It was September 21st in 1989 when I was first introduced to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga by Tove Palmgren in Helsinki, Finland. About a year later I joined Derek Ireland and Radha Warell’s workshop in Agios Pavlos, Crete. Derek became a great influence on mefor many years. They both visited Helsinki on several occasions, and practicing with them became one of the high moments of the year for me as a young yoga practitioner.
Yoga and spirituality were not something I grew up with at home. In fact, it was quite the opposite: my parents were atheist in their view of life and therefore, I was raised with 0% religious or spiritual education. We owned a little island in the west coast of Finland and my parents both hunted and fished for recreation. I would say that they respected nature and its beauty more than any human made philosophies. It wasn’t a bad youth, as I also grew up surrounded by nature. We spent many amazing summers at the island with my parents and sister. These were summers of fishing, sailing, plenty of sauna and swimming and never-ending nature trips.
My interest in spirituality initially began through the punk rock and diy philosophies when I was 13. We were peaceful punks, going to the concerts, playing in bands, and demonstrating and squatting in houses. In retrospect, you could say we were practicing a certain kind of ahimsa, where animal rights, human rights and peaceful opposition were concerned. Despite my other passion, ice hockey, and the culture surrounding it, I became a vegetarian at 15.
Krishamamurti’s books were the link between punk ideology, India and spirituality. It was the turning point. Krishnamurti’s teachings penetrated my mind deeply. I wanted to try yoga and felt great hunger for other spiritual books and the philosophies found in them; I also became interested in alternative medicine and especially the old Finnish folk healing traditions.
I joined to my first folk healing workshop in Kaustinen at a new folk healing center. I became a student of one of the younger master healers, Raimo Holtti, after studying with many incredible senior healers like Pentti Penttilä and Olavi Mäkelä. From 1991-1999 I ran my own folk healing and naturopathy practice in Helsinki and gave treatments in bone setting, energy healing and herbal cosmetics. During this time, Ashtanga yoga came more and more into the picture. I got hooked the physicality, spirituality and mysticism found in yoga. In 1991 I taught my first Ashtanga yoga class, and I, along with a few of my friends, became the Finnish ambassadors of Ashtanga. We traveled everywhere and anywhere in Finland to introduce the Ashtanga system. We demonstrated the practice on the streets and at exhibitions, gave public lectures and did lots of publicity through magazines, radio and TV.
In 1994 Lino Miele from Italy visited to my friend’s Ashtanga retreat on Hanko island. We were about 20 students there for two weeks. After those weeks Lino became my main teacher and I started the six-day-a- week practice rhythm. In 1996 I traveled for the first time to Mysore, India, with Lino and signed up for Pattabhi Jois’ classes in Lakshmipuram. I had had some great spiritual experiences and quiet moments before, but this was spirituality on a new level. The focus of the mind, lightness and softness in the body and thick spiritual energy in the shala were easy to taste. It was the experience of a powerful yoga master in his magical yoga shala.
Ashtanga Yoga Helsinki was founded by Juha Javanainen and me in 1997 with the support of Lino Miele and the blessing of Pattabhi Jois. We built an altar for Ganesha, to respect Guruji’s tradition and create a smooth environment for the yoga practice. Ashtanga yoga was already booming worldwide. The first big articles came out in Yoga Journal and Guruji was touring the world. In 1999 the boom reached Helsinki and we got very very busy.
In 2001 Line Miele helped us invite Pattabhi Jois and his family, Sharath and Saraswati, to Helsinki. One week of the remarkable workshop was documented on the film called ”Meeting with Guruji. On the same trip Guruji and Sharath honored Juha and me with the teaching authorization. At that time there were no diplomas and certficates, it was simply the master’s word. In that same year, I moved to New York City and started practicing with Eddie Stern, one of the big inspirations on my yogic path. Guruji visited Helsinki with the family for the second time in 2006, and after his passing in May 2009, Sharath and Saraswati continue to carry on with the ”Helsinki tradition.”
In 2003 there were already a few books published about Ashtanga Yoga, but I could’t find any which had documented the vinyasa system exactly how Guruji taught it during led classes on his recent tours. I collected my courage and asked if there was possibility to interview Guruji and Sharath about the existing vinyasa system. Anyone could see that the vinyasa had changed in some parts since 1958 or even from 1996. Guruji accepted happily and gave me the interview time, which was 4pm every afternoon for two months. Not all days were successful, but it was a good start and I came back in 2004 to finish the work.
The Primary series book, ”Ashtanga Yoga: In the tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois” was released in Swedish and Finnish in 2005, in Russian in 2011 and English in 2013. The newest translations are in French and Spanish (2014).
It became evident in 2006 that there was a need for an Intermediate series book which documented the existing vinyasa method for it. Guruji agreed to give the interviews after carefully checking the asanas for the first book. It was again a two year process, what with the interviews, writing and shooting the asanas. The last interview was done in February 27 2007 and the book was released at the end of 2007 in Finland. The English print is underway. On the last day of the interview Guruji told me that this was the final vinyasa system. The years of research was done and the name of the yoga shala could be changed from the Research Institute to the Ashtanga Yoga Institute.
I had a great working team for the books. Alex Berg did great work with the photographs, with passion for his vocation palpable. Every picture was shot with one of the the best cameras (Hasselblad) in the studio in New York. The design for the Intermediate book was mostly copied from the first book’s style (Nicole Rassmuson’s design). I am especially proud that the contents of the both books comes exclusively and directly from the best possible source: Guruji and Sharath.
In addition to Guruji’s exact vinyasa system and intuitive teaching method and my own 25 years of experience with Ashtanga Yoga, I’ve been integrating the Finnish healing methods, bone setting and energy healing, for the asana adjustments. The result has been tremendous. Instead of getting injured or experiencing pain during the practice, like it happens too often, the students feel safe, make progress and get cured. The energy is one, but the methods are many. Softness, kindness and acceptance are close to my heart. It is my pleasure and destiny to continue Pattabhi Jois’ teachings and to share the Yoga experience around the world with my wife and colleague Wambui Njuguna-Räisänen (and our baby Sesam Räisänen) and my great assistants.
The London workshops will feature the complete Ashtanga experience by Petri Raisanen: Mysore practice, Technique classes, an introduction to Energy Healing, Therapeutical Adjustments and discussions about Ashtanga Yoga and its philosophy, history and practice.
We are looking forward to the London workshops and the whole UK tour. It will be great to meet the students and get to know members of the UK Ashtanga yoga community.
View Petri’s teaching schedule.
Read more about Yogacampus Events.