TGR Talks #1 with Jaimal Yogis

Posted by Robin Hill on

A few weeks ago, Alena had a chat with Jaimal Yogis as part of our TGR Talks series live on IGTV (check out the video here).

Jaimal is a writer and speaker who has forged a career helping people understand mindfulness and apply it to their everyday lives. A master of relatable analogies and describing complex Eastern philosophies in layman's terms he has written several books and been published in the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune not to mention the omnipotent The Surfer's Journal. When it comes to contemporary concerns surrounding surfing and mindfulness, Jaimal is largely considered the oracle!

Aside from being a keen surfer, Jaimal is also a father to three boys. These facets of Jaimal's world have recently culminated in a children's book, Mop Rides the Waves of Life. An awesome contemporary kid's fable, which just happens to be illustrated by one of our favourites Matthew Allen, Mop aims to teach kids the fundamentals of mindfulness through a clever surfing ocean analogy....

In your words can you tell us a little bit about Mop... what's the book about?

Just on a basic level it's a children's book about a boy who has a big mop of curly hair.

When I was a young kid I had similar hair and I was teased a bit. Nothing serious but as a kid I remember trying to laugh it off and getting pretty angry. At the time I didn't have any of the mindfulness skills I learned as an adult. I learned those as I was learning to surf, because I was going through a tumultuous time, with my parents divorce and what not. And I was learning to surf at the same time as I was learning meditation. So those became super powerful tools for me. I would've loved to have had those skills when I was seven or eight years old and so I thought wouldn't it be great to communicate some of those tools to that age group.
Mop is a character who experiences some of that. He loves to surf, that's where he feels happy and in the flow but then on land, at school he runs into emotional problems. So he pushes a kid in school who teases him and he kicks down Izzy's blocks after she calls him a poodle. And his week just sort of descends into a sad week. Eventually he gets back to the beach and his mum teaches him a bit of mindfulness meditation and he's like "naw, I don't wanna do that". But once he's feeling his breath, and she frames it in a way he can understand; "your mind is like the ocean and you have these passing waves. So when you feel a joyful wave, a happy wave, of course enjoy it but not every wave is one to ride so it's fine to just let some waves pass."
Every wave is temporary. Every feeling is temporary. I think even as adults we forget that. The one true predictable thing in life is change and it's the same with our minds. So Mop embraces this idea, that he can watch the waves and he can watch his mind and he goes back to school and ends up in another challenging situation. He almost goes over the edge but he's able to get that little bit of distance between his state, the wave that he's getting pounded down by, and it helps him make a good choice. 

So that's the book in a nutshell. A really simple concept that Matt Allen brought to life with his artwork. I'm so grateful that he did it, he brings it life in such a beautiful way. 

We're big Matt Allen fans over here at The Golden Rays! How did you get to know him? Have you known each other for a while?

No, actually Mop arose really organically because I just love to doodle and I would just draw Mop as this simple stick figure. That was how the book was born. I loved doing this curly haired surfer stick figure, Shel Silverstein kind of art. So a story grew up around that character and we pitched it to the publisher and said "how do you like my stick figure illustrations?". They did but we all said "there could be someone better. But let's see if we find someone".

I knew of Matt's art but I didn't know him personally. He really liked the story so he submitted some samples. We loved them right away and I instantly said "yeah, this is better". He doesn't do a lot of watercolour in his other art, but he's so versatile, he does photos and prints but I didn't realise he does these beautiful watercolours.

[In Him We Live and Move by Matthew Allen, available here]

So Matt and I have still never actually met. We intended to get together when I was down for a book tour but then Covid hit and everything was cancelled. 

Speaking of Covid... how did the launch go? Did you have to change plans? Was there a big tour scheduled?

All of that! I had a big thing planned up and down the coast. I was going to visit schools and libraries, which of course took ages to organise. Then it was all cancelled and we cobbled some stuff back together online. Which has been cool but I think kids are Zoom'd out, you know. I've actually knocked back doing a lot of Zoom stuff for kids, I'm happy to do it, but a lot of them have actually been on Zoom for school and then you're just adding more screen time.

The important thing is that the book has gotten really positive feedback from teachers and kids and parents. It's wonderful to hear stories of kids who are having big tantrums everyday... one of our friends had just moved from France to Hawaii, sounds like a great transition, but the boys were in tears. They missed their friends. Everyday long tantrums and they ordered Mop and were like "this book has changed our lives!" because instead of tantrums they were just going into the room and reading it to each other, these twin seven year old boys. And that was so heart warming to see that it's making a positive impact.

We have a three year old boy, who I wouldn't say is constantly having tantrums but he can get very angry if he doesn't get what he wants. He actually has very long hair, so I had to think of him when you said you had your curly hair and you couldn't deal with it. When people call him a girl he also gets really upset, already at the age of three. So we'll definitely use your book once he's a little older!

