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I recently caught with YJ contributor Jaimal Yogis to discuss his memoir about his experiences with surfing and Buddhism, Saltwater Yoga: A Surfers Quets to Find Zen on the Sea. A long-time yoga practitioner, Yogis (his real name–you’ll have to read the book for details) offers a candid glimpse into his adventures as a surfer and spiritual seeker. Below, he talks about how it all relates to his yoga practice.
YJ:What inspired you to write your memoir?
Jaimal: My Zen practice, yoga, and surfing have always blended together for me. All three are tools that make me feel happy and whole. I’d never thought about writing a book about them, but one day during graduate school in New York I was having a terrible day–lots of stress–and I decided to sneak a meditation sit in between classes. It wasn’t going well. I felt like I was drowning in negative waves, negative thoughts: “you’re not going to get you deadlines in”, “you should quit now”, those kinds of things. I was able to pop out of the funk by pretending I was out surfing on a really bad day. My thoughts were just these ugly grizzly waves and none of them were really ridable so I had to let them pass. In other words, I decided I didn’t want to ride (or identify with) these weird thoughts anymore. It worked. I wrote a short article about the experience for Shambhala Sun Magazine and before I knew it, tons of people were contacting me about the article. Wisdom Publications was one of those people and we worked out a book deal where I could just tell my spiritual surfing adventures, which was really fun. It just sort of happened on its own, which is how a Zen book should happen I suppose.
YJ: How does your book relate to yoga? Why do you think it would appeal to yoga practitioners?
Jaimal: On a fundamental level, I’ve never been one to separate yoga and Zen. As you know, Yoga means union. Zen is Japanese for “Dhyana”–a word often used in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras–which you could say is the type of concentration in which the mind is united with its object of concentration in such a way that union is all there is. So I don’t think there’s much division. I used the words “Zen” and “Buddha” because I was writing for a Buddhist publisher and I like those words a lot, but yoga (in sense of asana and more yogic styles of meditation) has been an equally huge part of my life–I’ve studied under just as many traditional yogis as traditional Buddhists–and the book could just as easily be called Saltwater Yogi: A Surfer’s Quest to find Bliss on the Sea. These are just terms we use, but the essence of the search is the same. All paths return to the source, as many yogis have said. The Buddha was a yogi … Anyway, you get the point. Surfing didn’t exist in India at the time of the Buddha and Patanjali (the waves there aren’t so great) but I think if it did, it might have been a style of yoga, a spiritual practice like it was for the ancient Hawaiians. A lot of yogis are starting to surf and vice-versa and they many of them seem to realize instantly that the two are very harmonious.
YJ: Are you planning to write more books in the future? Do you know what your next topic will be?
Jaimal: Funny, I just started my new book two days ago. It’s a little secretive right now, but it’s basically a book that poses the question: “What would life be like if you tossed out fear, threw caution to the wind, and just followed your deepest dreams?” Essentially, some musician, surfer, and yogi friends of mine are hopping in a van and traveling the globe, trying to live out the dreams we had when we were kids, the ones we’d discarded as too silly or unattainable. We just want to see what happens. I’m narrating the journey. I’m so excited about it I can hardly contain myself but that’s all I can really say about it right now.