Ganga Speaks with Sting About Yoga & His Life
Sting is a long time friend and frequent visitor to White Lotus. When asked to do an interview with Sting I was reminded of Krishna’s advice to Arjuna many years ago. “Whatsoever a great man does, that others will also do. Whatsoever he sets up as the standard, that the world follows” ( Bhagavad Gita, VIII.21 ) I thought it would be an inspiration for Yoga students to learn more about this distinguished man and his interest in the ancient art of living. It is a joy and a great honor for me to know Sting and his family as friends. I was first introduced to them in early 1993 by my close friend Danny Paradise, a leading teacher and world traveling Yogi-musician. Sting and his wife Trudie came to the first time to White Lotus in Santa Barbara late one night after a Ten Summoner’s Tales concert in Los Angeles to spend a couple of days and to meet some of my friends visiting from the South American rainforest. Our friendship grew out of our mutual love of Yoga and nature.
Most of us are probably familiar with Sting’s enormous contributions to music. His career started as a professor of literature in an English girl's school. He soon changed course to follow his calling in music and became the leader and principle driving force behind the celebrated band, The Police. He lead the group from living in their van and touring the US to the top of the charts, many Grammies and gold records. The Police were one of the most influential bands of the seventies paving the way with a new style of high-energy, cutting edge music with a message. Sting went on to pursue his solo career exploring the fusion of many musical styles and cultures and delivering the message of awakening and consciousness. He is not only great singer and bass player but a master songwriter and poet. He is an extraordinary lyricist who brings insightful political messages of peace and love.
Too often stars shine in their art but not in their lives. This is not the case with Sting. He is a sensitive, highly intelligent person who cares deeply--a real human being. A great part of his energies have been directed to what could be called Karma Yoga--service to the world. He has raised and donated millions of dollars for peace, the environment and social causes like Amnesty International. His organization, The Rainforest Foundation, has aided indigenous peoples and saved millions of acres of forest in Brazil.
Sting lives with his family about an hour from London in a beautiful, rural area near Stonehenge. He is the attentive father of five children and makes his home in a magnificent castle estate. The area, which is bordered by the Avon river and one of the last old growth forests in England, is said to be where King Arthur and his Knights roamed. It certainly holds powerful feelings of enchantment and mystery, especially accented when Sting is seen galloping through the woods on his spirited steed. (The music video, Ten Summoner’s Tales was shot there.) The house is a hive of constant activity hosting a steady stream of extraordinary visitors.
Trudie Styler, Sting’s wife, is a remarkable and highly creative woman who truly has it all--grace, beauty, intelligence and compassion. She is an inspiring and dynamic person with a list of achievements as impressive as Sting’s. Trudie is a Royal Shakespearean trained actress, a film maker, the chief fund-raiser and director of the Rainforest Foundation and an avid Yogini. She is currently producing, and acting with Sting, in a feature film suspense-comedy called Gentleman Don’t Eat Poets. Her poignant, award winning film, Moving the Mountain, documented the plight of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement. Without government approval she courageously went into China with director Michael Apted and a film crew to meet the persecuted leaders of the movement and record their story. Trudie is about to receive a major international peace award. She is the devoted, loving mother of their three children with a fourth on the way.
Sting and Trudie rely on Yoga to help maintain their well-being and the high energy pace of their lives. I have had the opportunity to practice with them in England, California and New York and I sincerely appreciate Sting’s willingness to share himself in this interview. Although Sting feels that he is a novice in Yoga, I see him as an adept because he not only performs the asanas with sincerity, grace and elegance, but more so because in the deeper asana of life he manifests integrity, insight and compassion. His life is a shining example of the art of living and loving. And, certainly, his music chakra is open!
Recently, Sting and I spent time in the sacred lands of Taos, New Mexico and at his home in Malibu, where our conversation took place under blue skies with the surf at our side.
Ganga: Many people have been inspired by and interested in your practice of Yoga. Can you tell us what brought you to Yoga?
Sting: I came to Yoga late in my life. I’m probably in my fourth year now which would mean that I started when I was 38 or 39. It‘s actually my regret that I didn’t begin earlier. I think I would have been further along the path than I am now had I started earlier. But then again, perhaps I wasn’t ready. I have been through various fitness regimes before, you know. I used to run about five miles a day and I did aerobics for awhile. I always stayed fit because I’m a performer and all of those things help me to perform. But it wasn’t until I met Danny Paradise, who became my mentor in Yoga, that I started the practice which I feel I will stay with for the rest of my life. I would like to. I feel it is a path that is involved enough to keep developing. It’s almost like music in a way; there’s no end to it. I think once you’ve run five miles in a reasonable time, as you get older, you can either sustain that time or it gets worse. That’s pretty frustrating. I think, if anything, one of the most exciting things about Yoga is that as I get older I seem to get better at certain parts of the practice, which is very inspiring. It makes you want to keep going. If anything, it’s reversing the aging process. I can do things with my body now that I wouldn’t even have thought of doing when I was an athlete, a teenager. So that keeps me going. This is something I want to keep doing.
