Persian Yoga Tradition: An Interview with Kashi Azad

I am excited to release this interview with Kashi Azad a practitioner of Persian Yoga.

He offers insight into this ancient tradition not well known by outsiders giving some really detailed information in this interview. You will see from his website that he is working hard to preserve this art in its entirety providing opportunities for study for those interested.

Please enjoy the interview and then head on over to The Persian Yoga website to see more.

DOT: Welcome to Dawn Of Truth and a massive thank you for spending the time to answer these questions.

Can you begin with introducing yourself, the tradition and give us something of your background and how you came to be involved with this tradition.

Persian Yoga: Greetings and best wishes of health and strength for you and your readers. My name is Kashi Azad.

Growing up in Sweden I spent most of my time practicing martial arts. I have a good background in boxing, Thai boxing, shootfighting and wrestling.

I started my journey with Persian Yoga, or Pahlavani as it is traditionally called, about a decade ago during a trip to Iran (my birth place). At the time I had distant memories of watching my uncle practicing the arts, which I didn’t have access to growing up in Sweden.

I was invited to visit the Zurkhaneh (House of Strength), the temple where Persian Yoga (Pahlavani) is practiced,  and enjoyed the experience so much that I stayed to learn the details of the arts.

At the time I was in my mid twenties and came from a background of competitive amateur shootfighting, submission wrestling and boxing. I thought I was very fit. Until I stepped into the Gowd (the octagonal pit of the Zurkhaneh) with a group of men, the youngest whom was in his mid forties and the oldest was probably in his late sixties.

At first I thought I was in for a disappointment. Because I love to push my limits and experience the challenge of exercise. But halfway into the warm up, consisting of 200 straight Persian style push-ups on the Shena, I was not so sure about my level of fitness anymore. When the practice ceremony was over I was humbled to say the least.

I had the epiphany that if these men, much older than me and some with a gut grown on Persian kebab, can be so strong and so resilient then there’s more to it than meets the eyes.

They made it look so simple and effortless. I decided then and there that I had to learn all about this magnificent art.

And so I have been on a journey of discovery ever since.

Throughout the last decade I have had the immense privilege to learn from some of the most renowned Morsheds (Gurus) of the arts. The more I learn about the Persian Yoga (Pahlavani) arts the more I discover that there is to learn.

DOT: Looking at the history of your tradition as stated on your website it is extremely rich that has influenced many aspects of life. Could you tell more about the Spiritual and Mental aspects revealing something of the Mithraism on Pahlavani traditions and how the mental and spiritual influence the physical training.

Persian Yoga: The influence of Mithraism on Pahlavani (Persian Yoga) has been immense. In the ancient past Persians, particularly the warrior casts, worshipped a deity called Mithra. Later the worship of Mithra spread to the Roman empire and beyond.

Originally Mithra was the god of the heavenly light. The sun of heaven. The one who sees everything and knows the truth.

He is therefore taken as a witness of truth. And is ascribed the guardianship of the oath, the contract, the covenant and the qualities of friendship and love. It is said that Mithra aids those who are true to their promise and punishes those who break it.

He is depicted as a warrior driving a chariot. His main weapon is the mace.

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Ancient Persians believed that a man should espouse the virtues of Mithra. Virtues of being young at heart, passion driven and compassionate. In the Persian culture we believe that these virtues are attained by following the universal ethical principles of good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

These values permeate the core principals of the tradition that throughout its ancient history, over 2000 years, has been coloured by the subsequent philosophies and religions that came to dominate the region.

Naturally these codes, values and principals were, and continue to be, disseminated and propagated through the interactions of the practitioners and the relationship between master and apprentice, teacher and student, before, after and during the ritual practice ceremonies.

Powerful mantras, epic poetry, religious verses and spiritual wisdom of the ancestors are recited and chanted to the beat of the war drum as the men practice in the sacred Gowd.

DOT:  In addition could you also explain some of the significance of the Zurkhaneh (house of strength) within the tradition.

Persian Yoga: It is a domed shape structure with an octagonal pit in the center, the sacred Gowd, and a raised pulpit and altar from where the Morshed (guide/guru) presides over the practice ritual.zurkhaneh

The phenomena of the Zurkhaneh is a much later development. But is today of tremendous significance to the culture and practice of the arts.

DOT: Let’s now look at the individual parts of the system.

For someone new to your system, they could be forgiven for thinking what’s new about pressups? Plus clubs and kettlebells have become very popular in recent years. How does Persian Yoga differ in its approach to circular strength and calisthenics.

Adding to this looking at Indian Clubs they seem similar to the Meel but can you explain differences in terms of weight, center of gravity, grip strength etc.

