This is an updated interview with Tristian, I found I had questions and I wanted to know how AYP went about answering those questions. After contacting Tristian he was super help and willing to go into more details. So what we have today is some significant additions to this already fascinating interview.
Tristan began the practice of yoga asana in 1985 at school when he was 16 years old. At the age of 19 he travelled to the Himalayas to live in a Mahayana Buddhist monastery. This was really his first introduction to the higher teachings and to the spiritual life. He had his first awakening experience a year later, after a meditation retreat in a Buddhist cave monastery in Thailand. He experienced the awakening of kundalini the following year, in 1991.
Over the next 19 years he continued to study meditation and yoga and travelled to Nepal, Sri Lanka and especially India as often as possible. He continued to study and practice in various ashrams and monasteries.
He discovered Advanced Yoga Practices (AYP) in 2005 and began the practices of Deep Meditation and Spinal Breathing Pranayama at that time. Over the next 5 years he experienced the opening of the crown chakra.
He started teaching yoga and meditation in 2006. He now teaches on retreats and yoga teacher training courses, and specializes in the teaching of meditation, pranayama, kundalini and self-inquiry (jnana yoga).
Some of the most influential teachers in his life have been Amritanandamayi (Amma), Ajhan Amaro, Ajahn Succito, Swami Sri Hans Raj Maharajji, Tapkay Lama and Yogani. The yoga he teaches is integral, incorporating all eight limbs of yoga, as taught by Sri Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. His focus is as much about spiritual purification and self-realization, as about the physical aspects of yoga.
PAA: Having come from a Nyingma background myself I am interested to hear how far you went within the Buddhist teachings. Was it strictly Mahayana or did you venture into Vajrayana or any Tummo-like exercises?
Tristan: When I was 19 and 20 years old, I spent 6-months living in a Mahayana Buddhist monastery in Nepal. I was given very basic training in some of the preliminary practices at that time. The practices included things like prostrations, chanting, service to the community etc. I was not taught meditation at that time, which was the practice that I was most interested in. I had already read the life story of the Buddha, and read about how he had sat down to meditate under a tree and became enlightened from this, so I believed that meditation was the real key to self-realization and enlightenment.
I had heard that they would teach Westerners meditation in Thailand, so the next time I had the chance to travel, I went there. I managed to find a monastery in Chiang Mai where they would teach me and I learned basic breathing meditation from the monks. I was also taught inquiry practices such as inquiry into mental attachments and reflections on the nature of formlessness. After 5-days of practice in a cave monastery in the North East of the country, I entered a state of samadhi which lasted for 3-days. During those three days I was unaware of where I was, of who I was, or of what I was doing and was only aware of bliss and light. Gradually after those three days, I returned to a contracted state of being, but was able to remember the bliss and beauty of the awakened state.
After returning to Europe I was taught more of the Theravada practices in various Buddhist monasteries, including Loving Kindness practice (Metta Bhavana), inquiry into the different states of phenomenal existence (Vipassana), and Mindfulness (Sati) practices. Many years later I learned of some of the Mahayana completion stage practices such as the Buddha visualisations and meditations on infinite space. I never studied Vajrayana or Tummo, because my life had gone in a different direction.
PAA: You are now a teacher on the AYP Yoga Teacher Training. What attracted you to the AYP approach and how does it differ from other approaches you have experienced?
Tristan: At around the age of 27 I travelled to India where I ended up living in a yoga ashram. It was the ashram of Amma, who is famous for travelling the world and giving darshan by hugging people. When I was there I was taught some of the yoga practices, including meditation using a mantra. We also had Karma yoga practices and Bhakti yoga practices. I returned to the ashram many times over the next 10 years to continue with my practices and also did many solo retreats. I would find a hut or room by the beach or in the mountains to practise in, and spend many hours each day practising in silence. Most of the time I was engaged in sitting practices or Self-inquiry practice. At the time I was going through a powerful kundalini awakening with rising ecstasy in the body and many experiences were manifesting. At one point I woke up in a room thinking that there was a powerful earthquake, but in fact, it was just my own body vibrating. At another point I believed I was levitating and could see the floor several feet below me. At other times I entered states of bliss that were so strong that I was unable to do anything for hours at a time. I became able to transition between worlds and to see angels and higher beings.
