September 8, 2012

A Joint with A Point: Why the “Intention Joint” is Completely Yogic in My Book.

Intention Joint at Whistler Wanderlust photo: Ali Kaukas

First, a big thanks to my friend Roseanne from Its All Yoga, Babybecause obviously she saw an image she needed to question.

I think we were all amazed at how many have people commented on the IAYB post, offering strong opinions either seeing a Joint of Intention…or a Point of Contention. I love this about the global yoga community; we explore ideas and hold each other accountable.

As an aside, I have learned so much from my experience in this media debate. When we see one image in isolation, especially one that has a high “black licorice factor”—meaning people either love it or hate it—and very rarely are indifferent, we are quick to make judgments, without examining the context around an image. And there was so much context around this image.

That said, I think the question that was asked on the IAYB blog about the “Intention Joint” was a great one: “Is this disrespectful to the tradition of yoga?”

Here is why I feel that the “Intention Joint” is not disrespecting yoga but saluting it; why I feel it is not pro-drug but anti-drug; and why, to me, it is a path towards making yoga relevant to my life and the cultural context of the people I am teaching.

Why The “Intention Joint” is Not “Un-Yogic.”

My main inspiration is Joseph Campbell (the term Blissology offers a big nod to his famous “Follow your Bliss” quote) whose life was about illustrating the universal themes to all philosophies, religions and art. He said that these stories have to be retold in a way that relates to the sensibilities of each generation.

I also learned from him that following a guru is a great way to get a map of the spiritual territory—but we have to find our own path and not just follow someone else’s. What makes something yoga is when it has a spiritual intention behind it.

Yoga asana, for example, can be gymnastics but it can become yoga if it has a spiritual thrust to it. Even something we don’t think of, like body building, can be yoga, if it creates spiritual consciousness. (see Yoga Body, Chapter 5)

I am certain of what my yoga is for me; it is connecting to our hearts.

When I am connected to this place, I have the deepest knowing that a life worth living is one where we are connected to others and to the planet. It is about spreading more love, kindness, awe and laughter in the world before we fade away.

It’s simple but clear to me. If I am doing this, I am on my yogic path.

With every yoga class I teach, this is what I want to share. Even though some of the methods I use may be unconventional, I feel that they are great ways to allow for more of this love, kindness, awe and laughter. I am a big believer of trying to maintain the traditions that have been passed down to us in yoga—and I also try to adapt the teaching to the needs of the modern era…and connect it to what is important to us now.

Hugs=Blissology—every yoga session starts like this. photo: Ali Kaukas

For example, I feel like modern society needs more non-sexual touch motivated by genuine kindness, so since the very first day I taught yoga, the classes have started with hugs. We sometimes do Savasana in puppy piles—not just because it’s fun—but also because I believe we have lost touch with our mammalian side. Most of us have serious lives, filled with worries about finances, relationships and “to-do” lists, so I try to include humor in my classes to lighten the serious edge that can become part of yoga and spirituality.

The “Intention Joint,” to me, is coming from this same space and saying that even though drugs (including alcohol) are a huge part of our culture, when we have yoga and real connections to the heart, who really needs them to feel high?

Air and a great community of positively charged people provide all the fuel you need.

If you were in this particular class, you would have heard me say almost exactly this—it was part of the pre-class dialogue that day and you wouldn’t know this just looking at the Facebook photo.

I also explained another message in that class that is relevant to our topic.

There was a time when I wanted to be what I interpreted as a “true yogi.” I practiced asana for up to four hours a day, read yoga texts every morning, meditated, ate only organic food, went to bed early and taught yoga. I felt healthy and clear.

One evening I found myself out of my routine and up at two in the morning dancing and having a great time. Being silly, laughing and letting loose like I used to as a younger man. I thought, “How did I let go of this side of myself in my quest to be more spiritual and yogi?”

Laughter and dance are not even mentioned in the Yoga Sutrasbut I felt, that night, how key they were to my calling to live the most meaningful life possible.

I made a commitment to bring more of this energy into my yoga classes but to always end with the grounding yoga experience of stillness and sattva, what I would consider the more traditional message of yoga.

When I look at the photo, it brings back real emotions of connection and light-heartedness; you can tell people are having fun in it.

If you read the comments on the original Facebook photo that was a bit viral, it seems most people felt the same way; while scanning through the comments, it seems that there were two camps. People who have been in my classes would have known the context that I have tried to explain. Context is everything!

This is why I believe the “Intention Joint” is yogic—but it is my yoga path and maybe not yours.

Why the “Intention Joint” is Promoting Yoga over Drugs.

I also found the “Intention Joint” funny when I first experienced it.

I didn’t create it—one of my students, Sheena, did in her final class of our teacher training; we took our positive intentions in our hands, rolled them up and breathed them deeply into our cellular matrix. Then, we ‘passed them’ to someone else, sharing what is important to us with another. When she pulled this out, so many of us were crying, because we were laughing so hard.

What was so funny? It was absurd and completely unexpected.

