John McAfee: Anti-virus king turned relational yoga inventor talks latest endeavor (or prank?)
John McAfee became famous -- and wealthy -- after inventing his namesake anti-virus software, but his greatest invention might be his own story. After making his fortune, he bought an expansive estate in Woodland Park, where he held intensive retreats in relational yoga, his own creation. That's where, in 2000, he met Greg Gumucio, who had been promoting Bikram -- but now decided to teach multiple forms of yoga.
"He taught me many things," Gumucio says of McAfee. "Really, he is a genius and brilliant."
Today, Gumucio is embroiled in a legal battle with Bikram Choudhury, his onetime mentor. As for McAfee? He no longer lives in the country, but still makes the news with his brilliant mind and daredevil spirit. Last week we caught up with him in San Pedro, 25 miles off the mainland of Belize, where he now lives. He spoke about his relationship with the law, with yoga, and his latest endeavor (or is it a prank?): observational yoga.
Westword: How did you get involved with yoga?
John McAfee: On my first trip to India in my early twenties, I traveled to Delhi and other places on the Ganges. I was one of the first people to learn transcendental meditation with Maharichi, the founder of the transcendental meditation movement. The first course was in Calcutta, and then he moved to the States and I sort followed him around for a while -- to Rochester, New York, then St. Louis and Los Angeles. At that time yoga was a large part of the movement, and so I have just been involved forever.
WW: What was it like to follow Maharichi?
JM: They were very hectic [days]. The man was a bundle of energy, getting up at 5 a.m. and doing yoga, breath-work, meditation. It was non-stop work, seven days a week.
WW: Is it still part of your life?
JM: Well, I am still sort of doing it, but Maharichi died, I think three years ago.
WW: You have taught, and written several books about, a self-coined form of yoga called "relational yoga." How did you devise relational yoga?
JM: I think all of life is a relationship. It's how we relate to life, to people, and to ideas and to who we are. No human exists in isolation. So when yoga is viewed in relationship to the entire world, it makes perfect sense.
Anything that you do consistently is integrated into anything else that you do. If you are a long-distance runner, you probably don't have a desk job because it doesn't fit your body style. [In the same way], everything that I do is integrated into everything that I've learned.
WW: When did you begin writing?
JM: As a teenager, I guess, with diaries. I sort of have written non-stop [since then]. Every day I write something, so I guess forty years ago.
WW: What makes relational yoga different from other forms of yoga?
JM: I think what's important is not the type of yoga; it's leaving the home and going out and doing something.
That's how I came up with observational yoga. It sounds like a ridiculous concept, but it gets you out of the house; it is simply doing something with your life rather than sitting around watching television.
WW: What is observational yoga?
JM: You can pay $200 a month to sit in an easy chair and watch people do yoga up on a stage. There is a scientific basis for this, that through osmosis, as you watch others be active, the observation of something impacts yourself. If you watch someone move in a certain way, you start to mimic that later in the day. A good example is if you watch a scary movie, you become scared. You are not being attacked, but somehow you feel the fear. It's very popular [in Belize].
It would be very difficult to sell this concept in America. I would be shut down on all the claims that it improved health by the government. But here I can make any kind of outrageous claim that I choose and the government can see fit to say that it is okay.
In all sincerity, would you rather go out and see the work or do the work? Watching work is a very popular concept. Have you ever been in a city and there is construction going on? They used to put round holes in the walls that divide the construction from the street, because people used to like to walk by and watch people working. It was a popular pastime.
WW: Is this your primary occupation right now?
JM: In Belize this is a minor hobby more than anything else, but it is quite popular. I am planning to franchise it.
WW: What do the actual yoga practitioners do?
JM: It's mostly hatha yoga in static poses -- like Iyengar yoga. People find it more interesting to watch. We are trying to do the same thing with weight training, where you sit in an easy chair, they serve coffee or juice, and you watch people lift weights. There is a scientific basis that it will affect your actions throughout the day -- that you may lift a chair later rather than just scooting it across the floor -- and there will be an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat.
We have discovered that activities with large-scale movements (involving the whole body, for example) lend themselves more readily to observational techniques. Small-scale movements, such as typing, provide limited results. This is why we had no success in teaching people to play the piano by having them watch concert pianists at work.
WW: Who do you picture as your target audience?