Eventually I felt that I needed to know what was happening and why it was happening. I wanted to know if I was on the right path towards liberation, or simply being distracted by energetic experiences. Unfortunately, the people around me were not able to explain it. So that is when I discovered AYP and Yogani. The AYP writings provide a lot of explanation about the whole process of awakening and about why certain energetic transformations and experiences take place. It also puts them into the bigger picture of enlightenment.
I was attracted to the AYP approach, partly because of the way it explains clearly everything that happens during the process of spiritual awakening and why it happens. But I also liked the fact that it includes many aspects of yoga, building a system that is much greater than the sum of its parts. The practices are effective and powerful, but also safe. By the time I discovered the work that Yogani was doing in putting the AYP system together, I was already aware of what it meant to build an effective system of yoga practices. I felt that the AYP system covered everything that anyone could need to make the journey all the way home. It differed from what I had been doing before, which was much more simple, but not as efficient or effective, often involving many hours of practice a day, sometimes as many as ten hours of meditation in one day.
PAA: AYP was what really clarified for me the idea that we are our nervous system, though I had a vague understanding through books like the Master Key which explained the nervous systems significance in our practice, it was AYP that allowed me to begin to work with the nervous system directly while getting almost immediate feedback from the practice. Can you introduce us to this concept, its importance in Yoga and perhaps lead up to the role of the Spinal Pranayama.
Tristan: Most of the changes that take place during the process of spiritual awakening happen in the subtle nervous system, in other words in the system of energy centres (chakras) and channels (nadis) connecting them. And so, most yogic practices are designed to purify and transform this subtle neurobiology. This is the case for asanas, pranayama, mudras, bandhas, samyama and so on. It is even the case for meditation practice of any kind and especially for meditation using a mantra. Mantras have specific vibrations and are designed to affect and purify different aspects of the subtle neurobiology. At the same time, one of the aspects of prana, is that it actually rises up in the body in response to stillness and inner silence. So, in fact, any form of meditation which leads to inner silence (samadhi), will have the effect of purifying the system of chakras and nadis.
Essentially the process of awakening cannot reach fulfilment until the subtle neurobiology is purified. Until then, blockages in different parts and layers of the subtle body, will prevent us from seeing clearly who we really are and experiencing liberation. This is something that I did not understand when I started out on the path. I thought that enlightenment was essentially a mental process and the body was simply a vehicle for moving around on the earth, but otherwise unnecessary.
So, one of the reasons that yoga is so powerful as a vehicle for enlightenment is because of the practices that are designed specifically to purify the subtle nervous system. Spinal Breathing Pranayama is one of these practices. It involves moving the attention up and down the spinal nerve between the root chakra (perineum) and the ajna chakra (third eye). This channel is called Sushumna in Sanskrit and is the central and most important channel in the subtle nervous system. By working directly inside this channel, we are able to purify not only the channel itself, but also the first 6 chakras which are connected to it, and all of the other energy channels in the body, as these are connected to it as well. This is the main practice that I used to enter states of ecstasy.
PAA: In regard to Sushumna you talk about working directly inside of this channel. Would you describe this as a visualisation that creates an effect or as a true transplantation of consciousness so that we perceive from this perspective?
Tristan: When we begin working with a practice like Spinal Breathing Pranayama, what we usually begin by doing is to visualise the central channel and then move our attention up and down that channel. We visualise the channel in place in our body, and move the attention along it. But, usually the centre that we are observing from will be outside the channel to begin with. But, at a certain stage in the practice, our centre of awareness, the place we are perceiving from, can move inside the channel. So, we actually enter the channel, and are no longer aware of the channel from the outside, but are actually inside the channel, seeing, feeling, and hearing from that point. This seeing, feeling, and hearing is done with our inner senses, not our physical senses. We can see the colours of the channel itself, the rings of light that form the channel, and we can even see the star, which is sometimes referred to as “the light at the end of the tunnel” that people often report seeing during near-death experiences.
With spinal breathing practice, it doesn’t actually matter if we’re visualising the spine from the outside and moving our attention along that, or if we’re actually inside the spinal nerve itself. The practice works equally well in both cases.
