It’s a subject I’ve studied individually at various times, with different people and other groups, but what inspired your study into Zen meditations and philosophies?
In college I got very interested in the martial arts, particularly traditional Japanese Karate. My instructor was an old Japanese man who was one of the first to bring karate to America. I had to learn Japanese just to speak with him. At the same time I was exposed to Tai Chi through a Chinese master. It was during this time that my interest in Zen and Eastern philosophy began. I eventually spent 3 years in Japan immersing myself in my studies. I also spent 9 years in Australia studying alternative medicine, yoga and martial arts. During this time I founded Zen Yoga, a blend of Tai Chi movement, Qigong breathing and Shanti Yoga.
What is Zen in your understanding?
Zen is a philosophy of living in the present moment. It is a practice of moving away from the attachments of the past and the imaginations of the future and living fully right now. It is training to remain mindful. Mindfulness training brings a wonderfully alive quality to life. The primary practice is becoming aware of the breath. Breathing is a fundamental process of the physical body, but when combined with mindfulness it becomes a tool for connecting the body and mind so that they function to the best of their ability.
Certain paths of Buddhism adopted Zen as a guiding principle for their study, but Zen is not a religion. It is a state of being.
How does this benefit you and could possibly benefit others?
Physical health is the first benefit. My training has given me a deep understanding of how the body works and what we can do to feel better immediately. Breathing brings oxygen into the body, which is then converted to energy. Mindful breathing enhances this process. It centers us within our body and lets us experience the subtle changes that take place. When we add simple movement exercises we help spread the energy throughout the body.
Mental clarity is the next benefit. Some of us live in a world that seems bent on creating stress in our daily life. Each new technological advance seems to add another layer of distraction to our lives, creating a myriad of stress related afflictions. Mindfulness gives us an opportunity to let things settle. Like a handful of dirt in a glass of water, if we let it sit for a while the dirt settles to the bottom and the water becomes clear. Clarity of thought allows us to discern what is truly important in life so that we can put our energy towards that.
The final benefit is spiritual. When the body is functioning properly and the mind is calm and clear it provides the fertile ground for our spiritual nature to grow and develop. Spirituality is a personal experience of connecting to the greater Spirit of the universe. It is not religious, but has been found through religion. It is a journey unique for each individual. The problem is that if the body is unhealthy through lack of movement, shortness of breath or unhealthy diet it is very difficult to feel what is going on within it. If the mind is distracted or stressed it is hard to connect to that higher part of the self.
This process can help anyone. I have taught hundreds of workshops and classes to people of all different shapes and sized. Everyone has the ability to breathe and move to some extent. That is all that is required to start the process.
If you wish, please tell us some of the people you work with? What are your locations?
When I returned from Australia I began working with an endocrinologist on the Yale Board of Medicine at his mindful medicine facility, Beyond Care, in Connecticut. Many of his patients had diabetes and my job was to create a program for them to breathe, stretch and move, taking into account any physical limitations as well as not raising stress levels. My Zen Yoga program was perfectly suited to that. Proper breathing activates the metabolism while gentle movement assists the circulation of energy through the body. My Zen Yoga Daily Warm-Up is a simple practice for 20 minutes a day can bring profound changes in a short period of time.
The Zen Yoga organization is made up of a small group of like-minded individuals who seek to spread the message that simple breath and movement can have a dramatic effect on our lives. My wife, Elfeya, oversees our online correspondence courses for those interested in going deeper into the study of Zen Yoga. We have a small group of instructors in Australia, Canada and the US. Our headquarters is in the mountains of Vermont on 150 acres of woodland, ledge and pasture. We hold retreats and workshops regularly.
A friend of mine who is a doctor who specializes in psychiatrist, and more specifically eating disorders, would you tell us more about your observations regarding proper eating and your views towards food and good health?
I’ve noticed that these days people tend to pay very little attention to what they are eating. Many people claim that they are just to busy to watch what they eat. They eat on the run or while watching television, with little concern as to where the food they are eating comes from, or what it is doing to them. The convenience of fast food originally seemed like a good idea, but the pursuit of profit has changed things. Food choices are now influenced by the addictive chemicals that are in them, rather than what is good for the body. This is a recipe for disaster as we are beginning to see in the marked increase in people suffering from diabetes as well as cancer related illnesses.
