Michael Harris – Falling Down Getting UP – Overcoming Your Obstacles

Join in listening to this wonderful conversation I had with Michael Harris.

Michael has been telling “sit on the edge of your seat stories” ever since his first show and tell in grade school – some stories will make you laugh – others are quite tragic that could bring any listener to tears. He shares in his #1 book, Falling Down Getting UP,  how starting in 1987, yoga helped heal him from several near fatal predicaments. 

Today, Michael is a popular yoga teacher with three certifications from Erich Schiffman, Integral Yoga and Bikram Yoga. In addition, he is an author, lifelong entrepreneur and co-founder of Endless Stages – a company dedicated to help motivated yogis, healers and entrepreneurs get their personal voice, message and story out to the world.

You can download a free copy of his powerful book at www.michaelbharris.com/book or purchase at https://bookshop.org/shop/michaelharris.com

You can listen to the full episode for free here.

Todd McLaughlin

We’ll just so the listeners are aware you you gave me the best surprise ever because we had scheduled to do this podcast quite a while ago. I know we worked really hard at finding a date that we could both organize to make this work. Just prior to me hitting the record button, Michael, you reminded me that you and I had met in California, at Bikram Yoga Teacher Training. You were one of the teachers that were helping teach some of the classes at the training. I didn’t even know that was you when we were scheduling this appointment. So now the fact that I’m getting a chance to speak with you I am so exited. I remember you very clearly. I loved your classes! I felt like you were a grounding force in a really wild world. You know? I’m just now getting a chance to pick your brain and find out where you are at with Bikram yoga, and what you’re doing now. So on that note, can you just start telling me and filling me in on your journey? And I guess I’ll be a little more specific. Let’s go way, way back. Can you tell me the first time you start practicing yoga? What was the first yoga class you ever got a chance to take?

Michael Harris

Absolutely. You know, the first time that I took a yoga class was 1988. Yes. Or excuse me,1987. I had vascular surgery in November of 1986. I had blocked arteries. The doctors at the time suggested that they may need to amputate my leg. I was pretty blunt to them and saying that that wasn’t gonna happen. I ended up at a place called Pritikin Longevity Center, which is in Santa Monica, but no longer there. By the ocean right down on the boardwalk pretty close to the Santa Monica Pier. When I first got there, I was walking on a cane I could walk literally about 10 feet. Cane in one hand, my other hand on the wall. Well, I could barely walk. To make a long story much shorter. The doctors that I was seeing in Portland for my vascular disease suggested that when it hurt that I should not move my body. And not to walk. The doctor at the Pritikin Center said when it hurts, keep walking. In hindsight, it was a huge spiritual wake up call to me. It was one of a number of times that I can identify over the years. But that particular one, he says get up and walk and walk through the pain. He says I just want you to go out there on the boardwalk and start walking. Initially, I was pretty scared to. I was in serious pain and was nervous because the movement seem to make me feel more pain. Yet he said, “Yes, it’s gonna hurt.” And he says, “Just keep doing what you can do.” Well, here I am. You know, 1987 that was actually March of 1987. There was a lot of women on rollerblades. And here I am. I’m a sick man. And I don’t want to be a sick man. I want to feel strong and healthy. And I had already had a lot of self esteem issues and everything else that I’ve struggled with. And so I wanted to walk tall. So within two weeks, I went from walking 10 feet to two miles, unassisted without my cane without a wall. 




And the sheer process of moving my body. Of walking, going one foot in front of the next, helped to build new blood vessels in my leg and collateral blood vessels. 




So as those new vessels were being built, in addition to that, the popliteal arteries where the primary blockages were began to heal as well. So not only was I getting the collaterals, I was also getting the popliteal artery to begin to heal. So answering your question about the first yoga class, the first yoga class was at the Pritikin Longevity Center. Now, granted, it wasn’t a very vigorous class. It was mostly for people in rehabilitation of some sort. It was really known more for weight loss. Although I wasn’t heavy, I’ve never really been heavy in my life. So losing weight wasn’t my challenge, they actually wanted me to gain weight. But there’s also a plant based facility at Pritikin Longevity Center. So they said I can eat as much food as I want. So I was walking, I started doing some yoga classes in the basement, and I was eating all the plant based food I could possibly eat.