PAA: Within Franz Bardons Hermetics one of the things we begin in step 1 and continue throughout our training is that of Vacancy of Mind – VOM. I see this similarity in AYP, the difference being that AYP expands upon this idea and how it relates to your expression in the world. Can you talk about the cultivation of stillness? About what comes from it like bliss, and the idea that prana comes out of this stillness?
Tristan: Stillness is something that we begin to experience at a certain stage on the path. It is actually always there, it is just that we are usually too busy noticing other things such as thoughts, or objects of the senses. But as the mind begins to calm down through spiritual practices, we begin to notice that even when things are present in the mind, such as thoughts or feelings, or sensations, they always exist within and are surrounded by stillness and silence. In fact the stillness and silence of the mind are vast, like an ocean, and actual mental objects and objects of the senses, simply come and go within this silence. Gradually the stillness and silence move more towards the foreground of our experience, and the objects of the senses and mental objects move more towards the background. Inner silence becomes our bedrock and natural way of functioning in the world. In yoga this is referred to as sahaja samadhi or sahaja savikalpa samadhi and the experience of it is bliss, which deepens into the experience of unconditional love.
I mentioned above that prana rises up to meet stillness. In Tantra this is described as Shakti rising up to meet Shiva, where Shakti is prana, or everything that moves in the universe, and Shiva is stillness or inner silence. In the analogy, Shiva and Shakti merge and this is the process of enlightenment, the merging of ecstasy and bliss. So, it is not really that prana comes out of stillness, but really that the two are inseparable and are different aspects of one thing. This has been variously described as “stillness in action”, or “emptiness dancing”. Even in the absolute stillness and silence at the centre of our being, prana still exists in its latent, or unmanifest form.
PAA: Now the next question I think will be of great interest to anyone doing self work and especially those studying Franz Bardons Hermetics and the work of the soul mirrors.
Samyama is something that I think can sometimes happen almost naturally when we go deep enough in our meditation. Often being something we know we touched but cannot quite describe….. Samyama as presented via AYP I think is extremely clear and well described. Can you introduce our readers to it and how it relates to self development and the practice of the other limbs? Is inner silence the only prerequisite?
Tristan: Samyama is certainly a natural outcome of meditation and is experienced at a certain stage by everyone with an effective spiritual practice.
In AYP, Samyama is an actual practice, involving the use of nine or more words, called “sutras” which are touched upon one at a time, and released into stillness. We touch upon the faint feeling of the word and then release it immediately into silence, for about 15 seconds. Each word is touched upon twice and the whole practice takes about 10 minutes in its basic form. A more advanced form of the practice takes about 20 minutes, involving more repetitions. The practice works by incorporating the last three limbs of yoga: Dharana, dhyana and samadhi. With dharana we bring our attention to something, dhyana is a merging with the object and samadhi is transcendence, going beyond the object into stillness and silence.
This process of samyama, of releasing mental objects automatically into stillness, is a natural outcome of our spiritual path. As inner silence becomes more and more established, we find that when thoughts and emotions do arise, there is much less of a tendency to get attached to them, or to feed them with more thoughts and emotions and we find that we naturally let them go into stillness. Things arise and they dissolve and the stillness and silence remain. This is the natural process of samyama.
All of the eight limbs of yoga are connected, so as things change with the last three limbs, this will also affect the other 5 limbs. It will affect the yamas and niyamas, because when things are automatically being released into silence, our conduct automatically becomes increasingly pure. If the intention to harm someone arises, it is simply released in silence and we do not act on it. At the same time, there is an energy that comes up within us that is motivated by compassion and love. So, we find ourselves naturally being compelled to do actions that will help others in the world.
