Danny Paradise has been practicing Ashtanga yoga since 1976 and teaching worldwide since 1979. He initially studied with the first advanced Western teachers of Ashtanga yoga, David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff. Danny began teaching with David Williams in 1979 in Maui, Hawaii.
Questions: Ilya Zhuravlev, interview: Tatiana Tretiakova
«Yoga is soul work as are all shamanic practices»
Interview with Danny Paradise
Question: Ancient Indian texts say that yogi should live in a calm way in a good quiet place and practice sadhana. On the other side we know that there are Indian ascetic sadhus who constantly travel and do not stay more than 3 days in one place, in order not to be attached to anything. Are you a wanderer by blood? When did you start your travels, which countries visited? Which countries left the strongest memories for you?
Danny Paradise: I left my family home in Canada when I was 19 years old and traveled around the world over the following year. I had a wild urge to do something that no one in my family or circle of friends had done. I suppose wandering was in my blood from the beginning... It became an obsession with me to travel the world and so during my first year in University I worked teaching music and swimming and ran a swimming program at a summer camp to save enough money for my travels. Then I left home in September and began hitchhiking around Europe...The United Kingdom, Scotland, France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain... and then on to Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Hawaii and across Canada. That journey was so powerful and revealing to me that I knew I would travel extensively in my life again.
Now I've been traveling almost continuously over the last 32 years since I began teaching Yoga in 1979. I teach regularly throughout Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. Certainly the countries which hold the most powerful memories and adventures for me have been India, Nepal, Egypt, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Brazil, Tanzania, the Yukon Territories of Canada and Hawaii. I'm in love with the ancient, sacred vibration of Asia, the kindness and gentleness of the people as well as the incredible pristine nature of all those countries... I play music also and was very drawn to the music of Brazil as well as Amazonian shamanism. There is a spiritual essence in Brazil that is something very unique. The beauty of nature, the diverse cultures there and the depth of the soul of the people are very powerful...
Question: Which methods and styles of yoga and corresponding disciplines have you studied? Whom can you consider to be your teachers on the path of yoga?
Danny Paradise: When I was a teenager I studied Karate with Masami Tsuroka who brought the discipline to Canada from Japan. I was also swimming extensively... Those disciplines prepared me for the depth of practices of ashtanga vinyasa yoga. I began learning the practices of Ashtanga yoga in Maui, Hawaii in 1976 with the first Western teachers and adepts of the forms, David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff. I also studied with their teacher, Sri K Patabbhi Jois in 1978 and 1980 in California and Hawaii. Cliff Barber, a renunciate and Sadhu who lived in Hawaii and studied with David and Nancy as well, has been a strong influence on me and my approach to teaching. I also have studied Tai Chi as well as Kung Fu. I continue to practice Kung Fu. Concerning who else I consider to be teachers on the path of yoga... I owe a great deal to the philosophy and teachings of Krishnamurti as well as shamans in Amazonian spiritual traditions who have led me to the understanding of the profound connection between all indigenous, native shamanic traditions and the shamanic path of yoga.
Question: You are a musician. How does yoga and music connect in your mind, perception, consciousness? There is music strictly according to notes, academical music, but also there is improvisation, jazz. Could the same exist in yoga?
Danny Paradise: Music is a meditative art form. Like the practices of yoga music brings one completely into the present. Music also has the power to induce trance whether one is playing an instrument or listening. Brain wave function slows down with the rhythm moving the brain from Beta to Alpha states and sometimes into deeper trance states of Theta and Delta. This happens as well with breath in the practices of asana and pranayama or even just walking in nature. As brain wave function slows, perception, insight, intuition and ways of seeing can deepen. Certainly in yoga there can and needs to be improvisation.
Once you've studied yoga for a period of time and developed a practice as far as I'm concerned it's wide open to interpretation. With your intelligence as your guide you can determine how to do the practice each day. Nothing is fixed in stone. The practices must be adapted to how one's energy is each day. Even if you've learned the routines of ashtanga yoga the practices vary according to healing processes one is going through and variations in energetic levels day to day. When one is healing especially the practices have to be modified so one is never pushing into pain. When my energy is strong and clear then I can move much more deeply into the practices and explore deeper aspects of the sequences.
Question: With whom did you play? Is it true that you taught yoga to Madonna and Sting? Let’s lift a veil of invisible life of super-stars. Simple people from the middle of nowhere are very interested: what sort of persons are they in practice? Are they really serious about ashtanga yoga, or just doing it for image?
