Losing is not something Aras Baskauskas, a yoga teacher from Venice, Calif., knows well: He finished his undergraduate studies in a mere three years and is the only student to have played NCAA men's Division I basketball on scholarship while in an MBA program. Oh, and he won $1 million dollars competing in "Survivor: Panama" in spring 2006. And that's all by age 24. Baskauskas recently spoke with Beliefnet about how deciding to be loving and honest helped him succeed in a cutthroat environment while his every move was aired on reality television. So what's his secret to success? Is it just good luck? No, he says, "Yoga is why I won."

Aras Baskauskas

Why did you decide to go on "Survivor"?

I went on because I thought it would be a fun, exciting experience. I didn't pursue it; it kind of fell in my lap. One of my buddies was asked to do it, but then decided he was too skinny, so he recommended me. I had just gotten back from living at Mount Madonna Center, which is a yoga center in Santa Cruz, and it sounded like another adventure, so I said, “Sure, I'll do it.” And boy, was it another adventure.

Did your yoga practice prepare you to compete on the show?

It helped me stay focused out there. I meditated every morning for around 30 minutes and then I'd do some yoga, depending on how I felt. But it was the morning meditations that really let me keep my mind clear in terms of my intentions out there. Obviously everyone's out there to win, but it taught me how to win and how to play and how to acknowledge and face the fears that are inherent in playing that game. I feel like yoga is why I won. I feel like that practice really gave me everything in the game.

How did you reconcile your spiritual values with competing in a cutthroat environment?

This is how I left my house to go to Panama: We had a teepee fire in my backyard and my dad and a couple close friends came by and we talked about intentions. We talked about all of our intentions for our lives and each one of us had a very similar intention, which was to be loving and honest as much as you can for as long as possible. None of us said our goal was to win $1 million. With that, it was really clear what my intention was out there: to stand with truth and love with $1 million dangling in my face, and if I should waver from that, how quickly can I come back to it?

It's just like a yoga class. I teach my students to focus on the breath and very quickly your mind's going to wander, but as quickly as you can bring it back to your breath, come back. So that's the yoga practice, and that's the practice in life, in terms of being honest and loving. There are going to be times that the habit-pattern is such that you're not going to be honest and you're not going to be loving, but how quickly can you come back? So, that was my intention, and I had that as a guiding light throughout the show, because there were times when I wasn't honest, for sure, and there were times when I wasn't necessarily loving, but, in relation to everybody else, I feel like I had so much more intention, and a razor-sharp intention, at that.

When you win something like this, there are so many variables, there's so much going on, it could have easily gone any other way, but it didn't. And this sounds a little bit crazy, but I feel like I was truly blessed. This is the challenge because the growth that's taken place in me since "Survivor" has been so difficult and amazing, and I just say, “Wow, well, this is my course in life and this is why all this is happening.” I've gone through such amazing changes afterwards even, and that's kind of where I am now. That experience was amazing, and now I'm going through a whole other experience.

Do you think "Survivor" reflects yogic principles?

"Survivor" is a contract setting; in life we never have to vote someone off the island, there's enough for everybody, there's abundance on this planet. Even with seven billion people on the planet, there's still enough to live a sustainable life. Maybe not enough for us all to live like Americans, but there's certainly abundance. I feel like most of us feel that there's not enough. Most of us feel like, if we shared, we wouldn't get our fair share. And so, the game has been set up to play on the fear in most people's minds of lack and scarcity.

I felt like at a very real level it was the most amazing experience because I've never connected more with myself. When I got home, I could look at my relationships with everybody I loved and cared about, and I could tell you where all the junk was. I could tell you where the energetic flows got blocked, I was so clear.
I'm not that way any more, but when I got back, I was, because there were no distractions for me out there, nothing. You're on an island and, once you've gotten your food and water and your shelter taken care of--and that's an all-day job--you go to bed.

How long have you practiced yoga for?

I've been practicing for about five years. I've really been studying it for, I'd say, two years, maybe two and a half now.