Do you think there's a specific age range for the book? What age did you have in mind when you wrote it?

I think it can be used by anyone. We've even had a lot of two years old liking it because of the colours and Matt's art just has a peaceful feeling and Mop is just a funny character to look at with his big hair. I don't know if they get the whole thing but I think even before you understand it you still see these images of Mop having these waves in his hair and you see his mum and him meditating together. So it can plant a seed.

But really the target audience is four to eight. I've even had some 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade teachers email saying they're using it in the classroom at their kindergartens. And then I even get a lot of grown ups saying "I just read this book to my kid every night because it helps me remember that it's okay to make mistakes". As parents, even though we haven't been throwing actual tantrums, we have to deal with a lot of conflict during the day, especially right now with kids at home so much more. I hope that it's helpful for all ages but it's really aimed at around 3rd grade kindergarten kids.

We had a lot of nurseries/kindergartens contacting us for the book here in the UK as well so it's definitely something they find very useful!

I had a fun question from one of our followers this week and I was also really interested in it; can you tell us in your words, what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a simple practise that was developed 2500 years ago by yogis and was explained best in the Buddhist text. And all it really means is observing what is happening now. Non judgementally. Usually we are just in our state, we're feeling the way we are feeling and thinking what we're thinking without actually taking a little distance and observing "what is this feeling?" Right now I can mindfully speak to you. I can feel the vibrations of my voice. And I can feel my breath as I'm speaking and even just saying it I come into my body a bit more.

It's a way we can watch those feelings, observe and be present with them. Non-judgementally is a really key part of it, because often times we're grading our state... "ah, I don't feel well" or "wow, I feel great" without saying "what is the feeling right now?"

The practise in terms of meditation is to be quiet and use anything that is an anchor to the present moment. Usually it's the breath because your breath is there when everything else stops. What's there? Your heartbeat's there, your body sensation is there and your breath is really going on it's own. You might focus on the sensation of the inhale, sort of cool on your nostrils, then the sensation of the exhale. So that becomes your anchor to bring your mind into focus. Then all kinds of things start happening. You might feel heat in your body or you might start getting all kinds of memories. And rather than letting those memories take you down some sort of route of planning or analysis or judgement of yourself or your state, just come back to your breathing and say "oh, isn't that interesting". 

It's a really interesting spin on just being. Because sometimes you might have a little discomfort, say in your leg, as you're sitting meditating and our normal reaction is to say "oh, I don't like that, I'm going to move" but if you say "what is that sensation" and if you let your mind rest on it. And say "well, what is it? It's a little bit of heat or tingles" and if you stay with it you'll see how your mind has made all these associations with things that are just feeling and just states of change.

The ocean metaphor is really good. If you imagine your awareness, the sort of non-judgemental awareness, as the ocean. And all states of thought and sensation as waves or ripples, you know, we have tsunamis and we have little ripples. To the ocean, they're all just passing states, and I think of mindfulness as you getting into your oceanic consciousness and you're watching all the different states pass. And it can be a really pleasant way of dealing with all of the constant changes in our lives. 

Another question we had come through was about meditation itself. Personally, I love yoga and some of the breathing that you mention reminds me of some of the exercises but I've never tried meditation. If you were going to recommend a way to start a meditation practise, what would it be? Where would you begin?

Well Yoga Assana was traditionally made for helping you sit in still meditation comfortably. If you go back to these yoga sutras they say "if you do these asanas then your body is flexible and loose and you can stay still for a period of time to practise concentrating." So you're already on your way if you're practising yoga. You've done the traditional preparation to do another asana, another position, which is sitting cross legged in still meditation or doing Shivasana, another form of still meditation, which is really good too. That's the laying down posture for those of you who don't know...

My favourite part of the yoga class!

Haha... but I would start, particularly if you have a yoga practise, when you're done just do your shivasana, maybe sit for five minutes. And just do mindful breathing. So you might start by just counting your breaths. And see if you can get to ten. Most likely your mind will wander off at three or four, you'll suddenly think "oh, what was I doing" and you'll have to go back. So go back to one and start again. See if you can get to ten. And don't judge yourself if you're not good at it, it's hard. Our minds are always wandering someplace.

If you get used to counting your breath to ten and then back down to one, you might let go of the counting and just follow the sensations of breathing. Try that out for five minutes at a time. Then build up to ten. Then fifteen. Twenty. Then up to an hour.