Danny Paradise: Sting, Paul Simon and Edie Brickell have sung with me on my various songs on my music CDs. Dominic Miller, who has been playing guitar with Sting on recordings and tours over the last 20 years, also has performed and produced numerous songs on my CDs. Chris Botti, one of the world's greatest jazz trumpet players also has performed on recordings of songs I've written. Chris has also toured with Sting, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. Butch Thomas, an amazing jazz saxaphone player, has performed and recorded with me. Butch also toured with Sting for 2 years. All of these musicians continue to practice yoga. Several other members of Paul Simon's band have also recorded with me including Jamie Haddad (percussion) and Bakithi Kumalo (bass).
Besides teaching public classes worldwide for 32 years, I've introduced the practices of ashtanga yoga to Sting, Trudie Styler, Madonna, Paul Simon, Edie Brickell, Graham Nash, Donna Karan (DKNY), Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam, Micky Hart and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, Dominic Miller, Chris Botti, John McEnroe and his wife Patty Smyth, Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Griminelli (classical flutist) and many other world renowned athletes, musicians, dancers and actors. All the people i've introduced the practices to have taken the disciplines very seriously.
To remain successful in the entertainment business (or life in general) one needs discipline and of course great health, stamina and vitality. Sting and Madonna in particular were very disciplined physically already when I met them. They recognized the beauty and power of the sacred disciplines of yoga and they developed a concentrated daily practice. They adopted the practices into their lives and encouraged many people in the music, dance and acting professions to explore the practices of yoga. Sting and Madonna expressed their feelings about the practices of ashtanga yoga in interviews in magazines, television and newspapers over many years around the world. The amazing artists and performers I met through the years have all been lovely people, sincere and dedicated to their art. Just like all people who seem to gravitate to yoga i found them kind, respectful and very down to earth. None of the renown 'stars' that I met were absorbed in their egos. Perhaps they'd already gone through that phase when they came to yoga. They all found the practice of yoga to be a humbling experience as well.
Question: Do you sing mantras, kirtans, are you interested in those styles?
Danny Paradise: I appreciate kirtans and sacred devotional music but I don't play them specifically unless I'm jamming with friends who play kirtans. I personally enjoy playing bosa nova, jazz and blues. The songs I write I consider to be based on my explorations of yoga, shamanism and indigenous spiritual traditions worldwide.
Question: What do you include into your personal practice these days?
Danny Paradise: My daily practice includes the pranayama routine from ashtanga yoga as well as an extended asana routine based on one of the ashtanga yoga sequences. I practice the sequences of ashtanga and add in derivative poses and variations that I have learned from different traditions of yoga. I usually play music daily, composing, studying or jamming. That becomes a very meditative experience. I sit quietly in silent meditation and contemplation also at some point each day.
Question: You know “old school” ashtanga teachers, like Williams, Swenson. On your opinion, why having started on the West in the group of hippies-surfers in 70’s, it looks like this style of yoga became popular only in 90’s? Will its popularity continue, or it will give way to something else? For example, at the end of 70’s there was boom of martial arts, and then it has gone.
Danny Paradise: The counterculture in the USA in the 60's were introduced to the practices of yoga by Swami Satchidananda with his book "Integral Hatha Yoga" as well as Iyengar's book "Light On Yoga". Even at the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1970 Tom Law, who was the announcer on stage at both events, gave a Kundalini Yoga class to the entire audience. That was 500,000 people who tried yoga at each festival! In the audience at the Atlanta Pop Festival was a young David Williams who did the class that Tom taught. That sparked David's interest and lifelong search for the deeper practices. Shortly after the festival he traveled overland from Europe on the «Magic Bus» to India to find a teacher. Over time David encountered Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore and his journey into ashtanga yoga began. I studied with David Williams (and Nancy Gilgoff) beginning in 1976 in Maui, Hawaii. David Swenson arrived in the Hawaiian Islands a few months later and I've been great friends with them ever since.
Ashtanga yoga was the doorway in the West for deep explorations of yoga. It started as a grass roots movement amongst 60 people in California in 1975 and 35 in Maui, Hawaii in 1976. I began teaching the forms around the world in 1979. Each year as I traveled and taught, returning to some of the same places, the groups would get larger as everyone told their friends and family about the tremendous positive results they were experiencing from the discipline. I taught with Cliff Barber in Goa India since 1982 and that was the introduction of the forms to an international community of friends who brought the practices back to their own countries. Cliff had been teaching to large groups in Goa since 1979. That was really a revolution as it nurtured the spread of the practices world-wide. When I was introduced to Sting by my old musical friend Dominic Miller in 1990 Sting began a daily discipline and also began speaking publicly about the deep effects of the practice on his life. Madonna also has spoken extensively about her appreciation of the discipline of ashtanga yoga. Their contribution to opening the door around the world to the practices of yoga is immense. They created world-wide interest and began a giant revolution of the exploration of consciousness through one of the oldest Spiritual explorations on Earth.