The process of samyama is also very relevant for the process of self-development. The idea of self-development in yoga is really the process of moving from a state where we are identified with things that are not actually who we really are (the body and objects of the mind and senses), to a state where we know who we really are. When we are identified with the body and with objects of the mind, such as thoughts, ideas, memories and feelings, it can be very hard to shift from that position. Even if we can understand intellectually that we are not a collection of temporary objects in the mind, but rather the awareness that underlies them all, the attachments can be so strong that we cannot move beyond these identifications. But as the process of samyama begins to arise, we find that when these attachments with objects of the mind arise, they are automatically released into stillness. Things that kept us attached to a false sense of self for years, simply begin to fall away, and no longer have any power. They lose their “sticky” quality. In their place we begin to notice that we are simply aware, before, during and after anything arises in the mind. We come to identify ourselves with this awareness, which is the witness. This process of the cultivation of the witness is a very powerful, if not the most powerful stage in the process of Self-realisation.
PAA: What methods can we use to work directly with Chakra? Or is this not the way and that they are worked as a by-product of the process?
Tristan: Working with individual chakras can be problematic because it can activate and open them, which raises the question of how do we know which chakra needs to open next? If we end up activating the chakras in the wrong order, it can lead to difficulties arising. Everyone has a unique matrix of obstructions in their subtle nervous system, so we can’t know which chakra needs to be activated next for any given individual. Even an experienced teacher would not know.
In the past, some schools of yoga have used what’s called the ladder theory of spiritual awakening. This is the idea that the first chakra that should be opened is the root, then the second chakra should follow, and the third chakra after that, and so on, up to the crown. However, this is not the case for everybody, and in my experience, it isn’t even the case for the majority of people. For one person, the heart may be the first chakra that needs to be opened, and for another person, it might be the throat, solar plexus, or ajna. Therefore, it can be a lot safer to use general purification methods, such as general pranayama or meditation techniques, which will purify the subtle nervous system in a global way. Then the chakras will activate and open in the order that they are meant to. Spinal breathing Pranayama is a global purification technique, and mantra meditation using the AYAM mantra is a global purification technique. There are some specific techniques used in AYP that work on specific chakras, such as the heart breathing technique which works on the heart chakra, and targeted crown chakra techniques. But these are advanced practices that come in later on in the progression of the sadhana. The targeted crown chakra practices have various preconditions that have to be met, before these can be used.
PAA: Could you provide more information on this witness? How it begins to manifest in practice?
Tristan: This is a question that is often asked. Sometimes people will say that they do not understand what witnessing is, because we are witnessing everything all the time, simply because we are aware of everything that’s happening. So, in yoga, the term “witness” is used in a very special sense. It’s not simply noticing everything that happens; it’s actually more to do with the way that we interact with things – with the way that we interact with objects of the senses, like sight, sounds, and so on, and objects of the mind, like thoughts, ideas, beliefs, or memories.
The usual way that we interact with these things is quite complex and involved. Quite often, an idea will come into the mind, or a memory will arise, and then there are subtle processes that take place very quickly following that. These processes are sometimes referred to as “the colouring of the mind” in yogic texts. For example, a thought may arise, and immediately there’s a liking or disliking happening. Do we like that thought? Do we want to keep it? Do we not like that thought? Do we want to get rid of it? As well as these subtle processes of attraction and aversion, there can also be subtle processes of identification, such as: “This is my thought”, or “this is my belief”, or, “this is my memory”.
This subtle process of pushing and pulling, attraction and aversion, and the process of identification – the “me and mine” aspect of the mind – tends to cloud everything that we do, and everything that happens in our lives. For example, if a car drives past the window while we’re meditating in the morning, and it’s got a loud engine, immediately the thought can arise that the car is disturbing our meditation, and we wish they wouldn’t drive at this time in the morning. So there is the object, which in this case is the sound of the car, the aversion to the sound, and the process of identification in the form of “my meditation”, which is being disturbed. So, that is an example of what can happen if the witness is not present.
In contrast, the witness is a state of awareness, where we simply observe the thoughts, sensations, and experiences that arise in the mind, without any judgement, or attachment, or aversion, or identification. It’s a state of detachment from the usual processes of the mind, and it allows us to see things as they really are, without any filters or biases. So, with the cultivation of the witness, the veils of the mind are being lifted, which allow us to see things clearly, as they really are. It is the first stage of enlightenment.
PAA: Your Kundalini awakening occurred way back in 1991. Currently in 2019 we are lucky that there is a lot of information available regarding Kundalini and its awakening but I imagine back in 1991 this was not the case. I have several questions regarding this:
● Firstly for the benefit of those not quite sure, can you describe what Kundalini and what it’s awakening actually is.