Yeah, it was good. 


Well, that’s incredible! That’s a really great story in terms of endurance and overcoming, like you said, that fear of working into the pain. Having that question like, “what do you mean…..walk more?” That whole transformation process of pushing through that. I’m curious, from taking yoga in the Pritikin environment there. What was your next step in relation to seeking other types of yoga? What was the evolution? How did it evolve from here?


Yep. Well, I was living in Portland at the time, so I was just down there for the Pritikin Center. And when I went back to Portland, I started going to a yoga class at the gym. Because I was doing the gym, I was doing the treadmill. When I first started doing the treadmill, actually, was at Pritikin Center. I was going point three miles an hour.  As slow as the treadmill would move. That’s how slow I was going. And I was struggling. But I did more at the gym. And I was also walking in a park near my house as much as I could, but they had a yoga class there. And I would not call it a gym yoga, you know, however you want to perceive that to be, but it was a wonderful class. And at the end, they did candle gazing and I really liked it. When they would have me do downward dog. I would fall out of it. I couldn’t do much. But it led me to another general hatha yoga class. Diane Wilson was quite important for years. And I started taking her class. And I’m kind of jumping here ahead a little bit. I started doing Ashtanga Yoga. I saw a flyer for Yoga for Skiers. And I hadn’t skied for years because my condition and I want to get back to skiing. Somebody named Beryl Bender Birch was in Portland teaching and I thought, well, I’m gonna go to this thing and see if I can start skiing again. Well, I had what some people would call perhaps a kundalini experience and feeling the sensations in my body. Like tears flowing and just like opening up. Through this process and diving into Ashtanga I did a lot of stuff with David Swenson and a guy named Clifford. A lot of people don’t know who he was. He was one of the really early people. Nancy Gilgoff. I got a lot of time with her over in Maui. 


Isn’t her place amazing? When you gotta look for the tomato sign when you’re driving up country on Maui? Everyone tells you like look for the tomato farm sign and then pull it you’ll find the house of Zen right? Is it called House of yoga and Zen or house of Zen? What a great little setup. That little wooden barn kind of yoga studio structure on that farm. Wow, studying with Nancy is like a real treat. That’s amazing. That’s cool, Michael.  I love David Swenson. I’ve never had a chance to practice with Beryl Bender Birch, but she’s a bit of a legend in the Ashtanga vinyasa world as well.


Yeah. And a little bit more in synchronicity with Nancy. I don’t like staying in motels or hotels. So I was looking for a place to stay in apartment, a house something to rent. I rented this place. And you know, this guy named Gary and I called him and I said, Oh, do you know that Nancy? He says, oh, yeah, and that was about it. Didn’t say much. Well, when I got there, and it was rented apartment in his basement, do you know who Gary Kraftsow is?


Oh yeah, he’s one of the famous teachers of Viniyoga. 


One of his primary teachers was really close to Desikachar. I had no idea when I rented this place who it was. So here I am staying at Gary Kraftsow’s house. Also studying with Nancy. Wow. It was just like, you know, I mean, totally immersed.


That’s right. When I lived on Maui for a year, and I remember seeing that he had a center in the upcountry area when I started looking into yoga. I never went but I remember his place was associated with a bodywork studio that always looked so interesting to me. That’s really cool. I can imagine that. Yeah, you’re staying with Gary, you’re getting your butt kicked with Nancy and in a good way. So at this point, I’m thinking you’ve made a pretty radical transformation from holding on to the wall walking 10 steps, if you’re hanging out with these yoga legends? Were you “back to normal” at this point? Where are you at at this phase?

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Day 17 – No Shave Yoga Event – Bhakti 

A little Bhakti a day can keep the doctor away!