Now yoga exists throughout remote regions of the world. Every one who can read or watches TV or movies sees that yoga is now embedded in popular culture. These practices are desperate measures for desperate times. If it's a fad, then it's a 100,000 year old fad! Some elements of yoga are as old as the Human race... For example the Mayans say that Kundalini is a 100,000 year old Mayan teaching. They call it Kuthalini and their metaphor of the sleeping serpent at the base of the spine uncoiling as one becomes awakened is the same as in yoga. The monuments of Egypt, in particular of the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, contain carvings of many yoga positions. These are now being dated at anywhere from 7000 to 80,000 years old. They seem to be the origins of Indian classical yoga. Yoga may have been refined in India but it's origins are likely in Egypt or even Central and South America... I teach numerous Egyptian classical yoga positions in my classes.
The popularity of yoga will not only continue, it will grow and flourish and continue to evolve because yoga is an evolutionary process. Many teachers have taken the disciplines of ashtanga yoga and created their own forms including Power Yoga, Flow Yoga, Jiva-Mukti Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, Yogic Arts, Twee Yoga, Apple Yoga etc... All this is part of the evolution of the shamanic practices of yoga and the discovery of truth... that we are unlimited, eternal and free. But none of these new forms would exist if ashtanga yoga had not been introduced into the western world. Krishnamacharya, who was the teacher of B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Deshikachar (his son) as well as Indra Devi and many others, created a revolution in the exploration and practices of yoga. His mandate from his teachers was to popularize yoga. Recognizing the sacredness of the human mind, body and spirit, he applied his deep knowledge from a lifetime of study and created the conditions that would lead to the worldwide recognition of the healing and evolutionary powers of the practices as well as being the seeds of awakening consciousness. So actually it didn't take very long at all for the practices to spread from the introduction of ashtanga yoga in the West in the mid '70's to being a worldwide phenomenon by the early '90's. From a small group of people in California and Hawaii it has exploded all over the earth... Soon it will be available in Colleges, Universities, high schools and junior high schools worldwide.
Question: Your favorite poet?
Danny Paradise: My favorite poet is Rumi.
Question: Yoga and psychedelic revolution of 60’s. At that time yoga was considered as one of ways to expand consciousness, and now it is mostly as efficient fitness technique. How do you think yoga should be looked at?
Danny Paradise: The psychedelic revolution in North America sparked tremendous interest in the effects on consciousness that yoga could create. From all indications it seems that the origins of yoga come from meditative communication with nature. Each subsequent generation added their own evolutionary ideas onto the explorations of yoga. These practices were passed to the Human race as a means of fulfilling potential, of aging with vitality, health and peace and approaching death with grace, clarity, tranquility and fearlessness.
The main effect of yoga is increasing prana or «Life Force». As prana increases in a person then tranquility of the mind is one of the clear results. One of the definitions of yoga is "The (internal) hygiene of the physical body determines the flow of prana through the nadis or subtle channels. Prana determines turbulence or tranquility of the mind." People may enter into the shamanic field of yoga for what they perceive as only physical effects, but mind, body and spirit are inter-connected. The mind becomes clearer, perception, intuition and insight are clarified as deep healing takes place. The glandular system is awakened and restored with the endless implications that can imply. As deep healing takes place, as the body strengthens and awakens, then the soul connection can be also restored and deepened... Deep joy and ecstasy can become a daily phenomenon.
Part of the process of yoga is fulfilling personal destiny, or the «unsealing of one's personal instructions». People become empowered to radically change their lives, to create their life as a «Magical Masterpiece» and to become wilder, freer and less domesticated as they age. For after all we're responsible for creating the conditions that can allow us to fulfill our dream and our destiny. Yoga is soul work as are all shamanic practices. I feel that people reawaken to the true exploration of freedom as a living process through deep healing that all yoga practices can initiate. They can step back and become a witness in their lives and see clearly where they need to make changes in work and relationships to make life as fulfilling as possible. Also people are discovering all over the world that the practices of yoga help them age with vitality, clarity, health and peace. Yoga can add 20 or 30 years of active energy unto people's lives and as I mentioned earlier, allow people to approach death without fear... in grace and tranquility.