Ganga: How did you meet Danny?
Sting: Actually, through my guitarist, Dominic Miller. Danny is a musician and he met Dominic playing in a restaurant one day and they ended up playing together--in Egypt of all places. I was just finishing the post production on my album, The Soul Cages, when Dom came in and asked if I would like to learn Yoga from a friend of his. I really knew nothing about Yoga. I thought you’d just sit on the floor cross legged and contemplate your navel. It never really struck me as something I would be particularly interested in. I was interested in more aggressive workouts. But Dominic said, "No, you would be surprised, actually. I’ve done a little bit and it’s very, very difficult and physically demanding." I agreed and Danny came along to the mixing studio at the end of a session and said he would show me some Yoga. I thought, "I’m very fit; this will be easy." I have to say that within twenty minutes he kicked my ass. There was a big dent in my pride and self esteem that I couldn’t do the things he was doing. In fact, the more he demonstrated the more I realized he seemed to be from another planet in terms of his balance, his strength, his grace. So I said, "That’s for me. Come to my house tomorrow. I know someone else who would also be interested in this--my wife, Trudie." We were both looking for something else. He turned up the next morning and we ended up in the garden with the staff all looking out at the three of us doing these weird postures, but after that I was hooked. I’ve done it virtually every day since then. There have been occasional lapses, but it’s definitely part of my daily life now.
Ganga: Aside from all the health and fitness benefits, how has it affected your life in other ways?
Sting: One of the first questions I had about Yoga was that it seemed to take a long time to do the practice. It took an hour and forty or fifty minutes, sometimes two hours, to get through the whole thing. Danny said something to me which at the time I didn’t believe but which is actually being confirmed. He said, "If you do this practice you will have more energy to do your other tasks throughout the day." Time will expand to accommodate the practice, in other words. I have to say that that’s true. When I really do my Yoga in the morning, I have more energy in the day. I get more done. My mind is more composed. There are more benefits to it than I would have thought. They are not just physical, but mental and I am even coming to believe that they are spiritual. That’s a development in my thinking. The deeper you get into Yoga you realize, yes, it is a spiritual practice. But it’s a journey I’m making. I’m heading that way. It’s not the first reason I did it. But I suppose that as I get older and I get more contemplative the Yoga practice will take that on. Especially the breathing which is linked very closely to meditation.
Ganga: I know you to be a person who enquires deeply into yourself and into life. This is a Jnana Yoga meditation practice called Vichara, enquiry. Do you see it as such? Has Yoga helped you with this?
Sting: Certainly it introduced me to a style of meditation. The only meditation I would have done before would be in the writing of songs. In the composing of music you have to enter virtually a trance state to transmit songs. I don’t think you write songs. They come through you. It’s trusting that they exist out there and you have to be the transmitter. For that you need a certain amount of mental purity. Yoga is just a different route to that same process. You’re taking something from our higher selves and putting it to use in normal life, I think. Does that make sense?
Ganga: Yes. Some musicians I’ve met find that when they begin meditation, silent meditation, they actually hear music within. Do you hear inner music?
Sting: I hear music all the time. Sometimes it drives me totally crazy. [laughs] In absolute silence I hear music. I hear music, I hear rhythms, I hear bird song. I live in an aural world. It’s never totally empty. The Yoga can induce that state.
Ganga: Can you say something about some of the challenges you face at the moment in your Yoga practice?
Sting: One of the interesting things is that I am getting to know my body better than I ever had before and recognizing that certain blockages in my practice are a result of some kind of psychological problems. The history of my life is written in my body, in my muscles. I’m very stiff in my hips. This is something I never knew before. I thought I was pretty loose. Some of the postures are so extreme they bring you up to face what you’ve done to your body. All those years of running must have taken their toll. I’m told that stiffness in the gluteus is about stubbornness--bloody-mindedness. So I’m working on that! You know, the intention, the long term goal, is to become completely fluid, completely liquid and sinuous. As I get older I’d like to be that. I’d like to have explored the entire range of my body’s abilities. It’s not that I am afraid of getting old. I just want to get old in a certain way.
Sting: I want to get old gracefully. I want to have good posture, I want to be healthy and I want to be an example to my children. I’m working on it. I am certainly by no means pretending to be an adept or anything but a beginner. But really I feel I’m on a path.
Ganga: You are practicing the Ashtanga Vinyasa series?
Sting: I think it was useful for me to be introduced to this series at first because it’s so militant and it’s kind of macho. It appealed to my sense of challenge. I like the fact that it’s very difficult and that it’s tough. That’s not to say it’s the only practice I’ve been exposed to in the past four years. I’ve done others and I’ve learned a lot from them. If anything it’s a nice pleasant change and relief to do another series like your own Flow Series. I’ve found it very useful and beneficial. It explores muscles and postures I’ve never done before. Again, it’s limitless. There doesn’t seem to be an end to it which is exciting.