Eventually it's really helpful, when starting a meditation practise, if you go on a retreat. Sitting meditation can be kind of scary and uncomfortable because we're not used to just stopping. It's difficult. You want it to be blissful but it feels hard. If you go on a three day retreat or one of these ten day Vipassana retreats, it's really valuable. Your body fights and fights and fights it for a few days. Then you finally start surrendering and your mind gets introduced to a place where it's like "oh, this is what it feels like when my mind slows down a bit". Then you have this wonderful foundation to come back to when you do your fifteen or twenty or whatever minutes a day. It's like you're coming home to something. 

I guess you could compare it to running. The first time you go for a jog, it's like "woah, this is awful". Then if you've trained for a race, all of a sudden you have these runner's highs where you're like "I love this".

So just be patient and build slowly. And if you have the opportunity to go on a retreat that's just so helpful for establishing a daily practise. 

[Jaimal in NYC from his movie Saltwater Buddha]

I was thinking of running straight away... I never got into that state where I'm like "oh, I'm loving it" but I think I could with meditation for sure! 

There's also a lot of great guided meditation. If you're struggling with where to start on your own you could try Headspace or Sharon Salzberg or Tara Brock. A lot of wonderful guided meditations out there that can be helpful for starting.

Just wondering... you said one hour of meditation per day?! How do you manage that?! You have three kids, I have one and I have no time in my life. How do you find time for your meditation, not to mention surfing?

It's difficult! I have a flexible work schedule, with writing, but that doesn't make it easy by any means. I don't practise an hour a day since having three young kids. More like twenty, thirty minutes where I can squeeze it in! If I get up before everyone else I do it then. So often somebody's woken up in the night and I've ended up being up with them, so then I'll try to do it a little before bed or what I also do is space it out throughout the day, this can be really helpful for anyone who doesn't work on a construction site or something, just steal away for five minutes. Before lunch or before I'm about to write, I just do five minutes of meditation. If you feel yourself getting a little tired or lost in thought try to focus and do that for five minutes. Close your laptop and do it and it can really transform your day.

As a parent it can be especially transformative. When you feel yourself getting heated up, your kid just won't listen and the house is a mess, just steal away for five minutes and do your breathing. Even if you still feel a wreck just resetting your compass to "I don't have to react in an angry way, I can use my inner wisdom here" can be huge.

That's how my days often go. If I can, I do thirty to forty-five minutes in the morning. If I can't, I space it out through the day and then because it's not really about sitting for a chunk. There's nothing meditative about that, although a longer period can give your mind time to calm, it's really about integrating yoga practise into your whole day. So when you go back to doing the dishes you're not rushing through them agitated, you're saying "okay, I can keep a little bit of mindful breathing while I do the dishes" and so everything becomes a yoga practise.

And I'm not there yet. I thought I was getting a little bit close before I had kids and then I realised I'm not at all... but it's a good challenge to try to integrate into a crazy atmosphere. 

And kids pick up on it. They are really mirrors of our energy. So that's the best way we can teach them. Not by saying "you need to be calm in this situation" but by actually embodying it.

[Jaimal and Kai, one of his three sons. Photo and © Carlie Statsky]

What does seem to be quite good at the moment, a silver lining, is that we tend to be at home a lot more. Lots of us were going to offices and so busy in our daily grind but now we're at home. There's so much more flexibility... and if you need five minutes, as you said, you can just close your computer and just do some exercise or meditation. Restore yourself and then start again, which is a really positive thing. I tend to think that a lot of the behavioural changes that have happened lately can also be seen as positive.

There are a lot of challenges but yeah, we have to take the silver linings where they are, "I don't have a twenty minute commute so what can I do with that time." You mention exercise and moving yoga, if you don't take to still meditation you can absolutely make your run or your yoga practise the time to watch the waves pass. I'm a runner too and a lot of times you have the choice between putting on some loud hip-hip, which is fun to do, or just running and observing your breathing. Which is a perfectly legitimate way to practise as well. 

We had a few more questions, this time more about surfing, come through. Where do you surf nowadays? Where do you live now?

I actually haven't talked about this because it's totally new but I usually live across the road from Ocean Beach in San Francisco. And it's where we've lived for over a decade. So I've always been able to, even as a dad, do these little surgical strike surfs where I'll just go out for forty five minutes. Run across the street. Ocean Beach is this wonderful place where there's always waves, from small to really big. And waves all year. So I'm used to surfing as many days as I can. Even as a busy dad it's been my gym.

Jaimal at Ocean Beach by Dennis Mahfud[Jaimal surfs a decent sized Ocean Beach. Photo and © Dennis Mahfud]
But we've just moved to Canada! And not by the ocean. For the year. My wife's company has a connection to Whistler, so I'm in the mountains. We're going to be snowboarding and what not and maybe making some trips to Tofino which isn't too far away. But this is the longest I'm going to go without surfing for a decade. 

