I’ve always been in the middle of humans and their fluctuant energies. At approximately 7 I appointed myself president of the family. My first executive action was to outlaw arguing. At 18, I moved to LA to attend UCLA, thinking that if I went a university large enough, I’d become anonymous, hide in the crowd. The irony is that as a yoga teacher and professional host, I’ve had to learn to flow with the current in the most turbulent part of the river without flailing. You could say yoga became my raft, or kayak - you can pick one depending upon your watercraft proclivities and love of adventure.
I started practicing yoga in my early twenties because thanks to years of competitive athletics and the associated weight training, I was broken. Two herniated discs, four knee surgeries. I might have been better at skiing than anything else but It took me enough advil and vicodin to throw a party for the Rolling Stones to get through a day of training. It took me two years to become a consistent student of yoga. I was too attached to growing my biceps and the boxing gym. Old patterns. But yoga happened thanks to an angelic friend who taught me free privates and sent me to Kundalini class. Way before I knew what was happening I was in a room full of white-robed seekers who made lots of funny sounds. But I kept going back. Soon after, I showed up at The Yoga College of India in Los Angeles in sweatpants and a thermal undershirt. Other practitioners quickly scattered but the yoga worked. I hurt less. One day in my kitchen I distinctly remember considering the idea of one day becoming a nice person. About two years after I started traditional Hot yoga, I was doing Pranayama deep breathing in the bathroom of a Chinese luggage factory when I realized I had to attend teacher training.
In the nine years since that fateful late-night fit of decision-making, I placed at the national level in the 2009 Bishnu Ghosh Yoga Asana Competition while wearing the requisite very small shorts and swore never to do either again. I have made yoga the center of my life and strive to root my actions there, to live as if shooting arrows of light from the same bright source. Teaching is a powerful current that like any wave is an incredible ride but must be respected. To teach is to immerse in a lifetime as a student. I have been blessed with scintillating teachers that are alike in their refusal to accept anything less than presence and truth. Foremost among them are Sri Dharma Mittra, Ana Forrest and from the Ghosh/Bikram lineage, my brother and mentor Craig Villani. Isaac Pena keeps me open to the wonders of possibility.
Teaching, though an incredible boon for the teacher, is for the students. To teach is to give without attachment and to humbly lead. It is the job of the teacher to assist others in their own self-reflection, to share tools, ideas and hold space so that each finds his own empowered experience of life. Awareness and reflection are as essential to teaching as they are to practice. Poets start with words and lines, painters with primary colors, and as teachers, we hone the craft then step back, allowing yoga to perform it’s transformative alchemy.
I believe that yoga will continue to evolve if we adhere to the principles of therapy inherent in the traditional practice. Yoga has made me feel and see with an intensity that leaves me awed, inspired, at times scared, but in the end always reverent. The best part is the students.