Ganga: It’s said that you’ve experienced some joy from some of the esoteric teachings of Tantric love and sex.
Sting: [laughter] When I learned to do nauli (churning the stomach muscles) and the bandhas [Yogic locks], an achievement I was quite proud of, I also read that it was very good to use these techniques in sex. They allowed you to control the whole operation better and make love for longer which I think has beneficial effects. There’s been a great deal of controversy caused by exactly how much longer you can go for, so I don’t want to get into that now! I’m in enough trouble! [laughter] But there’s definitely beneficial effects to one’s sexual life. Especially when you have a good relationship with a good partner. It has had beneficial effect.
Ganga: Meditation. I know you have journeyed inwardly. Can you speak about some of the things you’ve learned and touched--on the interior landscape?
Sting: I think in my life, to a large extent, I’ve only paid lip service to a spiritual life. I was brought up as a Catholic and went to church every week and took the sacraments. I was educated that way, but it never really touched the core of my being. As I get older I find that I am unwilling to accept an existential universe without a God. It doesn’t actually make logical sense anymore. To me I feel that there has to be a higher level of compassion, of understanding, than merely a human one. It’s embodied in all of us. I just think we have to decode it. The Godhead, or whatever you want to call it--it’s better not to give it a name, is encoded in our being. There are various methods of decoding it and I think that Yoga is perhaps one of them. Music is another, and meditation, prayer.
Ganga: I would have to say that knowing you, Sting, I can sense that you are deeply in touch with the Sacred and spirit, with manifesting love and compassion in your life.
Sting: Well, I’m trying to but it’s never enough really. What I’m facing at the moment in my spiritual life is the enormity of that possibility, which I find quite terrifying. I’m working with that enormity. It’s certainly not easy. It’s not an easy path. Like Yoga, the spiritual life is actually very difficult.
Ganga: You’ve connected with some the teachings of Krishnamurti and Jnana Yoga. You may not call it this, but you’ve been touched by meditation on the meaning of death as it informs life. What have you learned from meditation on death?
Sting: Up ‘till quite recently I’ve actually thought I was immortal. [laughs] As ridiculous as that sounds, most young people think they’re immortal. Particularly when things are going well, when you’re successful, when you’re happy and you have a lot of stuff going for you. How could you possibly die? The bad news is, of course you can. And the good news too, is that you die. I think we have to embrace the idea. We have to accept that it’s as natural as being born, as natural as breathing out, as breathing in. It’s part of life. Sometimes I fight against it, as we all do, but acceptance, I think, is the most positive thing we can do. That doesn’t mean being miserable or totally obsessed with the idea to one’s detriment. If anything, I think, the acceptance of death gives you more of a stake in life, in living life happily, as it should be lived. Living for the moment. I’m learning this. Again, I’m not speaking as someone who has reached satori or anything else. I’m a student.
Ganga: Before we end do you have anything final to say to the Yogis of the world?
Sting: It’s interesting to me how Yoga is becoming incredibly popular. More and more people seem to be taking it up. I think the time is right for Yoga. We really are living is a very complex time--a time of great turmoil and change. The more irrational of us are worried about the millennium ending--as if a date would really matter. But it seems to be having an effect on people’s psyche with all this sort of madness that is going on. Yoga is a good antidote to all of that. Yoga will take us out of all this historical paranoia. It’s a long haul we’re in. It’s not going to end in 1999.
Ganga: I would say that this is so if we approach Yoga in a way that frees us from dogma and authoritarianism, instead of perpetuating it. Yoga doesn’t do that automatically.
Sting: I think you end up as your own teacher in Yoga. I think you have to begin with a teacher, begin with a role model to guide you, but after a certain point you really are your own teacher, your own guru. It seems to be self-correcting in many respects. You need help now and then. But you can do it on your own. There are also good aspects of doing Yoga with groups of people. I’ve done a lot of classes in New York with a large group of people and the group energy has been very useful. I think there’s room for both--private exploration and group work, and work with teachers now and then. I should also point out that the members of my band do Yoga now. We do at least an hour and a half of Yoga before every concert which I think probably increases our cohesion as a group or as individuals. It certainly keeps us all fit. It’s not easy being on the road. You have strange hours and are offered strange food. It’s not the healthiest occupation. You spend every night up late and you drink alcohol or whatever. Yoga is a good balancing trick for all of us.
Ganga: In our meditation gathering last night, you expressed a realization about love and about applying it. Is there a chance of capturing a piece of it?
Sting: I think that in deep meditation, when you really face this enormity of eternity, you have to trust in something that will sustain you through that terror, through that fear. I’ve learned to trust in the power of love. Love for oneself, love for the people you’re with, your family, your friends. Love for simplicity, love for the truth. I think that without love, none of it makes any sense. It all sounds like a truism, you know. But it is true. Love conquers all. Amor vinciet onnia.
Ganga: Namaste and thank you Sting.