Maybe you can get in to the snowsurf vibe, like they do in Japan! Try and match the sensations of surfing in the mountains.

Last question... how do you feel about competitive surfing? Where you describe surfing more as a way to free your mind almost, how do you feel about adding pressure and stress back into surfing? Or even surf spots where there's localism or aggression... how do you deal with that?

There's a lot of separation between "are you a soul surfer or a competitive surfer?" but I think the reality is that most competitive surfers are soul surfers too. They love it just as much as anyone, just they got really good at it and got the opportunity to do it for a living. There is a weird scene around it but when you meet competitive surfers they love being in the water more than anyone and often have a spiritual connection to it. And often a psychological one as well. 

I think we're all on the same path. Just loving the ocean.

I never had the choice, because I started surfing a little late, to be a competitive surfer. I knew that wasn't on the cards for me. For me I always had this frame of "the ocean is a place to go have fun" and then it naturally puts you in such a good frame of mind that whether you're doing it consciously or not, you use it as a place to reset.

Obviously there is also an aspect where surfing can be a very macho adrenaline sport. Or competing over a commodity... it can be very tense at a busy point break for example. I think for the most part, when you meet those surfers who get really tense in the water they're generally really cool people outside but they just get some sort of rage. Like being in a traffic jam... the worst road rage comes out. When that happens it's an opportunity for those of us who want a more peaceful relationship with the ocean to practise some mindfulness and just say "I'm not going to engage in this. I'm just going to focus on my own perspective." Like "what a beautiful day it is" or go and surf a different area. I always think it's difficult when there's a lot of fighting in the water and stuff because this is the thing we've all been wanting to do all day, get away from work. But it happens and it's human nature, especially when we're competing over something and surfing is not an exception to that.

It is what it is. There's always beach breaks and places you can go to find your own wave. The mindset I use when I'm going to a really localised place is that this is an opportunity to grow my comfort zone and find some equanimity among this tension. Like when you have a crazy scene at your house with your kids and you're like "oh my gosh, how am I going to deal with this. My kids are beating me." It's not the ideal situation but if you don't run into any of those situations then you don't expand your comfort zone and learn how to bring your mindfulness into more difficult situations. Which is how it helps the world, ultimately. 

I don't know where I read it but you mention somewhere that surfing itself isn't the only bit, you need to also enjoy the paddling side of surfing. I love that. It can be so easy to get frustrated, if the surf's not good or you can't get any good waves. It motivated me so much when you said you need to really enjoy the paddling side of surfing because even if you catch the wave you spend one percent of your time in the water actually on the wave and the rest paddling or waiting. That made me so much more relaxed and now I can just enjoy being in the water as much as anything else. 

When did you have that realisation? Or have you always thought like that?

It was an insight that Ocean Beach gave me. We have the worst paddle of anywhere I've ever been. When it's big it'll sometimes take forty five minutes just to get out. You'll just be exhausted. 

Everything is about mindset. We'll do all these things just for exercise. There is no wave you're chasing. You're going out to get exercise. And also, there was a day where I was really getting beating up by the surf and I really wasn't sure if I was going to make it out and I was just swearing at the ocean. At some point my state flipped and I learned to love the challenge, "Actually this is really enlivening." It made me feel alive. So I started just realising that I would rather have this challenge than not have it because it actually makes me appreciate it. And I think if it were super easy and each wave you were just taken out by jet-ski I don't think we would have the same feeling or passion for it. 

And that's so much like life. The little bits, like the chocolate mousse or the big achievement at work, whatever it is, those are few and far between. So most of your life you're working towards something. And that's okay if you accept that but if you're always waiting for the good thing to happen, you live your life with a lot of angst. Surfing is like a little aquarium to see how that works.

And it's definitely easier to say "I like all the paddling" than to say "I like all this struggling on land" too!

One final question... I promise this is the last one. Obviously your favourite kid's book is Mop but do you have any others? What books are your kids into?

There's so many. The one that's coming back to me, although I don't know if it's the top of the pile, but it was such a big influence on me, are those old Bernstein's Bears books. Where Small Bear goes to the beach. I memorised that book as a kid and I think it just got into my bloodstream and was a big influence for wanting to be at the ocean.

And all the Margaret Wise Brown books are so wonderful. I'm just getting flooded with overload because we just read so many children's books.

Same here. Same here.

Well... and Matt is just working on the illustrations of the second Mop book. My mock ups of the story are all done and Matt's hard at work doing the watercolours. So we're really really excited about that! 


Thanks so much to Jaimal for taking the time to share his wisdom for the very first in our TGR Talks!

Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming talks with writer Jamie Brisick, and photographers Andy Hughes and Hugh Holland.... they'll be appearing both live and as IGTV posts on our Instagram account @thegoldenrays.


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