Persian Yoga: It’s not new. It is very old and ancient. It’s a system that has passed the test of time and has been proven to work for warriors on the battlefields, Olympic wrestlers on the mat, and the average man from 7-77, in fact the oldest practitioner is 103.

One important differentiator is that Persian Yoga is not just a single strength training tool. It’s a complete, and highly adaptable and adoptable, martial arts conditioning system.

Persian Yoga has been applying, and evolving, circular strength and calisthenics training principles for millennia.

I’m not saying this to imply that we were first and the others are copies or whatever, that’s irrelevant in my view, I’m trying to highlight that these arts have been around for a very long time. In fact the system is considered by UNESCO as among the world’s longest-running forms of such training. It’s not a fad and it will be around when we will not be, simply because it works.

In regards to the Indian Club vs the Meel the two are completely different not just in their appearance and physical properties but also to a great extent in how they are used. Although they both are used for skilled dynamic multiplanar movements under load.

Indian Club vs the Meel

I like how Mr. Paul Taras Wolkowinski, AKA the King of Clubs, summarised it: “The cone shaped design of the club (Persian Meel) is really good, and unlike anything I have used before. The weight distribution in the club (Meel) is positioned further to the end, which I find encourages the shoulders and body to turn with each movement. Indian Clubs should weigh around 0.5 to 1.5kg. So they can be used successfully in the open arm style. Anything heavier restricts free flowing movement and simply does not work as an Indian Club. Persian Meels are much heavier and provide a completely different form of exercise, which focuses on the shoulders and upper body…The Persian Meels are truly a beautiful club.”

For a more detailed comparison I suggest these blog posts:

Meel vs. Metal Clubs AKA Clubbells

Persian Meel vs Indian Clubs

DOT: You have something that looks like a shield from ancient times which is used as part of your training. This perhaps is the most unique for me as an outsider looking at your system. I have not seen anything similar elsewhere.

Can you give us the background on this tool and why it is the first art in the Zurkhaneh?

Persian Yoga: The Sang (Shields) are symbolically shaped after the ancient shields of the Persian warriors. It is the first art as it develops and prepares the body for the other arts like the Shena (push ups) and the Meel (mace) which require not only tremendous strength and endurance but also stability, coordination and skilled motor-mechanics.

sangIt is a way to ‘wake up’ the body and activate the nervous system. The movements not only develop great strength but also teach important skills in body positioning and alignment during dynamic strength movements. Skills that are vitally important for any martial artist.

DOT: As mentioned above there are various arts and an order to which they are learned. Could you briefly introduce  each art and how it relates to the overall progress of the student towards the goal of becoming a Pahlavan.

Persian Yoga: The 1st art is the Sang (Shields). The movements are similar to a dumbbell press. Except you’re rolling as you are pressing. You start on your back, progress to Persian get-ups as well as do overhead presses. These movements can be performed in a variety of ways.

The Sang really is the ultimate functional strength training tool for:

– Enhancing dynamic proprioception & precision

– Increasing neuromuscular control & accuracy

– Developing coordination & great power of the core & extremities

shenaThe 2nd art is the Shena (push-ups) which we do on all fours on the push-up board, a simple tool for total body conditioning. The Shena exercises are a fluid, uninterrupted calisthenics based flow that not only develops tremendous strength and flexibility but also muscle endurance, stamina and great agility.

Shena means swimming in Persian and the movements mimic the free flow nature of water.

The 3rd art is that of the Meel. The quintessential Circular Strength Training tool. The Meel is a weapon replacement tool, similar in concept to the Bokken, and is used for practice instead of a Mace or similar hand held weapons.

Beyond developing tremendous shoulder, arm and grip strength & endurance, Meel also increase mobility, stability & synchronicity as well as develop coordination, rhythm & concentration.

There’s far greater value in learning how to handle a tool than lifting scrap metal.

The 4th art, Pa Zadan, is based on a series of choreographed (similar to kata) cardiovascular aerobic based movements targeting the most important muscle in the body i.e. the heart.

At this stage I would like to point out that we have progressed through a sequence of movements that have started on the ground, on the back, rolling, to getting on all four limbs and subsequently doing highly coordinated and skill based movements, all of which are strength oriented, from a bipedal position. These movement patterns are naturally aligned with developmental kinesiology, neurobiology and evolutionary biomechanics. The underlying principles of these movement sequences has recently been proven to have tremendous physical, mental and cognitive benefits by a group of researchers who have went on to develop a system referred to as Functional Neuromotor Activation Technique. I’m totally floored by this as there are clear overlaps and synergies between this scientific method and the age old principles of movements and traditional wisdom of Persian Yoga.

