My Brother The Yogi — An Interview with Christian Jerman
My brother and I get along famously. We had a great time growing up together, and my life would be so incredibly bereft if he wasn't around. He and I as people, however, have persued some differing skill sets. Aside from music, which we both love to make and make together, he has begun to cultivate a learned and engaging physiospiritual work ethic within the arts of yoga.
Recently I had the opportunity to ask my only sibling to go on the record about his background and current thoughts for this oft-misunderstood practice.
What is the most surprising thing so far that yoga has taught you?
I have practiced yoga for about nine years and the most surprising thing I’ve learned is how flickers of insight come while in the deep in practice, and how without consistent deep practice, these lessons are easily forgotten.
The purpose of yoga is a deep connection/understanding/experience of a state of consciousness known as turiya; where a yogi sees god everywhere, transcending the three states of mind, awake, deep sleep and dreaming. This mindset is elusive. With consistent practice it is easy to be focused, but without the state of consciousness achieved loses foothold and the common truths that are experienced in these higher states either wash away or are forgotten by the demands of the lower states of consciousness (food, survivial, sex, shelter, power, etc.)
So, in reflection, I can see how these insights (mostly universally common understandings of living well, i.e. truthfulness, non-violence, contentment) when attained, bring about a sense of achievement and allow the yogi a choice of feeling proud in achievement or humbly continuing on the path regardless of the newfound truths that have, more or less, been bestowed upon him or her. These truths can be seen as abilities that the lower consciousness may want to use to further the power of the ego. This is a trap that holds yogis back from continuing their progress on the path and can really be compared to what Yoda (yes, from Star Wars) was quoted as saying: “Seductive, is the dark side of the force.” One can think they are doing great good, although they may be merely gaining power by using what they have learned to be an image of “Good.” The ego has a way of hiding in plain sight and the yogi must always be on the vigil for the good intentions that pave the pathway to hell.
Are there any contradictions within the practice? Any hypocrisies you can’t stand?
The most fundamental flaw I have seen in the practice is the Westernization of yoga, which really boils the whole practice into a dance routine. Most yoga classes consist of a series of postures known as asana.
Asana is one limb of the eightfold path of yoga. It is the third limb to be exact, not to be practiced until one is skilled and set well in the first two limbs, yama and niyama. Those first two limbs set the stage for one to begin the physical practice of asana or seat.
The yamas and niyamas are the restrictions and observances and they are more or less the moral guidelines one most uphold before continuing the practice of yoga. I have heard it put that practicing yoga without the yamas and niyamas is like blowing air into a a ripped air mattress. This being said, yoga now is about creating a slim, toned, and healthy looking body and living a life that is happy in regards to physical health. Although there is nothing wrong with this, and physical health is certainly very important when it comes to happiness and living in a thriving body as well as thriving in society, the unfortunate side effect is that this creates a false idol of perfection and glorifies the state of being young and youthful. This drive is pleasing to the ego as a pursuit into greed and lust—to be like something else, without trying to understand oneself. Isn’t it funny how all the young kids want to act grown up and how the grown ups try to look young?
The only upside I see to this is that the attractive youthful appeal of yoga helps bring people to the practice and then, hopefully, to arrival at an understanding of the underlying philosophy behind the exercise.
You have attended yoga retreats and instructor training courses. How do these differ from one another if at all, and were they vital to becoming an instructor?
Yoga is a spiritual practice like martial arts. And like martial arts, there are many masters and many lineages. The biggest differences between these retreats and trainings would be the lineages. Lineages are very important. For Americans, it is easy to do what I have heard referred to as “spiritual grocery shopping.”
With the ease of access to many spiritually advanced arts, texts, religions and practices, we seem to walk the isles and cherry pick the pieces of each practice that we like. A little of each one does not necessarily create a whole. This being said, I know that there is an importance to finding a lineage that resonates well with you and sticking with it. The down side to this is that American culture is also one of excitement and newness. The beginning of all practices can be invigorating and enthralling, and in the beginning we put all our attention and effort into this new adventure that we want to be a catalyst to reinventing our whole lives. But, in time, all things have routine and can become humdrum. During these times it is normal to go look for something new and exciting again, not unlike our fascination with romance. When the honeymoon phase is complete and life reaches a natural plateau it can seem downright depressing or even imprisoning.
A lineage is a process that a master has passed down onto others and others have found to be insightful and meaningful throughout their lives. The power of a lineage also is shown by its longevity. Some people need a master and a lineage to help bring meaning to their lives, while some need to find meaning all their own. It has been said that a master can only be your master as long as you allow them to be. They will always teach you as long as you believe there is something they know that you do not. That is not to say that every fool is his own best master, but that we may have masters who come and go throughout our lives. Some are blessed to have the courage, confidence and intelligence to blaze their own path all their lives, but many of us need, or simply enjoy, guidance, company and companionship.
