On Death, Aging & Ashtanga with Danny Paradise

Originally published at Balispirit Festival Blog

So many yoga classes, so much time… Even though the festival is officially over, I thought I’d add a dash of after-blogging to the after party spirit.

On April 3, from some 25 classes, I selected Danny Paradise’s Ashtanga class for 4 main reasons. First the name -Danny Paradise – sounds more like a piano bar player than a yoga teacher.  Second, the description of the class – Aging and Death.  Two events I do my utmost not to think about.  Third, Danny’s experience and reputation as a practitioner of Ashtanga for over 30 years. And fourth, the fact that Ashtanga is a style of yoga distinctly different from the out of the box off-the-mat styles of Shiva Rae, Eoin Finn, and Rebecca Pflaun. Ultimately Astanga yoga is the origin of nearly all yoga styles.

I place my mat near the front of the class and settle in at the feet of this man who looks like he stepped right out of Haight Ashbury circa 1967. His many years as a yoga practitioner and life of a seeker have granted him wisdom and insight that he graciously shares during the first half of each class.

The following are a few of the gems that Danny Paradise shared with us on the last of his three classes during the festival. The topic – Aging and Death.

First he lays this on us: The root cause of depression is fear of living your dreams.

And how do we know what our dreams are? By listening to our soul.“If you don’t acknowledge the presence of your soul and what it is saying to you, you create depression. Your soul knows what you want. Listen.”
“We come to yoga mainly as a physical practice but ultimately yoga is soul work.

On death: Danny says death is a transition to an ecstatic awakening condition.

Mayans refer to death as “Nowness”. Most indigenous cultures don’t have a word for death.  The message of ancient yoga is that if you take care of yourself on a regular basis your whole life, if you purify yourself, and live love, when death comes it will be a rapid transition. At the moment of death, you come to full realization that all effect is created by thought, manifestation is a result of intention, intention creates reality, and everything you experience in life, you have called into your life for your personal evolution.

On aging: Yoga is an excellent healing tool… As you heal yourself physically,  it empowers you to make radical changes in your life.When you have vitality and energy you can use that to meet any challenges that come your way and in so doing avoid depression and discouragement. Remember that you are creating the challenges in your life that help you to evolve. Yoga gives expanded focus.

The Mayan word for “old” means strong like a tree. Elders in these cultures were pepole you could count on for information about wisdom and understanding. They aged with health, vitality and grace.

The word for life in Mayan tradition means interconnectedness…we are all interdependent. Anger,  jealousy, anxiety, distress, creates disease.

Yoga helps you to be healthy and happy through your own will. When you make yourself happy, you make others happy around you. If you want to be in a solid relationship, you need to be happy with yourself to draw that to yourself.

Through building heat in the body and sweating you eliminate toxins…yoga is far and away one of the best detoxing exercises you can do.

Yoga reaches deep into the mind and heart and brings up old wounds and memories that we have suppressed. As they rise to the surface you can release them.

Bringing yourself completely into the present as we do doing yoga practice, is one of the main ways of healing – forgiving, pulling in your spiritual destiny, recognizing your spiritual essence.

He talks about developing a “peacekeeper mind”, getting rid of thoughts of scarcity, conflict, separation, and bringing into your being a healing force.

Personal power strengthens your immunity and strength. “I’ve seen people heal themselves from cancer, scoliosis, allergies and more …people altered their diet, thought positively and took care of themselves on the deepest levels possible…those are yogic, ancient prescriptions passed down generations to generations for thousands of years.
In our lifetimes everyone here will at some point experience loss of personal power, whether through radical challenges, losing your health or your possessions. At that point you have to determine what you have faith in, do you believe you can heal yourself?  90% of the work of healing is the work that you do for yourself.

Yoga adds 20-30 years of active health to one’s life Danny claims. It is changing the nature in how people are aging. All this talk about health care in America? Insurance companies are starting to finance yoga because they realize that those who do yoga require less medical care. “I am now seeing people in their 60’s and 70’s practicing yoga and the way that they are aging is amazing.”

Danny then goes on to talk about how yoga can completely alter your body. It takes 10 years to purify to eliminate and correct the past. All the 103 industrial chemicals we carry in our cells contribute to the creation of diseases like cancer, allergies, and immune system problems. Yoga is your best option for healing.

A student asks how to break patterns of behavior we don’t like but find ourselves repeating.

Danny answers, “On the simplest level yoga clears your mind. Allows you to step out of regular order of your life and to break patterns by becoming aware of them. Through awareness you can perceive patterns and the perception alone can sometimes allow you to break the patterns.”

Every time you are jealous or angry, you throw a stone in your bowl, but at any moment in the day, you can turn that bowl of stones and pour it out and your let with a full bowl of life. That’s how you can recognize who you are and what your sacred nature is.

Sometimes it just takes sitting down and asking for guidance, how to be true to yourself. Honest, clear, recognizing that your primary responsibility is to yourself. You must make yourself happy first,for  if you’re not happy, it will have a negative impact on those around you. If you don’t make yourself happy, you will create disease.

If you have a fear you should step into it. He uses as an example his fear of going to India the first time because he knew it would open a door through which he would never return. He confronted that fear, went to India, and it set the course of his life.

Then we move into the practice. He demonstrates opening our chests, taking deep breathes, lifting the solar plexus, utilizing the banda,ojai breathing,  lean into legs, move stomach muscles in and out, back and forth. We spend the next half hour doing extended standing sequences and asanas with derivations based on classical yoga from India.

Danny ends the class by reminding us that the most important aspect of yoga is prana, the increasing of the life force through inspiration and respiration.

Yoga is breath. Breath is spirit. Spirit is ageless – and spirit trumps death. Yoga anyone?

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