● Back in 1991 were you aware of what was happening to you? Did you get assistance from your teacher?
● We hear varying reports of how life changing this experience is, for some it hits them like a rocket, I had a friend whose toes turned black and had to do a lot of balancing to calm things down…while others seem to glide through an awakening with no apparent change.
● What impact did it have on your life?
Tristan: Kundalini is a process of energetic awakening that occurs in the subtle neurobiology. Normally, prana is concentrated in the pelvic region. But when kundalini awakens, this prana rises up through the body, transforming all of the chakras and energy channels. The whole process takes many years or even decades to complete. Gradually the body is brought into a state of permanent ecstatic-bliss.
When I first experienced the awakening of kundalini, the notion was hardly known about in the West. There were a few books available on the subject, but essentially it was presented as a myth, that some people in India believed in, but which was essentially untrue. It was considered to be a superstition.
When I was about 22 years old, I was lying on my bed one day in England and felt a “spark” of energy rise up my spine and then explode in the centre of my head. It was a very beautiful and ecstatic experience. After that, I began to experience various energetic symptoms. One of the most noticeable initially was that my body would shake when I was calm and still. I did not know what was happening to me, but I had a strong sense that whatever it was, was supposed to happen, and that I would be fine. I felt that this was something spiritual and not something that I should go to a doctor about.
I did not actually ask my teachers about it. In the Buddhist Theravada tradition, there is no recognition of kundalini as far as I know, and I had a feeling that they would not be able to help. My Mahayana Buddhist teacher was in Nepal, and communication in the Himalayas at that time was very difficult. At the same time, I was not suffering, so I did not see any need to understand the process more than I did. At that time, it was simply an interesting side-effect of my spiritual practices.
The effect of kundalini depends to a large extent on the state of purification of the subtle neurobiology at the time of the awakening. If the subtle nervous system is fairly purified, then it will easily be able to handle the higher flows of prana that come with an awakening. But if the subtle nervous system is in an impure state, then the chakras and nadis will not be able to accommodate the energy and that is when people can experience difficulties. The important thing is to have an effective spiritual practice, which will purify the subtle nervous system so that when kundalini awakens, it can flow easily through the chakras and nadis.
Kundalini changes your life completely. Put simply, it changes every aspect of your life and the way that you see the world. This has been my experience. It is not only that the body comes into a state of permanent ecstasy. The awakening of the higher chakras brings about the experience of spiritual intuition, bliss, divine love and unity. So kundalini plays a major part in the whole process of liberation.
PAA: What is the relationship between Pranyama and the other limbs?
Firstly with regards to Pranyama, mudras, bandhas and Asana, should these methods of breathing/body locks begin to be incorporated with Asana where possible?
Additionally with Pranyama and Samadhi, is the relationship simply that the goal is to purify the subtle nervous system, and pranyama is an efficient method at doing that?
Tristan: The idea of yoga being made up of different limbs originates from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the system of Ashtanga Yoga that he was codifying. In these sutras, Patanjali describes eight limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. The first two limbs, yama and niyama, could be described as restraints and observances, while asana refers to various postures used in yoga, and pranayama relates to breathing practices. The last four limbs refer to different aspects of meditation practice.
There are people who do practise yoga without using all the eight limbs as described by Patanjali. For example, many practitioners don’t use pranayama practices, and some don’t have a dedicated asana practice; the only asanas they would use would be those used during their meditation practice. Also, some practitioners don’t pay attention to the restraints and observances and instead allow their conduct to change naturally as a result of their practices.
The 8-limbs are also not separate from each other. Someone practising pranayama, could begin to experience the introversion of the senses (pratyahara) happening during their pranayama practice. They could also experience dharana, dhyana and samadhi taking place during their pranayama practice. All of these things can also be experienced during asana practice when we reach more advanced stages of the practice. So, we could think of the limbs of yoga more as inter-woven qualities, rather than separate branches on a tree.