Besides water, oxygen and sleep, the body needs food to provide energy for the body to function properly. If the quality of any of them is lacking then the body starts to have difficulty. If the food has an excess of sugars, fats and chemicals, is overly processed or has little nutritional value the body cannot get what it needs. Unfortunately, the problems that result can take years to manifest. By then the damage has already been done.
Referencing my friend again, he and I discussed some of the contributing factors towards not just poor physical but also mental, emotional and spiritual health which all relate to the person as a whole. What are you suggestions for a better overall balance in people today?
In short, learn to breathe properly and then remember to do it regularly.
Move your body. Rotate the joints and stretch the muscles daily.
Pay attention to what you eat. Cook your own meals and focus on experiencing the taste of your food.
Practice sitting quietly for 5 minutes every day. Bring some peace and quiet to your mind.
I saw from your website that use traditional shamanic ceremonies, what does this include? As a Native American myself, I was curious what training or research was involved?
Shamanism for me is about acknowledging the sacred Spirit in all things, the Earth, sky, sun, moon, stars, trees, animals, birds, insects and all our relations. In our Shamanic ceremonies we honor and give thanks for the strength, nourishment, guidance and wisdom these beings provide us.
I have been very fortunate to have two close friends who embody the meaning of Shaman. One of them is a disciple of Grandfather Wallace Black Elk and spent many years as his fire keeper in sweat lodge ceremonies. The other lived with the indigenous peoples of Guatemala for a number of years and has a deep understanding of Spirit. I am honoured to call them brothers.
My wife and I live in the mountains of Vermont and spend as much time as possible in the natural world. I feel there is no better way to know your self than by direct experience with the natural world and the Spirit that flows through it.
I noticed that your book Zen Anti-Diet is being translated into German, this also drew my eye as I’m Native American but was born in Germany, and it’s culture and society is as much a part of me also, and I speak German. What was the reason for this, and why German in particular?
When one of my Zen Anti-Diet students approached me with the offer of translating the book into German I was very interested. While modern German culture is technologically advanced, I believe it’s people, thankfully, have yet to fully embrace the excesses of American eating habits. I see the German people as very pragmatic and the opportunity to present these teachings is exciting. I believe Zen Anti-Diet will find an eager audience in a vibrant country with a long tradition of spiritual philosophers from Hegel, Anne Emmerich and Keyserling to Ekart Tolle.
Do you plan to expand your translations into other languages?
I would very much like to expand the translations to other languages. At the moment we are concentrating on the German version and have even set up a German Zen Anti-Diaet website.
Do you have any works in progress or new avenues you are exploring involving media?
Yes, the popularity of my Zen Yoga Daily Warm-Up DVD has encouraged us begin production of the next DVD in the series. We are currently filming gentle floor stretches for people to get their bodies feeling better.
In addition we are looking into expanding the Zen Anti-Diet to include supplemental recipe books and related material.
Zen Anti-Diet: www.zenantidiet.com
Zen Anti-Diet (German): www.zenantidiaet.com
Zen Yoga: www.artofzenyoga.com
My Blog – Wandering Sage Wisdom: http://wanderingsagewisdom.blogspot.com
Zen Yoga and Anti-Diet Products
The Zen Yoga Daily Warm-Up is a program based on the peaceful movements of Tai Chi, the energized breathing of Qigong and the relaxed stretching of Shanti Yoga. This simple exercise program is designed to help loosen and relax tense muscles, recharge energy reserves in the body, and provide a structured program to get the body healthy quickly. DVD.
Zen Yoga is the culmination of the more than twenty-five years Aaron Hoopes has spent studying and training in the practical and spiritual arts of Japan, China and India. In this book, he combines the mindful serenity of Zen meditation, the graceful movements of Tai Chi, the energized breathing of Qigong, and the peaceful stretching exercises of Shanti Yoga.
