“Are you listening to confirm what you already know or to learn something new?” - Anthony De Mello
If you already practice Ashtanga Yoga and want confirmation of it’s benefits then reading the first post in this series will do that.
Not this one.
This post will challenge you and the Ashtanga Yoga story with something new.
Before I share things that aren’t allowed to be talked about in the Ashtanga community I want to be clear with my intention.
I want to expand on the knowledge I’ve gained from practicing in Mysore with Sharath.
Add to it.
Not make practicing in Mysore “bad”.
Up until now I didn’t know how go about this then my life circumstances gave me no choice but to adapt and the result was discovering non-violent communication
It caused a profound shift in my world view as I realized that for many years I had been violent with my words and thoughts.
Making others “bad” and myself “good” with moral judgements.
For example you aren’t a yogi if you do [insert behaviour]. What follows is judgement of course is punishment or reward.
In 2022 reward or punishment comes in the form of likes and follows if you're good and nasty comments or exile from the group if you're bad.
My entire path in Ashtanga has been about discovering and overcoming obstacles.
The obstacle of judgement was no different in that it was in the way of growth.
Practicing in Mysore and learning from Sharath was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. 9 years laters I still have dreams about those times and if I could go back to my 39 year old self I would do it all again without question.
But now I’m 48 and I will most likely never will.
9 years ago after that first trip I hit a personal fork in the road when started to see undesirable changes to the tissues of my body from following my version of the Ashtanga Yoga story.
My version said things like:
- I had to do full practice every morning which means somewhere between 1.5 to 2 hours 6 days a week or I would lose my postures
- I shouldn’t do other activities like hiking and weightlifting or I would get stiff.
- I couldn’t eat meat because that wasn’t following ahimsa.
- I should sacrifice my sleep to practice
My story said that if I did the above I could just sit in a chair at a coffee shop looking into my computer all day because “the practice was all you need”.
But there was a problem that I had to be honest with myself about.
Following this story the tissues of my body began to change and I was getting results I didn't want.
- Injuries. Back, knees and elbows
- Muscle loss
- Constant irritability
- Low energy
- Disrupted and short sleep
- Low libido
- Low testosterone
- Irritable gut
- Belly fat
Sure I had received Authorization Level 2, could catch my ankles and put my legs behind my head but was physical degeneration the cost?
The reason I started yoga for the health benefits because it has always been what I valued most.
Now the first thing that comes to mind (which usually is the wrong answer btw) is I was practicing too much.
I don't believe too much practice was the problem but what I did before I did my my practice.
Not what I did that morning before like all the other Ashtangis rolling on cricket balls and pre stretching but the day and night before.
I wasn’t putting the animal first.
Yoga and Nature
1. Wild Animals
What drew me into Ashtanga Yoga in the first place was just how primal it was.
The deep breathing, the sweating, the strong half naked bodies and the physical challenge.
Before practice each morning in Vancouver I would read quotes of inspiration that still run in my head to this day
Like this one from Dan Millman where he said “take care of the animal first”.
That really resonated with me because my physical health has always been the most important thing to me.
At the time I was memorizing that quote I hadn’t made the distinction between wild animals and domesticated animals.
For example an elk from where our retreat center is next to Jasper National Park.
Or a Mysore cow.
It’s obvious just from appearance that one is much stronger and healthier than the other but why is that?
It's their habitat.
Mysore is a city.
Cities have more man made things and less nature made things.
More cars, streets, artificial lights, people, electricity, Wi-fi, sidewalks, chairs, plastic, chemicals…. the list goes on.
What happens when you live in a habitat that has less nature and more products is you lose the inputs from nature.
“We are infused with our modern habitat. Our ancestors were also infused with theirs. Their feet touched the dirt.Their faces weathered in the sun.The microorganisms in the soil became one with their bodies. They got cold or hot and couldn’t do much about it. People needed to depend on each other for survival. All of these factors, large and small, formed a distinct set of stimuli: low energy dense food, total darkness at night, daily temperature ﬂux, shivering, high omega 3's in the diet, daily exposure to fresh air and sunshine, daily physical exertion, high levels of vitamin D, low to no EMF, and several other factors all worked together. In that habitat obesity and metabolic disease are highly improbable. It’s extremely diﬃcult to have metabolic disease, obesity or cancer in the ancestral habitat. The conditions are stacked against you. “ Joel Greene, Immunity Code.
When our body's tissues don’t get these inputs they change from wild animal tissues to a domesticated animals tissues.
Now on the spectrum of health, strength and happiness when it comes to animals there is another level in the wrong direction after the domesticated.
The factory farm animal which has the worst habitat of all and the effects are deeply disturbing.
Different habitats create different outcomes.
The habitat that creates the animal that lives the longest is not wild. It's a zoo with an open door. Which is exactly what I'm building here
The Primal Series before The Primary Series.
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment chop wood carry water.
The practice of Ashtanga Yoga was reportedly passed from Krishnamacharya to Pattahbi Jois.
The story goes that Krishnamacharya learned it from Yogeshwara Ramamohana Brahmachari at foot of Mt Kalish at Lake Manaswar
Check out a picture of what that place looks like.
Definitely not a city like Mysore.
It looks much more like the place I grew up and where I built our new Northaven Nature Center
I literally live on the edge of a mountain (Folding Mountain) and there is nothing but a wild forest (Jasper National Park) for hundreds of kilometres in front of me.
Bears, not stray dogs and cats, walk past the shala.
I grew up in nature rock climbing, snowboarding and mountain biking in these mountains.
When I started to become aware of how the over use of technology was causing degeneration of my tissues I began to figure out ways to change my habitat.
My goal was to improve the health of my tissues by adding in nature and shielding from tech pollution.
I began to think about what physical actions I would need to do without technology just to stay warm, eat and not get eaten in my habitat.
That’s when it hit me that the chop wood carry water koan could be read literally.
Before I practice yoga I need to take care of the animal. Yoga comes after I do this. It’s second.
Primal Series includes activities like:
- Getting morning and evening sun in the eyes and on the skin
- Sitting on the ground
- My skin in constant contact with the earth (grounding)
- Fluctuations in temperature like sauna and cold dips in mountain rivers and lakes
- Getting my food from the forest
- Carrying things in the forest (Rucking, Sled pulls, Farmer carries)
- Chopping wood
- Building fires for cooking, heating and light
- Moving over mountains (hiking and rock climbing)
- Bonding with friends and family in person with no phones
and everyones yogis favourite topic……eating meat (especially if you are over 40, living in the mountains and your hormones are declining)
All of these inputs plus many more I’ve began to include in my daily life before practice.
Practicing the Primal Series in a city is extremely difficult because there are so many obstacles both physical and cultural.
In Mysore it’s not acceptable to show your skin and even dangerous for women.
This is ok in my habitat but not in Mysore
Naked suntanning is definitely out of the question.
And my most surprising observation is that covering yourself up from the sun is contradictory to what Pattahbi Jois wrote in a secret book very few people know about.
The sun and how it is the most important part to both the Ashtanga Primary Series and the Ekaminhale Primal Series is the subject the next post.
If you read any of these at all read this one because it will have the biggest impact.
In this email series I will share what I believe are the most important inputs from nature missing in Mysore due to it being a city but also because of the beliefs of what is “good” and what is “bad”
Inputs that I’ve added into the new retreat center habitat that you can experience if you come here but also you might want to consider adding into your own habitat. Each post will explore specific input from nature, how it affects your biology, ways you can add it in and then resources like books and podcasts where you can learn more.
To receive the first post - The Primal Series - Sun Worship - sign up here.