Follow these amazing Yogis this November for the No Shave Yoga Event @adampolhemusyoga @brianmilleryoga @davidmiliotis @gregnardi @juankgalan @nativeyoga @willduprey #yogabeardsunite 

Help us raise awareness about men’s health and donate to https://www.no-shave.org/ or join our Fund Raising Team called Yoga Beards Unite at https://www.no-shave.org/team/yogabeardsunite

Mysore, Kirtan and Friends

Today is one of those days that I can’t help but share my excitement about. I set the alarm for 4am and made my way from home to the shala for an early morning practice. Upon returning to Florida several weeks ago from the 3rd series training with Tim out in Encinitas I have been feeling so inspired. Tim and the attendant trainees infused me with a sense of total of verve that that has motivated me to experiment with parts of 3rd I had not yet before. There is something about the series that is so completely physically challenging and yet altogether invigorating. Also, It is really fun to experiment when I am on my own or just a few friends practicing nearby knowing that there is no judgement based on performance capabilities.   
I was winding things down with the shoulder stand sequence and while balled up in Pindasana (a shoulder stand with the legs in lotus folded down against the chest and the arms wrapped around so that we mimic the fetus in the head down position) our good friend and student Carole came in for a surprise visit. She hit a couple of the wrong switches and the whole room lit up with fluorescent lighting and we had a good laugh at the grand entry. Carole started practicing with us 9 years ago here and we would both get to the shala very early in the morning and practice together regularly since then. She has moved up the D.C. area and I have missed her energy so much. It is really great to develop a friendship through repeated years of practicing silently next to someone. You really get to know the person and you develop a bond that goes beyond words. It felt like my morning started off with the right combination of positive vibes to help me find that zest that comes with stoked practice.

I suppose some momentum was created and to top it off Greg Nardi came to practice Mysore this morning with us which was just such a nice treat. Greg is getting ready to offer some workshops this Friday and Saturday here at Native Yoga Center. When we scheduled this event Greg had the idea of combining forces and offering a Kirtan. We both agreed and then realized that some practice would be a good idea before hand. 🙂 One thing that really inspires the Mysore room is the combined enthusiasm of the practitioners that show up. The teacher just gives a little assistance but really the practice and the sweat that comes from the practice is the real “bread and butter” so to speak. I thoroughly love the Ashtanga routines and all the elements of the “limbs” that make it up.
Greg and I had a chance to iron out which songs to sing and and get some practice in before this weekend. Enclosed is a short video from our practice session today. If you are in the South Florida area we hope you can make it. Greg enjoys teaching a well rounded approach to Ashtanga Yoga and his insights will encourage you.

Friday, September 25th he is offering a workshops titled:
Forward bends, Hips, and Knees 5:30pm – 7:30pm Paschimattanasana, or west stretching pose, describes forward bending as a means of opening the subtle channels on the posterior surface of the body.  In this workshop, we will look at the three symmetrical forward bends, or paschimattanasana poses in the beginning of primary series to help us understand the fundamentals of hip and spinal flexion.  We will then build on this foundation to look at asymmetrical forward bends and what they teach us about proper use of the hips and knees so that we can safely move towards advanced forward bending asanas.

Kirtan and Mantra with Greg Nardi and Todd McLaughlin 7:30pm – 8:30pm

On Saturday, September 26th he will offer two workshops:

Backbends 12:00pm – 2:30pm Explore the fine art of backbending.  We will work through a progressively challenging series of backbends that will educate you about the finer points of spinal extension.  Learn how to distribute energy through the entire body during your backbends to avoid overloading the lower back. If you are challenged by the process of deepening your backbends, or are just beginning to explore advanced backbending, this workshop is not to be missed.

Yoga Beyond Asana 4:00pm – 6:30pm This workshop will explore concepts from the Upanishads that shape the eastern worldview.  This paradigm is the contextual framework out of which yoga is born.  As a modern yoga practitioner, you will be able to fit contemporary yoga practice into an ancient wisdom tradition.  We will explore yogic theories and concepts such as conditioned living, the causes of suffering, the means of liberation, and the purpose of life.  Come with an open mind, and you will leave inspired.

