From flu to Avatar (big interview with Danny Paradise)
How my yoga started
What was yoga like in 1976, when you’ve just started practicing it? How was it different from the modern one?
I learned Yoga outside in a beautiful park by the ocean in Hawaii on the Island of Maui in Lahaina Town with David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff, the first Western adepts and brilliant teachers of Ashtanga Yoga. They began teaching in Hawaii on May 2nd, 1976. We were a group of 35 people from all over the world and all ages. This was the 2nd place David and Nancy had introduced Ashtanga Yoga in the west. They taught initially 6 months a year over the first 3 years in Hawaii. They would go back to India to study for 6 months a year. Many people were new arrivals in Hawaii and very few had anywhere to live. I think 95% of the group slept on the beach. At that time there was not enough housing for all the young people arriving in Hawaiin Islands. Everyone was escaping the industrialized cities and the politics of the Vietnam War and the domination of the chemical industries. Young people in America were waking up to the necessity of growing organic food, living in unpolluted environments with clean air and water. It was the beginning of a revolution in the explorations of consciousness, movement, breath, health and vitality.
No one had a place to live and very few had any work. Fortunately in Hawaii at the time, you could easily sleep on the beach and survive in a very bountiful environment… One friend named Cliff was living in a cave up a giant river valley called Ukumehame. He was a renunciate Yogi studying sacred geometry and the scriptural teachings of Yoga, Buddhism, Kabbalah, Christianity, the Vedas and Upanishads… He also slept in a graveyard in Lahaina when he was in town. We all became excellent lifelong friends… Previously David and Nancy had introduced the practices in Encinitas, California beginning around 1974 to a group of 60 young people, artists, surfers, martial artists, musicians, hippies and freaks… Then they came to Hawaii and I was fortunate enough to be invited to see their demonstration of all the sequences of Ashtanga Yoga at a historical old Seaman’s Prison in Lahaina, Maui on May 1st, 1976….They started teaching the next day and all 35 people who watched the demonstration came to the class in the Seaman’s Prison and later at a park nearby on the ocean. At that time there were no Yoga schools in Hawaii and very few people knew anything about Yoga. Our renunciate Yogi friend had studied Integral Hatha Yoga in the tradition of Swami Satchadananda and he was teaching a few friends in the parks. David and Nancy first came to him to show him the Ashtanga practices and then Cliff told his friends they were going to do a demonstration and then teach outdoors. In fact there were few Yoga schools anywhere in the west. If people did practice Yoga they were doing very modified practices and not as concentrated as Ashtanga Yoga. Now of course Yoga is everywhere…in every country, in every city…in every community and if it is not yet then it will be soon!
You have also practiced kung-fu and tai-chi. What made you stick to yoga eventually?
I still practice Kung Fu, Tai Chi and elements of Karate. I never stopped those practices and they integrate very well with the practices of Yoga. Now when I teach I include derivative routines from Kung Fu and Tai Chi in my Yoga classes. The Yogis visited the Shao Lin Temples in China and brought their knowledge of the mind and body practices to the Wu Shu (Kung Fu) practitioners in the Temples. Yoga and Martial Arts are very linked explorations. Like all Shamanic practices they have powerful healing effects, are explorations of evolutionary consciousness and are devotional with clear guidelines on how to communicate with the soul and Spirit beyond the confines of the rational mind.
Personal happiness and non-dogmatic approach to yoga
Danny, as most of the resources state, you promote a non-dogmatic approach to yoga. What does it actually mean?
I recognize all Yoga as very informed ancestral suggestions in a process of evolution. It is a gift for the Human Race. I also understand that the practices have to be adapted every day according to a person’s energy levels, healing processes that they are going through, concentration and what is appropriate for that day. I don’t follow gurus or recommend that anyone follow any teachers that are looking for followers, disciples or creating dependence. Yoga is about independence and thinking critically for yourself. Learning practices that create personal responsibility and personal authority is what I am interested in. The suggestions of all Yoga guide people to using these ancient principles to develop your own practice and create stillness, peace, happiness, vitality, joy and clarity in our own lives as we age.
So to further clarify on being non-dogmatic within the exploration of Ashtanga Yoga…I teach the sequences of Ashtanga Yoga with modifications, derivative routines and variations including Egyptian root Yoga positions, martial arts and tai chi…I recognize every Yoga asana has endless variations…Once you know the classical sequences it’s also possible to improvise and continue to expand the exploration.