When it comes to combining pranayama practices, mudras, and bandhas, with asana practice, it can be done and is quite common. However, it’s usually best done by more experienced practitioners who know what they’re doing. It is common to find ujjayi breathing being used during asana practice, for example, and to find mudras and bandhas being used during asana practice as well. There is even a stage where all of these things will begin to happen automatically in the body. As the prana rises, it will naturally cause the locks and seals to come on, and will cause the breathing to change. When this is happening it is referred to as “maha mudra”.
And yes, with regards to pranayama and samadhi, pranayama is more effective at purifying the subtle nervous system, than samadhi is. So, that is why it is used by many yogis. But samadhi is also very important. Samadhi, and especially nirvikalpa samadhi, is an essential prerequisite for enlightenment.
PAA: Let’s now look at some other subjects talked about but not often experienced. Kechari Mudra – to those new to Yoga it may sound quite ridiculous. But could you talk more about the process, its place in AYP and why this is often talked about as a huge step forward on the path.
Tristan: Kechari mudra is a practice that involves bringing the tongue to the soft palate on the roof of the mouth, or even further up into the nasopharynx. For this practice to be effective, kundalini needs to be already awakened in the body, which means that prana needs to be flowing up through the body, transforming it on an energetic level. This flow of prana, when active, will move through various energetic channels, with the main one being sushumna or the central channel, and others including the two side channels, ida and pingala. However, there is another energetic channel that rises up through the body and ends at the tip of the tongue.
When this starts to happen, prana will flow out of the tongue and be lost into the area in front of the mouth. But if we bring the tongue up onto the roof of the mouth, pressing against the soft palate, the energy will flow up into the head and connect with various energetic centres there. It will also align with other energetic channels that flow through the head, such as the sushumna nadi and the brahma nadi, which rises up through the crown chakra. So, this is what kechari mudra is all about. Experienced practitioners become aware of the activation of the energetic channel that flows through the tongue, and this desire to bring the tongue up onto the roof of the mouth, happens naturally. Another aspect of this is that this practice will also activate a particular energetic centre on the front side of the nasopharynx. All of this is related to the activation of the third eye, the crown chakra, and the whole body in general, which can bring a practitioner of yoga into states of ecstasy.
So, this is not a practice that can be used by everyone. A certain amount of yoga needs to be done before this practice becomes meaningful and effective. In my own case, I only used kechari mudra for about 6 months. After that, I began using direct crown chakra practices, and kechari mudra didn’t seem as relevant anymore, because the activation of the crown was producing such strong flows of prana.
PAA: Now let’s talk about Mudra – what is their function in AYP and Yoga in general. How should we use them effectively?
Tristan: So, the word “mudra” means seal. They are a set of practices designed to cause prana to rise up through the body. Kechari is one of the mudras, and so is shambhavi, the gentle lifting of the eyes up towards the point between the eyebrows. In some Sanskrit texts, the bandhas are referred to as mudras. But, essentially, these are all advanced practices that can be incorporated into our yoga practice, when we are ready. It is important to be aware of how and when to incorporate them, as well as how to scale-back our practice if needed.
PAA: For those planning to begin Yoga or are currently studying/self studying yoga who are looking to go deeper into their practice what kind of practices and schedule would you recommend?
Tristan: The AYP practices involve beginning with 20 minutes of meditation twice a day, followed by a few minutes of rest. Once this routine has been established, 10 minutes of Spinal Breathing Pranayama can be added to the beginning of each sitting. This can then be enhanced further by adding mudras and bandhas to pranayama practice and adding a short asana routine before pranayama. How to build up a practice is described in detail in the AYP lessons.
The most important thing is to make meditation the core of any yoga practice. Meditation develops the stability and equanimity that we need to be able to manage the journey over the long term. The highs and lows of ecstasy can be daunting at times, unless we have a core of inner silence to fall back on.
The other important thing is to do only what is manageable. If we take on a practice that is over-ambitious and which we simply will not have time for, then it won’t work. So doing something that takes less time, but which we can actually do each day, is more valuable. Yoga is a bit like learning to play a musical instrument. If we practise only once a week, we will not make much progress. But if we practise every day, we will.
PAA: Where do you see the future of Yoga? Will it become further commercialised or will we see a return to the inner practices?