In some instances of the deeper practices of pranayama then Kundalini awakening can occur. Kundalini is the fusing of the mortal mind with the Divine mind. This also happens according to all shamanic and yogic explorations at the moment of death. Also all shamanic techniques including meditation are aiming to lead to this fusing of the mortal and Divine mind... Receiving guidance from the Great Spirit is something that everyone can access whether they practice yoga or not. Asking for guidance in a moment of stillness is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to communicate with Spirit. You don't need the medium, the guru or the priest to make the communication to the Spirit. This is also the beauty of learning ancient prescriptions, recommendations and suggestions for the practices of yoga. Once you have studied a form then it becomes yours to master over a lifetime of exploration. Then the Master becomes yourself. "You are your only Master...Who else?" The Buddha said that! The yogis of ancient times have also been anarchists, freedom thinkers, outside the regular order of life... and advisors to the Kings... This is the ancient field of yoga that people are entering into when they walk into a yoga studio, a gymnasium, a sports club or any other door that leads them to these evolutionary explorations.
Question: Do you think it is possible that yogis may appear on the West who achieves what is described in ancient texts – spiritual realization, etc.? Is it possible that their own schools of yoga will appear on the West, as deep as ones that existed once in India?
Danny Paradise: Over time it seems that there will be more and more people who awaken to the presence of the Sacred in every moment of life, in every experience, in every encounter... It seems to me that around the world this is already occurring. There is a world-wide resurgence of interest in the practices and teachings of shamanism and yoga. The process is already happening. People are awakening to the necessity to preserve, protect and restore 'Gaia'... Nature... and recognize Nature as a living being whose love and care of Humanity is being compromised by those who feel that nature is something to be manipulated, controlled and polluted with impunity. The teachings of shamanism / yoga can lead people to the recognition that Nature is our most powerful spiritual guide and teacher.
Question: Are you interested to participate in festivals organized by russian yogis, for example “Yoga-Rainbow” Festival in Turkey, in Egypt or India?
Danny Paradise: Yes, I would love to come to Russia to teach in festivals or workshops, or retreats. I would be happy to also come to yoga festivals in Egypt, Turkey or India... I also teach in the Middle East. I spent extensive time in Egypt. I came across in the monuments and carvings of yoga positions in the amazing Temples of Karnak and Luxor in Southern Egypt. That’s how I started to realize the connection between ancient Egypt as the likely origin of the physical practices and philosophy of Indian classical yoga. One of the last questions was how do I view yoga these days, especially since it’s become so physically oriented, I told a long answer to that, but a couple of things I wanted to add about my perspectives of yoga: to me yoga is the science of strength, flexibility, breath, healing, balance, meditation, happiness, aging and it’s always been considered a devotional science. All these things become clear as people become more deeply involved in practices. Healing requires personal responsibility, personal effort and personal power. You can become passive when it comes to healing by going to a Doctor and ask him to heal you or you can take a completely active role and do the work necessary to heal yourself.
These days we are dealing with incredible environmental degradation. Every human on Earth now carries between 100 to 300 chemicals in their blood stream. Combinations of chemicals cause huge rises in childhood and adult cancers, allergies, ashtma, stress, heart disease and other health issues we are dealing for the last 20 – 30 years that did not exist before. Healing is now a life time work. And of course the practices of yoga and particularly practices of ashtanga yoga ( as the most concentrated forms of yoga) create toxic elimination and deep healing. Still we are dealing with serious problems: nuclear radiation, no controls on the chemical industries, nuclear industry, genetically modified food industry. These industries manipulate governments all over the world. So when I teach I encourage people to become activisits to help change the influence of those corporations that are really destroying people’s health and nature all over the Earth with no regard for the future.
Chemical corporations are self-regulating which means there is NO regulation. They lobby and manipulate Governments everywhere. They are free to introduce chemicals without any investigation on the effects of the chemicals. There has never been any thorough study of the chemicals that are released into the atmosphere. And there are thousands of chemicals that are released every year. No complete studies that ever been done that make chemical companies responsible for what they are doing to people’s health and to the environment. It’s the responsibility of individual people to change that through writing articles, through media, through telling friends, through not supporting these businesses, by supporting and promoting organic agriculture, supporting natural energy solutions, by supporting local farmers and by DEMANDING integrity, openness and ethical behavior from corporations and Governments. This is the nature of personal responsibility that comes through awareness and consciousness. I would say that one of the most important aspects of yoga is the creation of personal responsibility and personal authority leading to Universal Responsibility.
Everybody is responsible for the world we are dealing with right now. It’s only through individuals that we are going to help to make changes necessary to make a beautiful, safe, healthy world for our children. I feel that yoga centers can become action networks that would help promote incredible changes that are necessary for our survival, not just the physical practices of yoga, but the responsibilities that come with awakened consciousness. The Native Americans say «A Spiritual Warrior is someone who uses his life force on a continous basis to help create a world of balance and harmony for coming generations». Now that's YOGA!
Peace and Blessings,
Montauk, Long Island, New York
August 22 2011