Photo Credit: Chris McDonough
Murti Hower has an expansive yoga practice, one that embraces both Iyengar’s focus on precise alignment and the dance-like flow of vinyasa. He calls his style Maha Fusion, and it is informed by experience as eclectic and deep as his vision of yoga. Hower has been teaching for more than 30 years, full time since 1997.
From 1998 to 2005, he ran the Healing in Yoga studio in Austin, Texas. In Hawaii, Hower spear-headed Oahu’s first teacher training programs at Open Space Yoga. He has studied personally with B.K.S. Iyengar, founder of Iyengar Yoga, and has been a protégé of celebrity yogi Rodney Yee. Hower’s status as a Yoga Alliance E-RYT 500 level instructor—one of only 19 on Oahu according to Yoga Alliance—places Hower in an elite tier of teachers on this yoga island paradise that boasts more than 200 registered instructors.
Hower now offers private lessons and classes at the Windward Family Wellness Center, Kapiolani Park, and the Honolulu Club. He is also the director of the Maha Yoga Institute, which provides teacher training. In addition, Hower and his wife, Larina Hawkins-Hower, teach their trademarked Tantra Partner Yoga for Couples. In a review of Hower’s instructional video The Joy of Yoga with Murti, Yoga Journal magazine wrote that Hower “conveys his instruction with an endearingly innocent enthusiasm.…He’s an inspiring ‘regular guy’ who’s worked hard to perfect his practice.” Yoga Hawaii Magazine sat down with Hower to talk about what goes into this practice.
How did you get the name Murti? What does it mean?
I got the name from a spiritual teacher. Murtis are little statues of divinities; they’re small statues of Krishna, Radha—all the different deities that are worshipped in Hinduism. But Murti’s a common name in India, just like Dave or Frank, I found out. My real name is Blaine Hower.
You’ve had many Iyengar teachers. You’ve studied directly with B.K.S. Iyengar. Why don’t you teach Iyengar yoga?
I chose an eclectic approach only because I feel all styles of yoga have something to give you. What I have learned from the Iyengar teachers that I’ve been blessed to be with is the grounding principles, alignment principles, that I find bring people into a place of peace and healing. [But] when I took a two-year [Iyengar] teacher training, they told me I would have to swear allegiance to just teaching that style if I got certified, and I knew I would not be able to make that allegiance.
You mentioned the eclectic nature of yoga and how you wanted to teach something eclectic. What similarities do you see among the various styles of yoga?
The asanas [or yoga postures] themselves have all originated out of the work of [Tirumalai] Krishnamacharya, the teacher who brought all the standing poses, all the sequences of the vinyasa flow. And every style seems to use those asanas and often follow the same sequences, in a sense. They may alter the sequences, but at the same time it always comes down to the same asana process.
You use the name Maha Fusion for your style. Can you describe that in an elevator pitch?
The word maha means “highest potential.” And through yoga you can realize your highest potential. And the modality that we use in Maha Fusion, we use the component of the asanas to bring people into a grounding where the breath, body, and mind come together, and you can find that blissful state. And in that blissful state we can feel the beauty that we are and have the potential to manifest that beauty in our lives for ourselves and others. We use the modality of free-form dance. And another thing my wife does is called ecstatic dance, and we also do tantra partner yoga for couples, helping couples create a connection with each other through yoga postures to create harmony in the relationship. So Maha is “Yoga, dance, love.”
You’ve had some famous mentors like Rodney Yee and B.K.S. Iyengar himself. What advice would you give a student in choosing a mentor for yoga practice?
The mentor you want to gravitate toward is one who empowers you into a sense of your worth and healing and strength. Basically, you want a teacher who, when you finish a class, you feel a sense of balance and a sense of empowerment. You’re given an ability to explore on your own. If you get with a teacher who tells you how you should explore and what you should or should not do, I would be cautious there. As a teacher, I don’t feel I am so much a teacher. I’m just sharing something that I love.
What about your yoga philosophy? How would you describe that in a bumper sticker slogan?
O.K., it’s, “Bringing people back to their blissful center.” Or “Energy lines in you open you to be stress-free.” Another one would be “Maha Fusion brings you back into balance, back to your blissful state.”
Beyond asana practice, what is most important to you about yoga?
To me, it’s all incorporated. The asana practice opens you up to feel how you’re connected to everything. What really helped me was to realize I can’t make my yoga about a kick-ass workout. Not that I don’t get a work out. It’s more about whether I feel a sense of release, a sense of balance when I’m done with my practice—that I can take off my mat and into the world—because in that practice, I feel a sense of gratitude and compassion for all.
Do you have a favorite posture?
My favorite posture, believe it or not, is the simplest one: tadasana (mountain pose). To me tadasana is the Google of all poses. Somebody stood really present in their body, and in that presence, the standing poses all came out of that. There are these beautiful energy lines that the yogis were aware of, the sushumna channel, the center line of energy that, when it’s open, you realize you are in a finite body, but you experience infinite energy through a finite body. This [understanding] I have to attribute to the Iyengar Association; B.K.S. Iyengar in Estes Park, Colo., brought me to that awareness when I got to train with him personally.
You said you’re into the eclecticism of yoga. Do you think yoga schools can be dogmatic?
They can be. It is a dogmatic statement when you say to people you can only practice it this way. I think we’re getting more and more away from that. People go to an Iyengar class for alignment. People go to an Ashtanga class because they want to get a good workout. People go to CorePower for other reasons. I think our intelligence has evolved and we understand, but there is a component of that [dogma]. For instance, why I didn’t go for my Iyengar certification, going back to that: I like vinyasa, and I saw that you can blend Iyengar with vinyasa. Iyengar people would argue with that.
What would be your advice for someone who’s been doing yoga for one to two years. What would you tell them?
It depends a lot on the age group. The one thing I would tell them is, “Remember, you don’t have to be flexible.” It’s not about your flexibility. That’s a component. If you’re not flexible, it will allow you to become flexible. But it’s more about becoming balanced. Sometimes we think range of motion is more important than the observation and breath. People who are limber will injure themselves a lot more than people who are tight when they’re new because they’ll overextend. And when you injure a ligament, a ligament is harder to heal than straining a muscle. Practice should not be 100 percent [focused on simply doing the asana]. Practice should be 70 percent doing [the asana] and 30 percent observation and breath. If you’re trying to do the posture at 100 percent [of your capacity], you might not be pulling back where you need to, you may be overextending, or you’re giving up if you’re tight.
My purpose as a yoga teacher is to bring people to awareness of how yoga can be in their life until the end, make it safe, grounded for any style. I’m not against any style, but I do believe that I can give techniques that can make the style that you like safer.
Stewart wrote the novel Crawfish Bingo and his work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Travel + Leisure, and Coastal Living. Although Stewart took his first yoga class almost 20 years ago, it wasn’t until he discovered power yoga in 2013 that he began to practice regularly.