All details and registration are available at www.nativeyogacenter.com

Full Moon on the Rise

Full Moon on the Rise  
Today is Friday and our second to last day here at the Third Series Teacher Training with Tim Miller. I arrived at the studio for the 6:00am Pranayama routine. I didn’t miss a session in the entire two weeks. This has been one of my favorite parts of this two week immersion with Timji. Yesterday Tim asked if it was getting any easier for us? I did feel a slight bit of lightness in today’s practice. Like anything, you just have to do this everyday to feel comfortable with it. I am really looking forward to practicing more at my own pace to be able to develop my relationship with it. The pranayama is truly an incredible form of concentration and meditation. The intricacy of the coordination required combined with the delicacy of relaxing the mental and physical agitation that arises is priceless. What a gem of an experience.

I stored up my Primary series practice for today and I am so glad that I did. I remember a good friend of mine, Tim Feldmann (“Little Tim”), telling me how challenging working all the way through Intermediate and adding a portion of Advanced into the morning routine can be to maintain on a daily basis. You know how someone can give you clue that you know one day you will probably know what they mean but you can’t quite fathom yet? I think I now understand what he was saying. This is some intense work. You wake up feeling every single fiber of your being and then have to find the courage to repeat it all over again. Yet what an inspirational process. So when Friday came around today, and it was time to do Primary, I felt like I had been the greatest gift. When you feel all “beat up” the Primary series is like a soothing bath or a nice gentle walk through the park. Well, I still sweat like there was no tomorrow and speaking of which tomorrow is a full moon. I think Tim might have planned this perfectly to coordinate with the full moon rising just as we are closing this session. It couldn’t be a better conjunction of planets and stars and…some rest.

After class I snuck down to the beach for a surf. The water was so glassy and there were about a million people in the water. The sets were coming through about once every 20 minutes with about 2 waves per set. So if you do the math that gives you about a one and one thousandth chance of catching a wave. Non the less the weather was so beautiful and the water felt like a recharging salt bath set to the best temperature. I also had the chance to have breakfast at Swami’s cafe right across from Swami’s beach and Paramahansa Yogananda’s Hermitage. I LOVE Encinitas! Outside of Juno there is no other place I would like to live. Clearly everyone else feels the same way which makes for some crowded conditions.

This afternoon’s Teacher Training session was so great. We finished our investigation of the poses of the finishing series and concluded with Uthplitihi right at exactly 5pm. Tim orchestrated this masterfully. It was timed so perfectly. He also read from the Srimad Bhagavatam which is a hefty text from the genre of Indian literature called the Puranas. It is an ancient scripture that espouses the path of Bhakti Yoga which is the path of devotion. I took notes while he spoke to keep myself alert and I enjoyed the stories that he shared from it. We sang a Hanuman Chalisa to put the the theory to practice and Tim made joke that we were going to have to sing a Chalisa tomorrow without looking at the words as a test. I have a feeling we are going to pass with flying colors.

Yoga from the Heart

Today there was a grand sense of accomplishment in the shala amongst the participants. We completed our investigation of the Third Series poses.
Today we examined:
Dikasana A&B (some books call it Dighasana but Tim mentioned Guruji always said Dikasanana. Plus a dika is a bird which seems befitting of this pose.)

Trivikramasana (3 Steps Pose which is a reference to the god Trivikrama which is an incarnation of Vishnu)

In 1982 Tim did his first yoga demonstration in India in front of 300 Indians. There were several demonstrations from the men, and then the women. A husband and wife couple practiced the whole Second Series in front of them. Tim was chosen to demonstrate the entire Third Series alone with Guruji counting it in Sanskrit at breakneck speed. Tim said he was in his prime at this time. Guruji claimed that when Tim demonstrated Trivikramasana that the crowd gasped. Guruji said that he had done it so well that the crowd thought the god Trivikrama had embodied him in that moment to enable him to perform it so flawlessly. Tim said that was a long time ago so he hopes that now Trivikrama will come through for us when we practice it. I thought that was really cool.
Natarajasana (King of the Dance Pose)

The picture of this Nataraja(Dancing Shiva) is of a murti, or representation of the divine, that Tim got on a trip to Mysore.