Online Correspondence Courses
To learn about this logo created by Elfeya Hoopes, please follow the link to The Art of Zen Yoga website.
The Zen Anti-Diet Online Course is an in-depth opportunity to explore the training and teachings discussed in the Zen Anti-Diet book. The 6-week email-based program is designed to provide more specific guidelines to help you fully integrate the principles of the Zen Anti-Diet into your daily life.
The course includes a series of Q&A on your current eating habits, exercise routines and lifestyle as well as Zen Anti-Diet recipes, ideas and gentle exercises to assist in the transition to a healthier you. You will be able to read and post on the Zen Anti-Diet Community Forums. This immersion course offers one on one correspondence with the author, Aaron Hoopes, as he assists you in customizing the Zen Anti-Diet to your own personal needs. A certificate of completion will be presented at the end of the course.
This interactive course is comprised of 12 weekly E-Mail based lessons designed for anyone who seeks a little more structure and understanding in their quest for spiritual deepening and growth. It delves into the philosophy and practice behind Eastern holistic healing arts such as Tai Chi, Qigong, Zen and Yoga. The Fundamentals of Zen Yoga is a structured program enabling students to bring positive change into their lives immediately through the exploration and practice of breath, movement, meditation, mindfulness, healthy eating & lifestyle.
The Fundamentals of Zen Yoga for Massage Therapists is a special 4-week intensive Online Course for massage therapist to incorporate Zen Yoga into their practice. Participants will acquire the basic knowledge of Zen Yoga, including the principles of breathing, moving, stretching, relaxation and meditation. Understanding the concept of holistic (body, mind, spirit) health and fitness training enables the practitioner to more fully explore their own practice. By learning deep breathing and relaxation methods, the practitioner will be able to facilitate a deeper experience for their clients both on the massage table and off.
This 8-week course offers an opportunity to open a direct experience of union with Gaia by reestablishing a connection to the sacred spirit that dwells not only within the plants and animals, but in the earth, fire, winds and water of the natural world. The email-based lessons will challenge you to turn your attention towards the energy of nature that exists all around you and help you to see the world as a whole interconnected web of life. Discover why we as humans often feel a sense of balance and wholeness when we escape into the natural world of mountains, oceans, lakes, deserts and forests and re-connect with our true nature.
Red’s End Notes:
I particularly enjoyed Aaron Hoopes practical application regarding achieving a state of Zen. I’ve noticed that some who perhaps have never read the definition, such as you provided above, seem to have ambiguous or even negative feelings toward what is a natural and necessary state a human needs to be truly whole.
My point in asking a specific question about shamanism was to have clarification especially in light of how some people choose to negatively portray this because of recent problems with non-native individuals practicing ceremonies. A number of natives object to non-natives who claim to do traditional ceremonies. I’m of the school that we have no special corner on ceremonies or traditions for that matter even if it’s our direct heritage. I believe anyone who does so knowledgeably and respectful should not be rejected.
As a different ethnic group and culture, there are fundamental differences in belief and psychological perspective between many Germans and the “American” standard which basically asks the question, “Why should we adopt any pattern or influence of America (or any other modern culture) when we have our own?” Among the generation of teens and younger people there is some influence, yet late 20’s and above, Germans tend to be cautious and very determined to remain individual.
Generally we are pragmatic and there is, as you suggested, a deep spirituality in many Germans not based on religious belief, or sometimes on spirituality either, but an individual has a desire to be one with the earth, live in season as it was in ancient times, be balanced in all aspects of body, spirit and mind. I believe this is why my own Native American roots feel so comfortable in Germany’s “soil”.
There are many Zen movements and schools within Germany, especially larger cities like Berlin, and a strong surge over the past decade for people who wish to improve their health and lives through this philosophy. It will be competitive, yet there are always seekers looking for a fresh perspective. When I’m in Germany, I am a part of a commune which lives in season and embraces all cultures and philosophy while striving to bring ourselves in balance with the universe and each other.
It’s been quite interesting to get to know Mr. Hoopes, and I wish him success in his endeavors to help bring a greater harmony in the world. Thank you!