JM: Anyone who would like to watch yoga to improve flexibility, increase muscle mass and decrease fat. Actually, it's the younger people who take it; the older people tend to think it's hogwash. About 80 percent of our clients are between 18 and 25.
WW: How many clients do you have?
JM: Eight hundred as of last week. We are opening studios across the mainland as we speak.
WW: What does an observational yoga studio look like?
JM: The largest is a converted warehouse where we have an elevated stage, soft lighting and easy chairs so you can lay back and put your feet up, and we have four servers who serve juice, water and coffee. No food -- although we are thinking of adding food.
WW: How long do people come for?
JM: An hour and a half.
WW: What is the most popular time of day?
JM: At the end of the day, undoubtedly. We stopped doing classes in the mid-morning because no one came. Our earliest starts at 5:30 in the morning and our last class is at 8 at night.
WW: What other ventures are you involved in?
JM: I am an old man, and I am happy just to dabble in little things here and there. I have a water taxi service that carries people up and down the coast. It runs 24 times each day. I also have a sports pilot business, and a few coffee shops -- odds and ends.
WW: Do you think you will spend the rest of your life in Belize?
JM: I believe I will. I think most of my energy is going into the observational yoga and the observational weight training.
WW: Tell me about your days in Belize.
JM: I don't have an average day; every day varies. I live in different places around the country. If I am in Orange Walk, it is an overgrown rainforest and a totally different environment from San Pedro, which is on the ocean. I try not to become a habit unto myself, so I vary my location, I vary my activity.
WW: What do you think about the idea of yoga and intellectual property?
JM: I don't believe in intellectual property. Number one, when I started my anti-virus software, I put on the package: "Please steal this software." What is intellectual property? It came from combining all the ideas that are in your head; it came from other people. I don't think we own any ideas.
But I don't insist on my opinion. Here in Belize, for example, there is no intellectual-property law because the government doesn't believe in it. If, in fact, Belize changes that, that's fine with me. I can live under any system.
WW: You knew Greg Gumucio when you were living in Colorado. What was your relationship like?
JM: Greg was one of my students when I began the relational yoga studio yoga in Woodland Park, and I believe he was also a student of Bikram at that time. He was a good student, I remember. I wouldn't say it was a particularly close relationship. He came up to the lodge quite often; he came to the breath-work classes and the hatha yoga, but I had a lot of students at the time and I wasn't close with any of them.
WW: What do you think about the controversy between Bikram and Greg Gumucio?
JM: I think the problem with modern society is that we are glued to the television set. We are glued to the easy chair at home, and we are stuck in the habitual lifestyle -- commuting to and from work each day and then watching TV when we get home, and then we have two days off on the weekend and don't know what to do, so we watch TV again. Anything that gets people out of the house, in which the idea of something new is available, is a good thing.
I think Bikram is a good thing because it expands the yoga base rather than taking away from other forms of yoga. If it gets people out of the house, it's a good thing.
[But] Bikram has no chance of prevailing [in the lawsuit]. Every one of his yoga poses were taken directly from Iyengar's hatha yoga books -- written well over fifty years ago.
WW: What about your own pending lawsuit in the U.S.?
JM: I have had over 200 lawsuits since I started McAfee antivirus. Anyone who has money gets sued. Currently I have seven; I have never had less than five. It's a type of madness that is unique to America. For example, I have a $10 million lawsuit from a person who tripped over a log on my property in New Mexico. It just settled for $1,000, but it was ongoing for several years and cost me a lot of money. If you tried to do that in Belize, you would probably be beaten by your neighbors, it's just so ridiculous. In America, everything goes as far as the legal system, but I'm not complaining. I've learned to live with it.
WW: What happened with your project to develop new antibiotics?
JM: Absolutely nothing. I am simply too old to go down that path. The chief researcher quit and I had difficulty getting a new one to relocate here, and I didn't want to move. I gave up.
WW: Was that difficult?
JM: Lord, no. I have abandoned far more than I have succeeded at in life. It is not hard for me to leave anything.
WW: And yoga? Yoga is simply part of my life. It is something I cannot abandon. It is integrated in my being.
JM: If you come to Belize, I will give you a free pass and an easy chair to improve your peace of mind and your lean body mass.
Read about the legal battle between Greg Gumucio and Bikram Choudhury in "The Hot Yoga War."
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