He told us this story about how when in Mysore you practice and the remaining time you have free to yourself. Tim enjoyed shopping and would look for interesting murtis to buy. He had established relationships with some of the local art dealers so that when he would return to India they would come to his door to show him their wares. They would always say, “This one is very special price, very good price for you.” This particular one he found at Lalita Hall which was the old Maharaja’s summer palace. There was a store called Saraswati’s Handicrafts and he went in to visit and see what Saraswati had available. When he saw this Nataraj he said he was interested in buying it. Saraswati replied, “That piece is very rare, not for sale. Not for sale.” Tim continued to persist. Again she said, “This piece is to rare, I am sorry not for sale” in her sweet Indian accent. She then called the boss man and it turns out, “It is for sale, but this one very expensive.” So after bargaining with her he was able to acquire it and he took it to Guruji to see what he thought. He showed Guruji and he asked, “how much you pay?” He told him and Guruji just shook his head as if to say, “you sucker.” Big laughs around the room after this story. A student then chimed in that the last time he was in Mysore some of the vendors will say to the yoga students, “Tim Miller buys his murti’s here.” I thought this was so classic.
Raja Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose)


Eka Pad Raja Kapotasana (One Legged King Pigeon Pose)

Tim writes a blog called Tuesday’s with Timji. You can check it out and follow him by clicking the link: http://timmiller.typepad.com

This Tuesday he wrote,

“The full moon on Saturday August 29th at 11:35am PDT will be at 12 degrees Aquarius in the nakshatra known as Shatabhisha—“the Hundred Physicians”.  On the same day, the first ever Third Series Training will come to a conclusion at the Ashtanga Yoga Center.  Since August 17th I’ve had the pleasure of hosting 40 advanced students of Ashtanga Yoga from all over the world.  It’s quite a dedicated group of practitioners—highly motivated and very hard working—an ashtanga teacher’s dream, really.  The Mysore classes have been huge and very sweaty.  With so many people practicing third and fourth series, the studio almost has a circus like atmosphere—sometimes I catch the local students gawking at some visiting phenom displaying a combination of strength, flexibility, and agility.  It’s certainly the most advanced group of students I’ve ever had gathered together at one time.  Best of all, these people all seem to have some real depth and appreciation of what yoga is really all about.  It seems fitting that the course will end on the full moon in Shatabhisha, a sign associated with healing and expansion of consciousness.  I was born with my Sun in Shatabhisha so I have some familiarity with these themes and have been exploring them through yoga for nearly 40 years.  My sincere hope is that something of real value is being transmitted during this course.  The enthusiasm of the students is contagious—it almost makes me feel like starting to practice the third series again.”
I include this to help explain the general vibe in the space. It is so incredible in there. As we approach our last 3 days here with Tim I think we are all wishing that it wouldn’t come to an end.
Here are some pics from the end of the day surf session. The water was so warm and inviting which is very rare in my opinion in Southern California. There were some fun small waves and I was able to grab a few pics to help convey the stoke.


Wynne Paris, Lakshmi Devi, Felicia Rose and Lumina at Native Yoga Center


Wynne Paris, Lakshmi Devi, Felicia Rose and Lumina at Native Yoga Center

Wynne Paris, Lakshmi Devi, Felicia Rose and Lumina at Native Yoga Center performed live at Native Yoga on Sunday, April 28th, 2013. It was an amazing performance considering this was the first time that they have all played together since 2005!!! They jammed out some blissful bhakti tunes! There was a moment during the performance that the vibe was so sweet it was hard to imagine if it could get any better. A special thanks to Wynne for organizing this event. Jai Ma!!