitely felt a stimulation of the crown chakra. And just in the balancing of the stone, it is a meditative experience because you’re very much focusing your attention on the balancing.
Yeah, and I’d heard that many times from many students. Some people also feel like the stone is still there after they take it off.
And that is energy of the stones in your field, the energies stick around. I also wash the stones periodically. I soak them in salt, and the salt water takes away the subtle energies that are gathered in the use of the stones in asana classes, just by their handling.
Rosenberg: Okay. You’re saying that the actual interaction with the stone, the stone itself can pick up the energies of the people who are handling the stones themselves?
Yes, and I’m not really clear because I’m not a psychic to what extent that happens, but I don’t worry about it too much because people are in a calm state throughout my classes. They’re not doing cathartic rituals and letting go a lot of frustration and giving those to the stones.
The other thing that we do with the stones is warm them up in hot water, quite warm actually, about 100 to 150 degrees. And in workshop settings, where I have more time to work, we put them on the marma points, which are the acupressure points in the body. There are major marma points along the central axis as well as above the knees and on the shoulders, on the third eye, the navel, and many others.
The warm stones are very nurturing. They tend to allow people to really sink into restorative asanas in deeper way. People don’t fidget as much. They can stay in Savasana for a longer period of time. So I teach restorative poses in asana workshops, both in the beginning of the class and at the end of the class, doing more active weight bearing exercises and asanas. Especially in the winter, they become a real nurturing experience.
Rosenberg: You use them for massage as well, right?
Yes, I use them for ayurvedic massage. I usually put about 12 stones on the body. Most of them are on the top of the body. Some of them are tucked under the lumbar spine or the shoulders, especially if people have shoulder or lower back issues.
So that’s how I start my massages. Then throughout the massage, I sometimes use a fairly hot stone, almost too hot to put on the body for very long, and I have to keep changing my hands from right to left when I’m holding them. That is, I’m sliding them with oil on the body. People really love that as well.
The other obvious therapeutic benefit of using stones is the weight bearing aspect of it. We hold them in standing poses very often and sometimes in a version called “happy baby pose.” We put them on the top of the feet and balance them on the top of the feet as they’re upside down. But the weight bearing in standing poses like a way or two is obviously just like using barbells except that you’re using a natural element. I find them to be a better choice than a barbell, because you can just balance them on your palms facing up. I have a lot of advanced students which come to my classes just because they like using the stones for the weight bearing and balancing and more advanced standing poses.
Rosenberg: That’s actually becoming more popular, doing asana, holding either kettlebells or dumbbells, and it really makes sense, especially in yoga, to incorporate natural elements to both be grounding and strengthening at the same time.
They call it fusion or yoga sculpt, and I’m not a big fan of yoga sculpt because it’s often not very therapeutic. That’s the name that is put to it. It can be very therapeutic. You just need to go at it slowly.
Rosenberg: So Makaan, what are your plans for expanding Nature Stone Yoga to a larger audience?
I received a grant that’s helping me make an instructional video, which will have a lot of this philosophy as well as two instructional classes. One class will be the weight bearing exercises we do. The other class will be a restorative class.
Then there will also be a section for teachers as to how to heat up the stones and where to buy the stones and how to use the stones thematically in your classes. The video will be done sometime in 2011. And I also am using that grant to promote more workshops around the country.
Rosenberg: I could imagine some people would be wondering how that they could find some of their own stones to start incorporating into their own practice.
If you look on my website, there’s a lot of photos of people doing stone yoga. There’s also written descriptions of it. But also, I’m teaching in Boulder at both YMCAs as well as the Flatirons Athletic Club, and Yoga Elements Studio in Louisville.
Rosenberg: I assume that the yoga video, that would be available through your website?
Yes, and there will be a three-minute preview on the website at that. It will be in a variety of other yoga websites like, Yoga Download, we’ll have it. You’ll be able to purchase the DVD on my website.
Rosenberg: Well, Makaan, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
My pleasure. Namaste.
Makaan Burt CYT, has combined many yoga forms and teaches a refreshing new one called Nature Stone Yoga. This form allows the student to drop deep into their own mind-body experience. Makaan has studied yoga for over 35 years, including two trips to India. He is certified in structural yoga therapy. He has completed 14 solo wilderness yoga retreats. In Boulder, Colorado, Makaan offers ayurvedic massage, yoga privates and leads workshops in nature stone, hot stone, back care, knee care, anatomy study, spinal curvature and stone yoga for teachers.
Matt Rosenberg. The practice of yoga is key to living a fuller more authentic life. Matt came to yoga during a stressful time and quickly realized its powerful calming, strength, and confidence building affects. The ability to connect to breath has had a profound impact on his life. It has helped him overcome both chronic bronchitis and a lifetime of asthma. Matt’s teachings focus on connecting to breath, cultivating mind/body awareness, and finding one’s power. His teachings are presented in a manner that help one cultivate these skills both on and off the mat. Matt encourages students to explore modifications to find the pose that is appropriate for their practice.