The 5th art is that of the Kabbadeh (Iron bow). Antonio Inoki, the king of martial arts, who was mentored by the god of wrestling Karl Gotch, used the Kabbadeh in his training. It is used for developing the complete range of overhead (coronal plane) and horizontal (transverse) strength.  

The 6th art is Koshti, literally meaning to kill, but referring to wrestling. Koshti Pahlavani (Pahlavani wrestling) is the precursor to catch wrestling (Karl Gotch practiced it) and is also the father of freestyle wrestling.

It is at this stage a practitioner may be referred to as a Pahlavan. You never call yourself a Pahlavan. Others may call you a Pahlavan. But this title is not bestowed solely on the merit of being a strong practitioner but also because your are deemed to espouse the virtues of a Pahlavan.

morshedThe 7th and final art is that of the Zarb (war drum) and the Zang (bell). This is the realm of the Morshed (guide/guru) who has mastered all the previous arts and is now presiding over the rituals and ceremonies. Guiding the practice with the beat of the drum. Setting the pace with the bell. And reciting incantations, invocations and disseminating the moral and ethical codes of the practice to the practitioners.

These arts are more often than not practiced sequentially as described above. The practice with the Shena, Meel and Pa Zadan constitute the essential minimum of the systematic practice.

DOT: Bringing this all back now to modern day strength and fitness. What does Persian Yoga offer those already  in the strength and fitness community? Is it a good addition to current training to safeguard against injuries or can it be seen as a standalone solution bringing all the strength and fitness needs anyone could want?

Persian Yoga: Both. Some practitioners focus on just the practice of Persian Yoga as it gives them everything they require for maintaining a invigorated, strong, nimble and healthy body. While others use it as a supplement to their sport specific practices. Most notably the system is used by the Iranian national wrestling team, who recently captured its fifth straight Freestyle World Cup title with a victory over Russia in Los Angeles.   

But it’s not only used by elite martial artists. I know of surfers who have doubled their wave count, 65 year old diabetics who have restored their average blood sugar concentrations to near normal, golfers who have improved their game manifolds as well as many who comment that they’re not only feeling stronger than ever, and that they’re shoulders feel better than ever, but also that they’re completely pain free as a result of practicing Persian Yoga.

If it worked for the battlefield it will work for anything.

DOT: With the Warrior roots is there still a link to any old combat arts?  Sword Work?

Persian Yoga: Persian Yoga is primarily a martial arts conditioning system. It was used to prepare the men for the type of combat that was prevalent at the time, i.e. one on many and one on one type of situations with handheld weapons and unarmed combat. The club being the focal point. The club/mace is probably the oldest tool/weapon of mankind. And I have already alluded to the full contact art of Pahlavani wrestling.

DOT: I am really fascinated by this art! Is there anything else you would like to share that we haven’t covered today. Perhaps something often overlooked by those outside the tradition?

Persian Yoga: As you mentioned there is a growing interest, particularly in the West, in exercising with clubs. What many often miss, or lack exposure to, is the fact that the whole of the practice is greater than the sum of its parts.

The practice of Persian Yoga transcends movement into a dynamic meditation, a dance of strength, with implications far beyond just the physical.

Persian Yoga is a complete integrated physical, mental and spiritual conditioning and self cultivating system. It comes from an ancient brotherhood and way of life. With values, codes, ethics and moral teachings that exceed cultural, religious and national boundaries.

As the Morshed (guide/guru) recites in the Zurkhaneh:

‘Come be strong if your way is of the world, for in the order of nature the weak are trampled upon. Come and revere the Pahlavani virtues, so that people should hear and people should learn that the faster than fast and braver than brave are God’s gift to man so that they can free others from oppression.’

DOT: Wonderful to hear. Lastly I would like to thank you again for your time and please let readers know where they can find out more and how they can train in this rich tradition.

Persian Yoga: Thank you for the opportunity to share my passion. I have made available many resources on the Persian Yoga website and more material is constantly being added. After 10 years of practice I have almost scratched the surface of these simple yet sophisticated arts. So feel free to connect with @persianyoga on social media and get in touch with me directly (kashi@persianyoga.com) if you’d like to learn more.

Be tireless.

Kashi

 

I hope you have enjoyed this insight into the tradition, I love hearing about these traditions and hope to get involved with the actual training at some point in the future.

If you are hungry for more right now then you can get Kashi’s book on the subject to learn more about the fundamentals of the system.

To get a discount on all the Persian Yoga material available head to the website and use coupon code “dawnoftruth”. Valid until January 31st 2017.

Persian Yoga – Fundamentals Illustrated Manual

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About the author

Dawn Of Truth

Dawn Of Truth - Lives in South East Asia and spends his time reading, writing & studying in order to reach the goal of Financial, Physical & Mental Freedom.

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