The man who lives his dharma: Raghunath

ragunath yoga
Still spreading the word: Raghunath.  (@ by Thomas Zielinski)

The first time I saw Raghunath (formerly known as Ray Cappo) was at the DYNAMO-Festival in Eindhoven in 1996. A friend of mine told me to check out a band called SHELTER which shall be really different from what was going on in the punk/hardcore-scene those days. And so I stood there in the middle of the audience, curious waiting for the headliner of the day, when suddenly the boxes on stage spit out some loud excerpts of some Bhagavad Gita verses.

Yes, that was really different, but at the same time transmitting such a beautiful energy, which was only topped by the band appearing on stage, setting in some powerful Drums and Guitars to start their song „Message of the Bhagavad“, which made the whole audience move euphoric from the first second on – my overwhelming first contact with indian philosophy. 

And even today, Raghunath is still moving people: physically and mentally. Not on stage but on the mat. Still with the same message: how to lead a positive, healthy life. Or with other words: how to practise yoga.

A few days ago he gave a two days lecture workshop about philosophy in Cologne in front of a new generation of young yoga teachers. Even here he caught the attention of the audience from the very first second. 

During lunch we walked through the city (with all its background noises) and talked about life, music, the ocean and of course: yoga.

Raghunath, how did you find your path to yoga?

Raghunath: Actually I first decided to become a vegetarian when I was living with my parents when I was a teenager. But I found it difficult because I have an italian family, so I said to myself: when I move out of my house I become a vegetarian. That was in the middle of the 80s and there weren’t a lot of vegetarians at that time. It wasn’t a popular thing but I had some calling, an ethical calling, cause I loved the animals. My concept was I want to love animals – I don’t want to eat the animals. So now there are a lot of vegetarians and a lot of animal rights movements, but it wasn’t really popular then. So it was very difficult, not so many books or informations and I didn´t know what to cook at all. So I moved out but I didn’t know what to eat. I just eat Coca cola and pizza.

So I started to get into Arjurvedic medicine, which also wasn’t a popular thing. If you are unfamiliar with the arjuvedic medicine – it´s the ancient medicine of india. But I felt like, this culture is an old culture – they have been eating vegetarian for a long time so they might have some information. So Arjuvedic medicine got me into a bigger understanding of the wisdom of indian culture. And for the wisdom of indian culture I liked their approach of spirituality. I felt like spirituality – the way they look at it – is a very broad thing. I did not find it to be very dogmatic and I did not find it to be exclusivism. You know in terms of: my religion is right, your religion is wrong. I found it to be very embracing of other traditions and thats what attracted me the most.

And so I was sort of on a spiritual path at an young age and thats why I got into yoga. It wasn’t to do exercises or to loose weight. I don’t think those are bad things, I think those are good things – but that´s not why I got into it. I got into it more for spiritual reasons and the physical part sort of a secondary for me.

What is your favorite yoga style?

Raghunath: I have done a lot of different styles. But I like a very strong practice, a Vinyasa-Practice. I do a lot of inversions, arm balances, I like pranayama as far as a meditational practice, I like Kirtan and chanting also. But yes, as far as a physical practice its a lot of inversions, heavy practice.

You had a surfcamp once in costa rica.
Why did you finished that?

Raghunath: I was trying to start something like I am sort of doing right now – we are doing a yogaretreat center which is I always wanted to do my whole life and now we are creating one in Upstate New York. I just wanted always create an ashram, so that was the time I did one in Costa Rica but you know, sometimes you pic a fruit and the fruit is not ripe, so it didn’t work out. But now we have a really good team, a big property on the country side. Its´s beautiful, we have place for people to study and to practise. With people immersed more in nature.

The interesting about nature is, it´s such a healer in itself. So many people do so many different things for healing, they do arjuvedic medicine or acupuncture, truthfully just to be in the countryside. Most people don’t get it. Most people never go to the countryside. So for them, just take their shoes of, walk in the forest or walk in the gras, breathe deeply – that´s enough to heal a person. People today suffer from stress and overwhelm. Just to get out of the city or out of their routine, to come to the countryside it changes their life. Get their hands in the dirt, work in the garden – it´s powerful. It´s a big healer.

What does the ocean mean to you?

Raghunath: You know that´s interesting. I have an interesting karma with the ocean. I can’t describe it, but it´s sort of like a weird relationship with the ocean. One reason why I wanted to surf so much was that I had a lot of fear around the ocean. And so surfing sort of helped me enter into the ocean.

But there is something wonderful about being out there and I like the fact that surfing is not mechanical. You’re just resting and playing with the ocean. But it´s very powerful. There is something so overwhelming and so majestic – the ocean is such a higher power – it put´s you in perspective of what your are. And that´s a very sort of spiritual experience.

How do you integrate Yoga into your daily life?

Raghunath: I train myself in such a way that life is „I am a Yogi“. Yogi means: the way I live, the way I act, the way I breathe, the way I treat people. It´s my diet, my healing – all those things together.

It´s not like in the west where we go like „Okay, I gonna do what I do on Monday and Sunday I go to church and make up for what I might have done on tuesday. You know, everything is integrated. Even people try to do that with yoga nowadays. They try to have their yoga practice. It´s not a practice. Yoga is a lifestyle, that you incorporate into your life. It becomes your life. We are trying to become Yogis. We are trying to become transcendentalists.

I am not saying you can’t do it like this, but then it becomes just like an exercise for you and I guess, it is a good thing for people, but it´s not how I approached to it when I was younger and it´s not what I wanted to become. I really liked the culture of yoga. 

Its not something divorced. It´s not like a condiment like salt or ketchup or chutney – it´s the whole meal.