Even more so, there was an immediate and deep knowing in me that the THC in marijuana is not all that creates the high; it was pranayama, straight up…the yogis were onto something.

One of the world’s most sustainable highs starts in yoga class photo: Ali Kaukas

I think Alistair Logan made a great point on the IAYB blog response, when he pointed out that touching the index finger and thumbs stimulate the Nadisthe inhalation is Puraka, inviting Prana in and the holding is Kumbhaka (creating stillness) with the long exhalation (Rechaka) releasing tension. It reminded me of something David Swenson said years ago: “Most people don’t know it but the big part of the appeal of smoking is the pranayama benefits.”

He was right. These pranayama effects of toking on air alone, without drugs, changes our body chemistry and parasympathetic tone in the nervous system.

When the effect of this increase of prana was combined with seeing so many smiles on the faces of all my friends laughing, it became clear to a lot of us at that class, that we really don’t need drugs to feel the high that people seek.

Why The “Intention Joint” Addresses the Issues of Our Modern Era.

Yet, we live in a culture that relies on drugs—including alcohol—to relax us and give us a temporary lift.

Where I live, in British Columbia, Canada, marijuana is something I see smoked on the streets everyday. It drives the economy with “BC Bud” estimated at a seven billion dollar (a year) industry.

It was at the forefront of my mind and clearly part of theme of the Saturday and Sunday classes at Wanderlust Whistler; how most of us numb our pain, forget our problems and loosen up with a glass of red wine or a joint. On top of this, I mentioned in the Saturday class—which had a theme about finding tools to deal with grief in life and yoga practice—how my friend’s brother is a doctor in Ontario, where they give methadone to people trying to give up drugs. He typically sees one hundred people a day.

Our need to replace pain with bliss is massive. But it is misguided; we get high one day and crash the next.

Yoga provides a sustainable uplift, which does change our body chemistry in a slightly more subtle way, perhaps—but without the burnout or forgetting where you put your car keys.

“It is a sustainable high,” I commented during these classes.

Some people reacted to the photo strongly because marijuana is such a cultural taboo and is (according to them) surely not part of yoga and so pushes those buttons.

The reality is that it has been smoked by yogis and sadhus for centuries, as a way of changing one’s neuro-biology to a more ‘holy’ state; Bob Marley and the Rastafarian movement have plenty of company around the world—even in yoga. Many even believe the leaf in Shiva’s hand is Datura.

photo: Dandapani Photography

Look at these Sadhus smoking ganja—would you say that they are un-yogic?

How can we comment on someone else’s experience? All I can really do is say that I respect their spiritual quest…but it isn’t for me.

Smoking pot can be a recreational pleasure—or have a spiritual thrust to it—but I feel the main thing you get from it, besides the munchies, is a sense of enthusiasm. We talked a lot about enthusiasm in this class as well.

My teacher is my eighteenth month old baby; he wakes me up every morning with a smile and runs to the window to show me the miracle of the sun coming up over the ocean or the setting of the moon.

Adults get so busy and forget all of this. Think about it…why do people get stoned?

Because it makes life seem so fresh for a short time. Ice cream is not just Ice Cream; it is “OhmygodthisisthebestthingIhaveevereateninmyentirelife!” A double rainbow is not just a double rainbow but makes us ask ourselves, for twenty minutes straight, the profound question: “What does it mean?”

If you were in the class where the “Intention Joint” was smoked you, would have heard me say that En means within and Theos means God, so enthusiasm is to invite the God within.

We would have talked about what a shame it is that by age forty, most of our thoughts aren’t about the miracle of life but about how much we owe people and our to-do lists. We lose it—and so many of us can only get it back through the use of wine and pot or any other chemical high.

I wanted to address all of this and it was a fun way to make a point. It wasn’t just mindless comedy—I know it won’t work for everyone but it is what is important to me to share, as a teacher, and, at the end of the day, you have to authentically honor what your path is.

In a conversation with another friend and yoga teacher, Tilak Pyle, he told me that this conversation is great and we need it in our yoga community. The key point he shared was in Sheena’s reply on IAYB, explaining when she first used it as part of her teaching practicum, during our teacher training course:

Looking into the smiling faces during yoga class. photo: Ali Kaukas

“I was worried that if I tried to teach someone else’s class, I would come across as dull, fake or worse—that I’d forget my lines! I didn’t want it to be an act. I wanted it to flow from the heart. Then Eoin told us all that in yoga, “a third of the people will like your class, a third won’t like it and the rest won’t care.” He urged us to be ourselves because we can’t conceivably please everyone. We all trained to teach yoga because it brings us great joy in life. Approaching this profession from a place of joyful service is where the real magic happens and in order to do this, we must be authentic. Eoin reminded us that ‘It is better to stand truly naked than to wear someone else’s clothing perfectly.’”

Ultimately, this is why I teach the way I do—and this is why I included the “Intention Joint” in this particular class at Wanderlust Whistler. It felt right, to me, to the context of that class and it was a way to allow my yoga to seep through.

Please comment and let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Namaste + aloha.



Editor: Bryonie Wise

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