Yoga Podcast Episode 49: Conrad Anker || Humanity in Nature

The Humanity Found in Nature

We should encourage politicians to practice more yoga and do more climbing because it’s pretty humbling. When you get schooled in climbing and you come away from it, you’re not like, ‘I’m the best’. It’s more like, ‘I almost died.’ — Conrad Anker


As one of today’s most prolific and accomplished mountaineers, Conrad Anker is a legend in the climbing world.

Conrad is a leader among adventurists and explorers, especially as the first to summit many difficult new routes in the most remote places on earth – including the Shark’s Fin of Meru, the subject of a recent documentary now available on Netflix.

From his passion for both exploration and nature to his humanitarian work and activism, Conrad has long been a source of inspiration for me. And while claims not to know anything about yoga philosophy – I know his life says otherwise.

In today’s episode, Conrad talks about the necessity of risk, overcoming obstacles, facing fear, and getting older – as well as the responsibility we have as human beings to take care of each other and this world.

The Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast is edited and hosted by Peg Mulqueen along with Meghan Powell. Music by Marc Pilley.

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At this point in my life, (climbing) has defined who I am. It is so through and through my fabric that I can’t escape it.

For better or worse, through joy and tragedy – it’s there. 

Conrad Anker

PODCAST EXCERPTS

The Mountains as Sacred

Mountains have always had a deep connection to the world’s religions and for many of the religions that there’s still a connection to it … And for the Hindu religion, the source is the Ganga river, where that their creation story comes from. So there’s Shivling, Meru, and Parvati.

P: Before you went climbing last week when you were over here, you were climbing a route and you had named them.

Yeah, there’s one cliff that has several routes on it. And there’s a feature within that, that would’ve been sacred had we been in India. And for the Sadhus and the practitioners of the Hindu religion, it would be a holy place because there’s a cave and within, there’s nature that reflects humanity.

There’s Chandra, Shiva, Parvati, Hanuman, Ganesh … Ganesh has a big rock formation that looks like an earlobe. Hanuman is very physical, steep, upper-body intense; Parvati is the longest and a very welcoming route; and Shiva is next to Parvati. And then there is Chandra, which is moon. So there’s a similarity to that.

There may be routes when you’re doing first ascent climbing – and it’s a privilege and also a responsibility. And you have to be nice and not to be offensive. But also, inspirational. 

Fear

P: I watched the movie, Meru. And I was pretty much terrified as it opened to see you all in that tent hanging …

Well, we’re tied in and so we know what our systems are. And so we’ve been able to use previous experience to get us that point, as a climber. So it was really a culmination of many different disciplines of climbing, different ways of interpreting the mountains and then bringing them up there to play. 

P: You said discipline

Climbing or any pursuit that humans undertake with intent and purpose and they then look to improve on it – whether it’s needlepoint or painting watercolor or bowling or climbing or math problems or any intellectual or physical pursuit that is then elevated – becomes a discipline in the practice

P: And you get so good that you stop being afraid?

Always afraid Yeah, it’s your self-preservation instinct. Perhaps when I was in my late teens and early 20s and my prefrontal cortex wasn’t fully developed, I had no fear. Or they were trying to sell me t-shirts that said no fear. But we have fear.

Risk

We can avoid risk and we just sit on the sofa and watch TV and eat convenience food OR we harness risk. And by understanding that, we can see what risk allows us to do with human potential – both intellectual and physical standpoint – by pushing us out of our comfort zone and having to evaluate the cost benefit that each moment really opens up intellectual curiosity in a way that has allowed humans as a species to progress to the point where we are today. 

P: Do you think the fact that there’s that element of danger and risk helps with the mind?

In what I do as a climber, that’s a really key part to it.

When you’re in a situation where all the consequences of making mistake are injury, so you have to focus on that. And that takes away the noise of day-to-day living in this oversubscribed society we are in, there at the moment. And that to me is my form of meditation. 

I’m out there and that I come back more balanced.

Again, anything that engages your self-preservation instinct, which is one of the oldest parts of the human brain. It’s very old. It’s reptilian. And when you when you go there then you have good. It brings that it changes you.

Failure

A lot of peaks, you don’t make it to the summit. You come home empty-handed. Because there is no guarantee.

To get to be successful at whatever you do, you have to fail quite a few times. You learn from those mistakes and you get better.

If you succeed the first time, it was too easy. There’s nowhere to go.

Conrad Anker, Ashtanga Dispatch podcast

Hardship creates lessons and it’s not pleasant. It’s not enjoyment.

But there’s things that we can learn about ourselves, where we are in our life and how we interact with other people. So it is certainly worth doing. And finding that balance where that might be is for each individual. That’s their own journey. 

Getting Older

It’s about letting it go. Letting it go … 

If you’re trying to chase what you were doing in your 20s and 30s, then you’re going to be let down so Be happy with what you have don’t compare yourself to other people, because there’s always going to be someone more fit and stronger, slimmer, smarter all that. So just be happy with who you are.

The experience that you have is still as meaningful as it was the experience that I have climbing is still the same experience in the same intrinsic reward that comes to me that it was when I was in my 30s.

You don’t have to do the loopty-loop roller coaster all the time. You can do just the wooden one too.  

Climate Change

This planet is going to spin for another four and a half billion years approximately, till our sun becomes a white dwarf and envelops … 

People always think we have to take care of earth – the earth will be just fine. It’s humans capacity to live in to be part of this planet that is this huge challenge that our generation and the next two or three generations face.

How do we address this this carbon conundrum, where we’re heating up the planet is changing faster than we will be able to adapt?

With an ever-increasing population of seven point four billion people on this planet, and they all they all want what we have here in the United States, which is comfortable. Life is really easy here. We have no very high carbon intensive lifestyle. We are in the lap of luxury. But we want that same level of comfort and dignity for food, and shelter, and clothing and all that, for many other people in this class.

So being a part of this collective movement that we then understand human impact on the planet and what can we do today that will then benefit people 200 years from now. 

That means holding truth to power.


 

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