What do you think happiness is?
Happiness is an energetic and emotional state of joy that we can create anytime through our own will. It shouldn’t be dependent on what other people think of us or what others expect of us. Happiness is pure joy and it is something that we are responsible for no matter what our personal predicament or situation is. Happiness is what happens when we decide to be happy is a teaching that I think exists in all Spiritual explorations. . It’s the same for Love, Joy, Compassion…Love is what happens when we decide to Love! If we aren’t happy we have to investigate the reasons and make changes to our circumstances as quickly as possible if necessary. I think Yoga can give the energy and clarity to help us make changes if we aren’t following our dreams or if we are in work or relationship situations which are not satisfying….As the Shamanic/Kahuna tradition of Hawaii says…we can make changes to improve our situation, to follow our dreams or we can hold onto problems for lifetimes…
How to orient: flow VS goals
Do you trust the timing of your life and follow the flow or pursue your goals?
I think if we are seeking evolution of consciousness and becoming more sensitive to the messages of nature and internal guidance then life situations will present themselves to us at the right moment for growth. Evolution is constantly expanding focus…constantly becoming more aware, sensitive and compassionate. When we are taking care of ourselves through balancing work and play, practicing the ancient suggestions of our ancestral guides and exploring life with our heart and soul then things tend to fall into place at the right time…though we may not recognize that in the moment… Counting our blessings and forgiving ourselves and others is a daily practice to recognize all the beautiful opportunities that are constantly presenting themselves to us. Creating some stillness each day to ask for guidance from the ethers-without letting our rational mind take over- is important to become more sensitive to the messages that are constantly coming to us from Nature. In the world of Yoga and Shamanism, Nature is the guide and teacher. You have to create some time and space to tap into these messages and guidance. Yoga is the perfect tool for that. After all, Yoga is Soul work…and explorations of breath help calm the nervous system and create stillness.
Practice yoga how and whom with
Some people state that group practice is less effective than self-practice. What do you think? Should we, maybe, practice both ways?
Both ways are important certainly in the beginning. It’s beautiful to be able to practice with a group of friends who are all seeking to heal themselves and create balance and harmony in their lives. Ultimately I feel it is important to develop a personal private practice. And to practice in Nature is also vital. Yoga it seems to me, came from meditative communication with Nature in Shamanic ceremonies…So when we have an opportunity to practice Yoga in a beautiful garden, in a forest, by the ocean…we are coming back to the original way it was created and practiced. Of course practicing Yoga anywhere, anytime is very effective but the most powerful information and clarity I receive from Yoga occurs when I am practicing (and living) in Nature.
And then when people need the support of friends or a community it is also important to sometimes come back to classes or a group situation with excellent teachers. After all Yoga is an endless, never ending exploration. Classes are important to continue to learn aspects of the practices to challenge ourselves as well as to make sure we are not doing any harm to ourselves.
About Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga yoga is one of the most physically demanding types of yoga. Can we also say that it’s the most profound one?
All Yoga is effective. Ashtanga Yoga is a very concentrated practice but it must be slowed down or modified according to what is necessary and appropriate for the day, depending upon a person’s energy, healing processes and mental focus. Learning the techniques of deep concentration on breath, internal locks and the sequential movement as passed on by Krishnamacarya can be applied to any practice of Hatha Yoga. Ultimately it all becomes Hatha Yoga as it was always meant to be practiced. Ashtanga Yoga has many challenges which gradually can be met through regular practice. However if practitioners do not modify the practice in ways that their mind and body are indicating each day then they can create long term injuries or stress and then people end up not enjoying Yoga or blaming the practices for creating problems. There are also excellent teachers in all forms of Yoga (and all fields of study…) and very bad teachers as well. The key is finding a gentle, experienced teacher who has no agenda other than teaching people practices that they can comfortably and safely do themselves. This is what drew me to Ashtanga Yoga immediately. It was clear from the beginning that you could learn a sequential practice that could be done eventually without a teacher or class. This was very appealing to me. It is unnecessary to be pushed in Yoga by a teacher. I do very light directional adjustments when I teach and mainly give verbal cues. This idea that you have to be pulled and twisted into positions is very dangerous and is creating a lot of problems in Yoga. Some teachers want to control the situation so people become dependent on them when really the idea is to free people.
