18 Feb The Only Way Out is In with Anthony “Prem” Calisi
“The only way we can continue on this path and honor it’s original form is to keep what Sri K. Pattabhi Jois shared with us”
Anthony “Prem” Carlisi has been practicing and teaching Ashtanga yoga for 40 years. He learned directly from Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (“Guruji”) in 1978 for several months in Southern California. In 1979, he was amongst the first small group of Western students to go to Mysore, India. He has been back and forth to Mysore many times since then, staying for 1-6 months at a time. He is considered one of the American pioneers of Ashtanga yoga, along with David Williams, Nancy Gilgoff, David Swenson and Tim Miller. Prem was honored by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois by being certified to teach the primary, intermediate and advanced series of Ashtanga yoga in 1994. Prem also completed a four-year course of ayurvedic study in 1984 with Dr. Vasant Lad and has been studying tantric techniques since 1990. In 2007, Prem published his first book, The Only Way Out Is In, which is his commentary on the synergy of the three life sciences of Ashtanga yoga, ayurveda and tantra. He and his partner Heather Duplex are now based primarily in Ubud, Bali for 6-8 months of the year, and 3-4 months in Kauai, Hawaii with Pineapple Yoga. They offer daily Mysore classes in both locations, as well as trainings for teachers, intensives and workshops that deepen the understanding of Ashtanga yoga, ayurveda and tantra.
It has been such a wonderful blessing to connect and interview one of the main pillars of the practice, Prem, who has inspired me greatly on my journey and continues to do so for many. His humble approach, teachings & clarity is what radiates out in his teachings. His unwavering devotion and dedication on his path and close connection with Guruji is what has inspired me on my path. Especially when thinking about the evolution of Ashtanga Yoga and for why it has been popularized worldwide today. For me it was critical to interview senior teachers who I call the main pillars of the practice that have been holding the torch of Ashtanga Yoga for decades and it was important for me to bring this to the forefront and preserve as the community continues to expand and grow in so many ways. So to this we bow down in deep respect and continue to share the wisdom, love and devotion of these teachings. This interview certainly inspired me and ignited an inner flame which I am sure all the devotional practitioners of this method will connect and resonate with. Much love and blessings <3
How did you discover the path of yoga and what was your first encounter with Ashtanga Yoga?
I must of had some good Karma points accumulated somewhere along the way. I was not looking per se for something at the time. I was definitely lost though. I was just graduating from a prominent University in California. Not really that happy with my life and the way it was going. Some dear friends basically dragged me to an Ashtanga class. Told me I would love it because I was so into sports (basketball/volleyball/surfing etc…). I went and watched a class and was hooked afterwards. I began the next day and haven’t stopped practicing for 40 years!!!
Reflecting back on your journey as a practitioner, what was the most profound milestone/s that has shaped who you are as a practitioner today and that which may have shaped your perspectives along your path as a student of this method?
The most profound milestone for me has been the gradual overall cumulative effect of the practice. It began immediately as my body and mind were miraculously transformed from the intense cleansing I needed at the time. Over the years it became clearer to me what my mission here on Earth was all about. The asana and pranayama practice strengthened me to endure my destiny in the most graceful way possible. It naturally led me to seek a more meditative practice in my elder years. I still have the integrity in my energy to withstand the intense “inner” work needed on the path.
Reflecting back on your journey as a teacher, what was the most profound milestone/s that has shaped who you are as a teacher today and that which may have shaped your perspectives along your teaching career?
I have to say that once I began teaching I began to learn in a whole different way. I had to be able to communicate this brilliant method to my students one by one. An art that I have cultivated over decades. I was led to Ayurveda which gave me added insight into the individual needs of each of my students as well. This is what I love most about the method of teaching in this tradition. It gives me the opportunity to meet each of my students in the most intimate way possible. No other method does this like Ashtanga. It does take a long time to master this art of teaching. I thank all of my thousands of students who have allowed me to basically learn more about myself and them through observing the techniques of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Asana practice.
Has your definition of yoga changed over time and how would you describe yoga in your life as it is today?
Yes most definitely! As I have grown and matured as a practitioner/teacher my overall outlook changed with it. I am more excepting and compassionate towards myself and others. I am able to adapt and move according to what is necessary at any given moment. What a gift I have been given with this sacred art of practice and teaching. I feel blessed everyday I am able to practice and teach. It has given me longevity and endurance. It has allowed me to keep going even after I lost my eldest daughter in a tragic car accident. Without my practice I would have never been able to carry on. It has not been easy! But I can only tell you without it I would not be here today.
As the Ashtanga practice becomes really popular and spread worldwide with many new students being introduced to the practice through different means, there is a large degree of the practice being diluted or stripped away of its original value and spiritual context. How can we keep the legacy of Sri K Pattabhi Jois alive today?