So, was going to my TTC—teacher training course—vital to my becoming a yoga teacher? I would say yes. I needed the insight and wisdom of others to help me build the confidence to move forward on my path. I would encourage anyone with a desire to deepen their practice or become a teacher to participate in a TTC.
Who are some yogis you admire and why?
In my lineage, Swami Vishnudevanada was the staple leader of Sivinanda Yoga. He was a direct disciple of Swami Sivinanda and did many great things for yoga and people throughout his life. Sort of a rockstar yogi, he performed many acts of peace in flashy ways, which helped yoga gain public knowledge. He began his practice very young and was sent west by his guru, Sivinanda, with the equivalent of $1 and his guru’s blessing saying “People are waiting.” Throughout his life, he dared dangerous acts in the name of peace including flying over the Berlin Wall and the Suez Canal during war times armed with bouquets of flowers to prove that all walls and boundaries are makings of the mind alone. His achievements are much too many to list. His dedication to his practice was always of utmost importance, even while being imprisoned! I have met people who were Vishnudevanada’s direct disciples, and they too seem to be alive and aware—lit with an unmistakable fire from within. Although, not an enlightened master like his guru Sivinanda, Vishnudevananda was blessed with a high level of consciousness from a lifetime of dedication and practice. In yoga there are many lifetimes one leads until one becomes enlightened and joins with God, and if Vishnudevananda did not actualize in his life, then his enlightenment is soon before him in his next life.
You are a practitioner of many arts. Do you remember when yoga became part of your calling to practice? What role did martial arts play in this?
Well, sister dear, yoga landed on my radar when you first started practicing. I know it was not a daily activity, but your exposure to yoga led to mine.
I first attended a class, funny enough, after a one night stand.
I had recently been hit by a car on a bike ride home from the skatepark. I was laid up for about a month and couldn’t skate, so I naturally was a little depressed since I wasn’t exercising in my normal capacity. I had a crush that after a date ended up in a night of strange unexpected sex. I woke the next morning feeling OK but not great and began my walk home. On the walk home my neighbor, who also practiced yoga and was very friendly and cool, drove by and scooped me up. On our way home he said he was going to get his stuff and go to yoga class and urged me to come. I obliged since I always wanted to go to yoga, never had, and this opportunity literally fell into my lap. I went, and after one class I started going more and more. Since I couldn’t skate I felt like I was rehabilitating and It helped me expell energy keeping my dopamine levels in check. I began buying monthly passes to the studio and attending classes three times a week.
It didn’t take long for the teacher’s words to start swirling in my mind, and in the beta-wave thought process you enter during a yoga class, I started to look into the meanings of Sanskrit words and the philosophy behind yoga. It was fascinating to me as a Christian, born and raised in the faith, and then a questioning college student who then ventured out on his own and started diving into the deeper questions and truths of life. To rediscover religion and spirituality at 24, I think was integral in my understanding of life and love. Like learning a different language, the truths of life can be hidden by words. We sometimes forget that words are a short hand way of expressing their definitions. I could understand a deeper, more basic level of life from this alternative vantage point of religion in it’s effort to explain the spiritual nature of things and the natural wonder of the world in which we’re blessed to live.
Martial arts came after my study with yoga and was more a pursuit of some long lost childhood desire that was never quenched. Mom and dad didn’t oblige me in my whining to take Karate classes so I ventured into it on my own and had the profound discovery that I truly just enjoy the body, and the art of movement and rhythm. Skateboarding, dance, yoga, tai chi, and martial arts are all beautiful practices in the realm of movement. Each practice, it’s own science.
Are there any questions people never ask you about this, but you wish they would?
Not especially, but I do get a lot of questions regarding body mechanics that, as a yogi, I am unable to answer, but also feel are unnecessary. Most people want to know how to stop pain or have a pain/tension that they need rid of, and although I can help by showing proper stretches, many pains throughout the body have a hidden root. Shoulder pain, back pain, foot pain, sometimes are rooted from injuries elsewhere in the body and for that reason I do not want to misdiagnose or mistreat the problem.
Mostly I just wish there were more open discussions than questions. At TTC there were 26 of us all there, immersed, and we would constantly compare notes and voice our problems with the material as well as our breakthroughs in yoga. As a teacher, I still feel like a student. So questions are welcomed but I don’t always have the answers.