Tristan: It is hard to say. It is tempting to think that the modern commercialisation of asana practice in the West is just a fashion trend, and will pass like all fashion trends do. But at the same time, more and more people are moving beyond just a weekly asana practice and are learning about the deeper more spiritual practices of yoga, such as meditation, pranayama and Self-inquiry (Jnana Yoga). So the commercialised side of yoga can actually serve as a way for people to learn about the higher teachings and practices, even if it often happens indirectly. At the same time of course, the higher teachings are becoming increasingly accessible, because of the internet, and interest in the full-scope teachings of yoga is growing. So, I am quietly optimistic that we will see a sea-change in human spiritual consciousness over the next few decades.
PAA: How does AYP and other authentic groups effectively teach these concepts? Is there not a huge risk of thinking we have achieved certain things when in fact we have not and are still bound to certain behaviours and fears/desires?
How do we honestly tell where we are in the process?
Tristan: Traditionally, spiritual practices have been taught using what is called the “teacher – disciple”, or “guru- chela” method. This is where someone finds a teacher, who they trust, and then asks for instructions. The spiritual practices are then taught to the student, on a one-to-one level, with new practices only being taught when the teacher thinks the student is ready. AYP is a shift away from this way of knowledge transmission. With AYP , all of the practices are made available, and the student is given the tools to know when they are ready to take on each practice. They are also given the knowledge to know how to regulate, or self-pace, their own practice. This is effectively a revolution in the transmission of knowledge within yoga. For it to work, of course, it means that people need to be able to take responsibility for their own practice. They need to not push ahead too fast, and to cut back on practices when they need to. There is no one there, telling them that they have to. So, everyone needs to be responsible for their own practice.
We can know where we are on the path by how we feel during the day. Do we feel peaceful? Do we feel joyful? Do we feel content? Do we feel loving towards others? Do we suffer? When things happen that are upsetting, are we able to let go of these things quite quickly, or do we hold on to them for a long time? These are the hallmarks of rising enlightenment. Of course, the mind can always trick us into thinking that we are further along on the spiritual path than we really are. This even happens to advanced practitioners. But, if we are living in the world and interacting with others, then at some point we will come up against our own shortcomings, and be reminded that we are not there yet! One of my teachers used to say: “If you ever think you are enlightened, go and spend two weeks living with your parents.” So, there is always that test!
PAA: AYP Plus – I see there is a lot of content. Could you tell more about the benefits of the AYP plus site? Can people still progress with everything on the original site?
Tristan: So, Yogani originally wrote around 400 lessons on yoga, which are all available for free. These lessons cover everything that people need to know to attain enlightenment, including all of the practices. He then went on to write hundreds of additions to these lessons, which he made available on the AYP Plus site, which is a subscription website. The site also includes audio of all the lessons and the lesson additions, recorded by Yogani. It also includes all the books and audiobooks. So, I would say that AYP Plus is a useful tool for people who are practising AYP, as there are a lot of additional insights into different aspects of the practice available, but it is not necessary.
AYP Plus does bring in the finances needed to keep providing the free AYP lessons online, and to keep the public support forum available for practitioners around the world. Large websites don’t manage themselves, unfortunately. So, there is that.
PAA: Finally, for those who would like to learn more about your courses and retreats, can you provide your new website and means of contact as well as what they can expect to learn on one of your courses.
Tristan: The website for the retreats and teacher training courses that I run is here.
On retreats we have several practice sessions each day where we do asana practice followed by Spinal Breathing, Deep Meditation and Samyama. We also have satsang sessions where teachings on yoga are given, and there are opportunities to ask questions about spiritual practice. Online and in-person retreats are now taking place.
The AYP Yoga Teacher Training Courses (TTC’s) are 29-day residential courses, registered with the Yoga Alliance. They are designed to train teachers to teach a full-scope yoga practice including asana, Spinal Breathing Pranayama, Deep Meditation, and mudras and bandhas. We also practise Samyama and Self-inquiry on the TTC’s. They are run as retreats, where we practise three-times a day on top of the training necessary to become a teacher. So they are a great opportunity to deepen personal practice, as well as become qualified as a teacher.
AYP Video courses are becoming available now, that will cover many aspects of the AYP teachings and provide direct support from a teacher.