Information is not knowledge

Through a lucky meeting eight years ago with JOjo Norell, one of the two organisers of Dance and Yoga Easter Festival, Anastasis Tzanis is finding his way to Ängsbacka. Anastasis is a nutritionist and a yoga teacher based in London. On a bright sparkly winter day in Sweden I sat down to have a Skype interview with Anastasis. It was the perfect day for someone who practises cold exposure to do his training in, and I wished I could teleport him here just for a day. His bright smile and childlike joyfulness convinced me nevertheless, that he was exactly where he is supposed to be in life, teaching yoga and health for busy workers in the city. The change of career from investment banking into the world of nutrition and yoga seems to have done him well. He is the perfect person to understand the challenges that modern humans have. Keeping up with city life, while also turning inwards and living consciously can be a challenge. This question often comes up after a retreat or festival in Ängsbacka. How to integrate the change into every day life and not feel isolated and disconnected without the perfect setting?

Throughout our conversation it became clear that he approaches life with wondrous curiosity, never stopping to learn more about nutrition, yoga, breathing and cold exposure.

What made you change your lifestyle into healthier habits and career choice?

“For me the journey of therapy had many points where I learned what suits me and what doesn’t suit me. After following some of the modern diets like vegetarianism and gluten free diet I developed so many food intolerances that I could only eat five foods. That was one of the moments where I knew something has to change. It was quite important for me how I started learning about nutrition. The first thing I ever tried in regards to my nutrition was to fast. It was not even like a formal fast, because the book that I was reading at a time was not written by a nutritionist, it was a very old book by a physiognomist. This book gave me a very profound and simple message. When we come to this life, we have plenty of food around for us to eat. We should not eat as much as we can, but preserve some of this food for other animals. This way we show gratitude for nature for providing us all the source and this will come back to us as good luck and health. At the time I didn’t know anything about macro nutrients and biochemistry. I did the fast and it changed completely my body and the way I was thinking. I think the principle behind, the simplistic approach, is in the heart of everything I do, weather its yoga, nutrition, breathing or cold exposure. Once someone becomes familiar with what I’m doing they will realise that I’m trying to simplify and do as little as possible. If we apply minimalist approach to our daily life consistently, we can get much more out of our daily activities.”

During the years after the initial fast Anastasis has went deep into the scientific side of nutrition as well. He studied at Institute for Optimum Nutrition which is considered one of the most respected nutritional educations in Europe. More recently he became interested in different breathing techniques, when he understood the importance of breathing in cold exposure training. Three years ago he became a Wim Hof method instructor, but he also learned to improve every day breathing patterns with the Oxygen Advantage breathing technique founded by Patrick McKeown. See from this video in which situations Anastasis would recommend the Oxygen Advantage method and which Wim Hof method.

“I have been yoga teacher for five years but like the majority of yoga teachers I didn’t get a chance to learn very much about connection of breathing and yoga in my initial training. About three years ago I became interested in cold exposure, and quickly it became very clear to me that there is a strong link between the breath and how people deal with cold. As I was guiding people in workshops, I realised that the breath is very important, yet at the same time one does not need to hyperventilate in order to deal with cold. I started digging further and I came across Patrick McKeown who I consider my main mentor in breathing. I studied with him and did further research which is ongoing at this stage, and a lot of this I will be sharing this spring in my workshops.”

His yogic practice started perhaps a bit unusual way, with an excitement to Acro Yoga. He noticed the positive impact in his stress levels and decided to continue for two years. Now he does one and half hours of yoga in the mornings on top of teaching his classes and private lessons for clients. But what if yoga is not such an integrated part of your daily life? With a family and work it can feel almost impossible to find time for ourselves. We have to do it anyways, he says, but with greater challenge comes also greater presence.

“There is a bigger need for conscious life choices in big cities, where people are away from nature and stress is a lot higher. Stress puts the body into a state of agony and health is not there, unfortunately. When you are in nature it’s very easy to stay grounded. The moment you take off your shoes and you walk around, you feel relaxed. You feel connected with everything surrounding you. You don’t almost have to do anything else, it’s like an effortless action. When you are in a city you wear shoes all day long and you have to deal with stress that comes from pollution and intense conversations. You have to consciously make a decision to stay centred and to connect with your breath. In a way it’s like you have to do more and it’s harder, but this makes you better at it. In my opinion someone who meditates between meetings does a lot more spiritual work with themselves than someone who isolates themselves into a village and just hangs around with their dog all day and that’s it.”