The only way we can continue on this path and honor it’s original form is to keep what Sri K. Pattabhi Jois shared with us. That is in the hands of all his students that personally studied with him. I practiced with him for 30 years off and on. I began in 1978. It is now as I said earlier, 40 years of practice and teaching. You can not get this in a 200 hr. Teacher Training or any set training like it. You must work with a teacher over a long period of time (Guruji said 10 years). I feel if you really are called to teach then you must apprentice with that teacher as well. This is how Radha and I are presenting the teaching aspect of this method. We also offer “Teacher Immersions” for Teachers and Advanced Students to learn more about aspects of practice and teaching. It is like the practice. Some people grasp teaching and are meant to teach others are not. Too many people now are going to become teachers. When in fact they should just learn how to practice and leave it at that! When I first started we all went to India to learn from Guruji not to become teachers! Everyone now running to Mysore is chasing a piece of paper and to get on a list!!! A piece of paper and being on a list does not automatically make you a proficient teacher. It takes years of diligent practice and teaching along a seasoned teacher. This is my answer to all this non-sense!
In regards to its original context as a spiritual tool, can you describe what the practice really is and what it means to you and Radha as devout and inspiring practitioners of The Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga method?
I feel Ashtanga Vinyasa asana and pranayama prepares you for the rest of the Ashtanga Yoga method. That is Pratyhara/Dharana/Dhyana. There is some of these elements built into the practice but I see it as a preliminary stage to prepare you for the higher levels of Yoga namely Dhyana and Samadhi. The asanas and breathing (pranayama) is to build the body and mind. Preparation to be still enough for the natural state of meditation to occur. Asana and Pranayama along with diet and other lifestyle practices take care of the physical body. It makes them strong and last long time. There is nothing spiritual about having a strong or flexible body/mind! Our soul is beyond this! It is not material. It is Consciousness that pervades all that is. Our soul resides at the third eye, the sixth chakra or center. Below this is Pinda Body (muladhara chakra to vishudha chakra) from the sixth (Ajna Chakra) inward is the Astral Body with it’s own set of six chakras. And then from there within is the six chakras of the Causal Body. You can only traverse this from Within. It’s an Inside Job as I like to call it 🙂 I wrote a book called “The Only Way Out is In”. In that I describe how what Patanjali describes asana as “seated posture” not the Hatha Yoga therapy that we preform to stay healthy and strong. Big distinction that is lost in translation. In the end of our life here on the Earth plane, the only way out is In!!!
How did you meet Guruji and what was your most memorable memory/lesson with him?
I met Guruji on his second trip to USA in 1978. I was only into Ashtanga asana practice for 3 months! I met this Indian guy “Guruji” who came to our Yoga school in Encinitas, California. The one I told you about when I first started. It was this magical space, a small christian church that was converted into a Yoga Shala. This is where we all practiced everyday as a group. Guruji showed up invited to teach there for around 6 months. So I was fortunate enough to really begin my Yoga journey with him. It was quite memorable as I was such a neophyte. I was very impressed first of all by his energy and enthusiasm. He was 62 years young which is what I am now 🙂 He bounded around the room like he was in his 20’s! He was very dynamic and forceful. He made you go deeper than you could possibly imagine. I was impressed by how he could manage a large group of people with such proficiency. He addressed each of us individually. He gave all of us just what we needed at the time. He discovered quickly all our strengths and weaknesses and helped us to go beyond all of it. He taught a few people in small groups pranayama and gave discourses in the afternoons around once a week or so. A very special time indeed! A small group of us (6 students) went to Mysore the next year (1979) to be with him. We were the first official group of students to be with him in Mysore. That’s a whole another story… I do share some of it in my book.
What are your favorite books to read?
- Gregor Maele’s book on the Primary Series is excellent with Yoga sutras at the end.
- Osho’s “Book of Secrets” is very good read on real Tantra Yoga.
- Dr. Vasant Lad’s book on Ayurveda called “Ayurveda the Science of Life”.
- Path of the Masters by Julian Johnson is great meditation book and story about “Surat Shabd Yoga”
- “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda
.. Oh so many more but these are some of my favorites related to Ashtanga Yoga/Ayurveda and Tantra which are my forte’s.
Anything else you would like to share that we students and teachers can learn from and be inspired by?
I guess the final message I would like to leave you all with is “keep an open mind” and stay in a “seeking” or discovery mode. There is nothing more damaging than thinking something is set in stone. Especially something spiritual like Yoga! Yoga is fluid and flowing. It is not static and dogmatic. Please do not make it into a Religion. It will close you down and you will operate from a place of fear and anxiety instead of Joy and Love!
Connect with Prem on Social Media:
FB: Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Center