In this RS interview, "Medicine Hunter" Chris Kilham discusses the re-release of his bestselling book The Five Tibetans,
the relationship between yoga and shamanism, and the public's shifting
perspectives on psychoactive plants. Chris will be joining Evolver for
a rare NYC appearance this Friday.
NS: There's a re-release of your book The Five Tibetans in in NYC on Friday, September 16.
CK: Yes. The book's been in publication for 20 years, but this is an updated edition with a new introduction and quotes from various people, including cover quotes from Deepak Chopra and Dr Mehmet Oz.
NS: What's the significance of the new edition and what led to the new introduction?
CK: I think that there are two things. Number one, since the book was published a long time ago, it has gained a lot of very positive recognition, and that wasn't really reflected in any way anywhere in the book, so we wanted to include that. Secondly, since this book has to do with maintaining health and energy and overall dynamism as we age, now that I've been doing these things daily for thirty-three years, I wanted to comment on my experiences up to this time with them. So it's really bringing the book up to date a little bit.
NS: In the time since it was first published, have you had any conversations with other people about how they've aged with The Five Tibetans?
CK: A great many, yes. I've taught The Five Tibetans to many thousands of people, and all over the world, and I've gotten lots of comments back from people who enjoy the energy and the strength and the flexibility and the overall good feeling they get from practicing them. So, yeah, I've had a great deal of feedback over the years. I've really been out there sowing the seeds of The Five Tibetans for a long time now.
NS: When did the idea for the book first come up?
CK: I became aware of these methods in 1977 and started to practice them and liked them very much. A number of years later, I think around 1990 or so, I approached a publisher and said 'Hey, these are great, and they're simple, they take fifteen minutes and they make a sort of cohesive yoga practice, are you interested?' And the publisher Healing Arts Press was quite interested, and that's how it began, and then over the years at international book fairs, different publishers from other countries have wanted the rights, and now it's in print in twenty languages in twenty-two-plus countries.
NS: How does The Five Tibetans relate to your work as Medicine Hunter?
CK: I need things that can keep me strong and healthy, because I have a grueling schedule, and often in very difficult environments, so practicing The Five Tibetans as much as I possibly can there helps me to keep it together. My job is quite demanding on my energy and on my physical strength, so I rely on these. And there are other yoga practices I rely on to keep myself going, mentally and physically.
NS: So your talk in NYC will link yoga to shamanic practice?
CK: Yes, because the way I have experienced this now – with forty-one years of daily yoga practice and seventeen years living and studying and traveling and doing ceremonies with shamans – the lines between these traditions are somewhat blurry. I mean, yoga derives from the East and many of the modern shamanic practices come out of South America, but they all have to do with opening up energies and accessing the spirit world, and they both have long traditions of the use of beneficial and psychoactive plants. So I experience a great connection between these things.
NS: As someone who travels around the world participating in ceremonies involving psychoactive plants, what have you noticed about people's curiosity towards these topics? Is your role as a public figure influenced by the fact that many of these plants are illegal in most countries?
CK: I believe that the topic of psychoactive plants deserves credible, knowledgeable people speaking about them. Rather than leaving the conversation to reactive people who have no experience with them at all, I prefer to be one of the people out there who's really a voice of reason. If you investigate psychoactive plants you know that their use goes back thousands of years. People all over the world demonstrate an intrinsic interest in modifying mood and changing states of mind, and many people and their cultures do this with psychoactive plants.
The use of psychoactive plant potions in the United States is a major activity. We just call the stuff alcohol – in point of fact all our alcohol preparations are psychoactive plant potions. So we make some sort of distinction between that and the use of cannabis, and other things. Really it's all a blur, so I'm just out there sharing in a way that hopefully is at least somewhat tempered and well-informed. I just hate to leave the conversation up to yahoos.
NS: I really appreciated your article after Amy Weinhouse died, about the potentials of natural medicines to help with addictions. Have you had any notable feedback to that article since it was published?
CK: Some people liked it, some people didn't. There are many people out there who are quite strongly reactive in a negative way when it comes to these topics. So they often make deprecating comments. But there were other people who appreciated that I brought this topic up. I think anytime you have a highly charged issue, no matter what it is, you're going to have people who comment on either side. And so I always expect mixed commentary and I usually get it.
NS: How many years have you been living as Medicine Hunter?
CK: Well, I've been actively been doing this as a living for seventeen years, but I've been investigating medicinal plants in the field since the late 1970s.
NS: With your presence on Fox News in so many countries, have you noticed any significant change in the knowledge base of the population over time? Have you seen people becoming more tuned into the fact that there are plants like iboga that can effectively treat issues of addiction?
CK: I think that people are more receptive now than they have been. And I think that in part that's due to the broader acceptance of cannabis, actually. The fact is that you don't hear of a group ofcannabis-crazed killers trooping around a campus shooting people down. You don't hear that kind of thing, and I think that some of the fierce reaction that occurred after people like Timmy Leary were out there saying highly inflammatory things has died down. I think that those days are gone, so I do encounter more receptivity and I think, to a great extent, that that has to do with presenting these things in a very tempered, intelligent way.
NS: Is there anything else you'd like to mention?
CK: Well, I think that we're in a very good time as far as plant knowledge goes. I think that many people are more open-minded about medicinal and psychoactive plants, as long as we can take care not to be too weird about the topic.
No, seriously, I think we can make progress with it. And I'm all for that.
NS: So if we confidently maintain rational, reasoned conversations…
CK: …then I think we'll do fine.
Chris Kilham will be joining Evolver NYC for a rare NYC appearance at Jivamukti Yoga School this Friday, September 16. 8:30pm–11pm
841 Broadway, 2nd Floor , New York ,NY 10003, (212) 353-0214
($20 adv. $25 door).
For more information about Chris Kilham, click here.
"Chris Kilham Yogi" image by Al Rubin for Evolver NYC.