“The people in the city have a problem with time and space. I don’t know if people in smaller towns always appreciate how much more time and space they have. People in a city spend big part of their day surrounded by other people, weather it’s in the tube, or work, and none of the time that they spend belongs to them. It is a concept that I really relate to. The 12 hours they spend at work belongs to their company, the five hours they spend at home belongs to their family. If you look at how they spend their day, none of that time belong to themselves. Same thing happens with space. This is the biggest challenge to claim some of that time back to themselves. We can’t always live on other peoples schedule, always on other peoples spaces. We need some space and time for ourselves. Yoga can be very useful for that, there are many tools around that, but the main thing is that we do it.”

How about if you have never tried a single class of yoga and sitting still just feels terrifying for you, yet you have a haunting feeling that you can’t keep going the way you used to?

“The first thing I usually suggest to my clients is to do whatever they like. Specially if I’m talking to someone who is constantly busy doing things, having meetings, going to gym. It’s all things that they don’t see as their own time or don’t necessarily enjoy. If you ask someone like that to stay still and meditate or do breath work, it can be very very hard for them. It is the same thing as asking someone who has been laying in bed all their life to start running. It’s very scary and almost impossible. So the first step is to start with deciding to do something different, something they like. It can be reading a book or having a meal on their own. It can be anything. Slowly people realise that doing less is more important. So the first thing you do is learn to enjoy, then learn the stillness of ‘not doing’.”

In the world of extreme ideologies Anastasis’s relaxed and grounded approach to spirituality makes it easy to access even from very different view points. This is the guy that could convince your sceptic father to do yoga. Like he says, yoga has endured the test of time thousands of years, chances are it will work for you. For him, there is no duality between spirituality and science.

“I think there is no split between spirituality and science. If you look back in history the biggest scientists were very religious people. I think someone who is spiritual needs to have a curious mind. A curiosity to get in touch with higher self, or with realms that are beyond everybody’s perception. In a very similar way someone who is a scientist is searching for the same thing, searching of what is not obvious, what is not known. So the curiosity for knowing more, for understanding more and for feeling more is the common ground. This is something that is very close to my heart, and I spend lot of time with it and I see myself spending even more time with. Here is one example. When I give breathing workshops I tell the participants that it will be quite heavily based on science. Then I quote B. K. S. Iyengar, one of the best known yogi in the western world, where he says that pranayama is spiritual art that consists of long, sustainable, and subtle breath. These three qualities are three of the five qualities that modern science has shown to be good breathing, which are soft (as in subtle), regular (as in sustainable), quiet (as in long) nasal, and diaphragmatic. If we look at traditions and if we look at modern science, there is a lot more overlap than there is contradiction. If someone wants to stay informed nowadays that there is plenty of information to choose from, I recommend to have a curious mind and look for good sources. It’s not easy to find good teachers or good research, there is plenty of rubbish science out there. Once you find someone who does quality work, follow them and then ultimately this will lead you further.”

Where do you see the world going from here?

“I’m hoping that we will move towards a place of less dogma. Now there is a lot of dogma and people are very confident about what they believe, but maybe that is not the full picture. Shakespeare said that there is more colours than your eyes can see in this world. We know few things but we don’t know everything. So less dogmatic approach will help us grow more in general as a species, and definitely at the healing arts and in yoga.

I’m very optimistic in terms of where we are. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge a lot of negatives that are going on at the moment, but we are very blessed with the times that we are living. I mean just the fact that we are so far away and it was so easy for us to have this communication it is like just a small side of how amazing nowadays life is. I think we are moving more towards polarities, amazing research, new information, access to knowledge. Information will become cheaper and cheaper, and that is great. At the same time there will be people moving potentially to other directions. But im very optimistic, I think that overall awareness will increase. Information is not knowledge, but it is necessary. If you don’t know things then you are in the darkness. I see the future much more bright.”

Follow Anastasis on instagram @the.nutritionist.yogi to see the hilarious texts for these pictures

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