“It´s not a practice. 
Yoga is a lifestyle.”

What does inspire you?

Raghunath: Being outdoors. Playing outdoors. I love waterfalls, I love swim ponds, I love hiking in the forest, planting things and foraging for food, finding natural springs to drink from. I like meditating and chanting and waking up early. I like going on pilgrims to holy places in india – thats one of my passions. I love singing and kirtan and chanting, I love hearing inspiring speaking literature.

Do you miss the time when you where touring
with your groups Youth of today or Shelter?

Raghunath: No I don’t miss it. Not that it was a bad thing, but I did it so much, that I felt like I have been there, I have done that, I have travelled all over the world, been in Japan, every country you could think of, south america, all over europe a million times, eastern europe, the states, puerto rico etc. I played millions of great shows with a lot of incredible memories.

I was fortunate to do that, but it´s just a different chapter of life. And even though it was a great time you just want to create new chapters and I don’t go back to do that, although I am doing a reunion next week and that will be fun – but it´s almost more like watching a video. For me it´s like you see some people you haven’t seen in a long time, which will be nice. To be on stage, that will also be nice, but it´s like looking at a yearbook or a video or something that was special.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?
If there are any typical days?

Raghunath: Lately I travel and teach. Nothing is really typical for me. A lot of times I teach this bigger sessions where people want me to speak for six hours or something but then I am often times at home when the kids are at school. I am a dad, so I like being a dad, I like to play with my kids, which means being outdoor with my kids. I love doing that, I could do it all the time. I do some business at home as well but I like to get outside at least every day cause it helps me to feel grounded and reconnected.

What do you think about how the yoga-scene did develop?

Raghunath: You know, its interesting. A part of me is a little sad because I feel like they are missing out the culture of yoga. In the West they really they have taken sort of the spirit out of yoga often. A lot of times it has become more like just a gymnastic workout which is sort of a fun, exotic workout but there is such a rich culture in india, it´s sad that they miss out on that. 

I like to teach it a little bit more from that authentic place, just cause I think it´s more colorful and it´s more pleasurable. That´s the only sad thing, how it develops, it just turns almost into competitive sports.

It´s a lot of stuff i didn’t like about the material world. We are interested in what kind of yoga clothes we are wearing or competition: who is the cool yoga person. It´s all the stuff I already hated from high school. Its snuck right back in. It is becoming very sexy. And yoga wasn’t really sexy. If you learn it from sadhus in India its not sexy. It´s: getting away from sexiness. Its like: Let´s just see each other as people, not like these sex kittens, skimpy shorts and ripped bodies. Who cares?

You did that nice Kirtan-Album.
What did it felt like compared doing a Shelter Record?

Raghunath: Some guys, as teenagers, when they grow up they say „I want to be a guitar player, I want to be a musician, I want to be in a band“. There are people who are born to be musicians. And they know who they are. I was never one of those persons. I just happened to be in a band more as a speaker, like a communicator. I am more of like a showman, a storyteller. I mean I have some music incarnations but for example, people who are real musicians they love to record albums, they love to be in the studio. I hate that stuff. I hated to be in there. I don’t like to sing in a recording studio, so for me it was a little difficult to do that.

Even in Kirtan – I don’t like recording. It´s a struggle for me. There is some people who can sing so beautifully, but I don’t feel like I am one of those beautifully gifted silky voiced singers. And the same with shelter. I love the shelter CDs but it was torturous to be in the studio for me. I hated it. It´s so mechanical: „Take one, take two, take three, take four.“

The best record I have ever recorded was the first youth of today single. I did it in one take. The whole record was done in four hours. That´s my idea of doing a perfect record. And it was great.

The Kirtan album we did actually with a portable studio where they miced the harmonium and the drums. It was pretty much live. We barely didn’t do any overdubs. It has a very live feeling.

Is there one of the yamas or niyamas
you need to work on more than on the others?

Raghunath: I think Santosha (contentment). It´s such a powerful concept – to be content with what you have.

Where do you see the link between your first career
as a singer and the second as a yoga teacher?

Raghunath: Shelter was always based on spiritual values, it was not based on just playing rock or partying. It was always a very spiritual band. I was a practitioner and a speaker. It wasn’t much different than what I am doing now. We just dumped through music, loud music. So I don’t think there is much of a disconnect or whatsoever.

You can join Raghunaths Yogaclass also on DOYOUYOGA.

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Get an impression of the beautiful pilgrimates Raghunath is organizing every year:

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…as well as his Bhakti immersions.




3 Comment

  1. …tolles Interview!

    Ich habe zwar nicht viel mit Yoga am Hut, aber dennoch finde ich es sehr interessant, wie es die Menschen und ihre Ansichten verändert.

    Ähnlich wie beim Surfen…


  2. Hi Markus,

    danke, freut mich zu hören. Ja, von ihm kann man wirklich jede Menge lernen.
    Und ja, Yoga und Surfen haben, was das Bewusstsein angeht, tatsächlich ähnliche Effekte. Es sollte in den LineUps dort draußen viel mehr Surfer Yoga machen – und damit meine ich nicht den physischen Part 🙂 Aber zu dem Thema bereite ich gerade einen eigenen Artikel vor. 🙂

    PS: Wenn Du derzeit in Sri Lanka bist, hast Du doch die perfekten Möglichkeiten, Yoga zu machen. Falls in Mirissa: check mal morgens um 9 h glaub ich oben beim Tempel. Shanaka ist auch ein toller Lehrer.

  3. Habt ihr beim Schlendern durch das Kölner Bahnhofsviertel auch die Armlänge Abstand eingehalten?

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Ja, ich stimme zu.