Krishnamacarya studied in a cave in Tibet for years with his teacher and brought the elements of Tibetan Shamanic knowledge and practice into the world of Hatha Yoga. Yet, he adapted all the practices for individual students according to their condition, age, lifestyle and ability. At the same time all of Yoga can be considered the science of Flexibility, the science of Strength, the science of Balance, the science of Breath, the science of Healing, the science of Aging, the science of Meditation and the science of Peace. It is also a Devotional science. The Yogis have always recognized the sacred nature of existence and the ability to communicate with the Spirit without the intermediary, the guru, the priest…It is direct communication with the Soul and Spirit that are the ultimate results of learning these roots of meditation. Stilling the mind can happen just through deep breath…This is one of the most profound aspects of Yoga.
About the rest of things: from flu to Avatar
(from an interview with Danny Paradise)
What were the most surprising effects on your health and life, in general, you’ve experienced thanks to your practice?
I noticed immediately my immune system was boosted and I stopped having regular colds or flus. My energy came more into balance and I was calmer and more centered. The practices gave me strength, flexibility and balance that I never thought was possible and continues to do so. I feel over the years it has helped me reach some understanding of becoming Yoga has also helped me approach aging in a much better way than I ever imagined could be possible. It has also of course given me opportunities to travel the world and meet like minded friends everywhere who are interested in the practices and teachings. As a musician and singer the Yoga practices have helped increase my concentration and singing ability…
I also think that over the years regular Yoga and Pranayama practice has hopefully helped increase my intuition, insight, perception and ways of seeing this world and universe…
Do you have your most and least favorite asanas? 🙂
No… I like and appreciate them all. Well, actually my favorite asana is ‘Savasana’!
You’ve traveled a lot 🙂 What’s your favorite place you’ve been to?
The earth is amazing. Every country in the world has phenomenal nature, incredible people and beautiful, unique cultures. I love the world…not one place in particular! It’s a privilege of course to be able to travel and explore different cultures and countries. I also play music and that has opened many doorways around the world. Some countries have drawn me because of their music and nature. Brazil is one of those places… I also love particularly to travel through Asia.
Danny, are you looking forward to coming to Ukraine? What expectations do you have about our country?
I am very happy to come to the Ukraine and meet new friends here and to see the country. I have some genetic connection with this area of the world so it will be very interesting to see where some of my ancestors came from and to make new friends from the Ukrainian Yoga, Shamanic and music communities. I understand the Ukraine is very beautiful. My only expectation is to meet some new friends who are involved in the exploration of Consciousness and learn from their perspectives and their traditions of Shamanism in the Ukraine Also I’m coming with my lovely partner Nadia who is an excellent teacher and accomplished musician/singer. We’re looking forward to having a music performance at the Avatar Festival and meeting local musicians.
Here are a couple of links to videos and recordings for music and Yoga on my YouTube channel — Danny Paradise
Love Will Rescue You: https://youtu.be/KZEdFZKlWWs
Song For A Revolution: https://youtu.be/Wfh4bm6fIZY
Now That Shamans Have Planes: https://youtu.be/6znJ91egAN4
The Evolution Of Yoga: https://youtu.be/TgEQKQmmC6I
Himalayan Dawn: https://youtu.be/LOc0xEa4J2o
And finally, did you choose yoga or yoga chose you?
Yoga chose me… I was in the right place at the right time. I knew nothing about Yoga when I first was invited to see a ‘Yoga’ demonstration on May 1st/1976 in Maui, Hawaii. I had studied martial arts and was an athlete but this was totally different, especially on the immediate and continued effects on my nervous system and immune system.. After I had seen the amazing demonstration of Primary, Intermediate and the Advanced A & B sequences by the brilliant teachers David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff I was interested in trying the practice. From the first few seconds of the class the following day in a lovely park I recognized I was into something very different and very profound. I became great friends with David and Nancy, Cliff and all the group of new students. They were and continue to be very gentle, conscious, dedicated teachers. I had no idea it would be the beginning of a lifetime exploration of healing, evolutionary consciousness and communication with the Spirit that would take me around the world for the next 43 years.
I’m looking forward to seeing everyone in the festival in the Ukraine and also at my classes in Kyiv.
Aloha from Hawaii!
See you soon!