Duncan Peak, founder and CEO of Power Living Yoga, is bringing his non-traditional approach to yoga to the Byron Spirit Festival this weekend. Pip Andreas caught up with the man who introduced Australia to modern yoga.
How do you define contemporary yoga?
I think Yoga is to Fitness what organic is to Food. Contemporary Yoga is an offshoot of more traditional styles, yet most still hold a purity & often create something just as special without the mystique. It makes the practice more accessible to people in modern day lifestyles, who don’t have the time and perhaps the discipline or tolerance to mystery to practice sincere traditional yoga styles.
What do you see as a traditional yoga stereotype?
This is changing a lot over the last 5 years but when I started teaching (17 years ago) it was very much a recluse, hippie, often with little drive in the modern world and looking to escape, and mostly female. In the old days yoga was actually practiced predominately by men. These days a traditional yoga stereotype could be as much a modern ‘householder’ lifestyle with a sincere practice (meditation, vitality, service & love) as it could be the old Swami sitting on a mountain top in complete nirvana. Its pretty cool that it’s happening, it’s an awakening of consciousness in the places that really need it!
Traditional yoga studios don’t seem to use terms like ‘Yoga Boot Camp’ and ‘Power’. Did you feel traditional yoga didn’t resonate with a modern audience?
To be honest, without wanting to offend anyone, I felt a lot of traditional studios didn’t really understand the depth of what they were trying to teach or the discipline required to reach different states of consciousness very well and there was a lot of mystique surrounding the practices. So I decided to be a teacher who continues to demystify yoga because a traditional, purist practice was suited to the recluse lifestyle not the modern ‘householder’ human. I didn’t care that people judged me in the early days & there were many. I had to use ‘Power Yoga‘ because I knew that we needed to get basic yoga teachings of raising consciousness or simply, selflessness & love to everyday people. The traditional movement wasn’t going to do that. Power yoga got people in the doors, then we taught them real yoga values and orals in a modern way (health & fitness).
What is the reason for your studios concentrating on Vinyasa, Yin and Hot yoga?
Mainly we (the founding teachers) came from Astanga & Iyengar backgrounds with traditional practices in Bhakti or Raja Yoga. What you see today are really modern styles from those roots. I personally believe these styles also suit the majority of people and provide a complete practice when included with nutrition, meditation and pranayama which are regulars in our classes. Hot Yoga was more popularised by Bikram but we really do ‘warm’ yoga’ in comparison. We keep the temp the same as it is in Ashrams in Mysore, India on a summers day. I don’t so much believe in ‘really’ hot rooms with little ventilation etc, we try to keep the temp at 28-30 degrees and have ventilation. I enjoy that experience and also similar to how I have practiced in India. But my belief is all yoga, all good & let it evolve.
How do your studios create a sense of community?
We make the studio space feel like you have come home, no judgement, no pressure, accessible to all and very encouraging. People call them (the studios) the ‘Houses of Positivity” and we try to create that. We really care about transformation in people because we all have been through and continue to go through ’shiva’s fire’ of transformation. We do lots of community events, courses, retreats, trainings and over the years it creates a community that is inclusive, with sound morals of no judgement, love and acceptance.
You have had enormous success creating a string of yoga studios across Australia and New Zealand. It seems most yoga teachers don’t have that entrepreneurial drive. What instilled that drive in you?
I think many have the ambitions, especially now, but I think not many are willing to work that hard for it or sacrifice so much. Also I was trained in management and naturally like to lead. I feel it was my dharma, calling to be the person to be a game changer in Yoga in Australia. I had the capacity, the strength, the willingness and of course the timing. I was and am still driven by wanting to help people, our studios are the platform to do that. Yoga has been the most positive thing in my life! I wanted to share that. We had over 600k mats laid down in our studios last year, maybe 50% are the same people but this year we want to do one million mats. That’s a lot of lives touched in a positive way, that’s what motivates me. I feel I would have been driven in anything I do, building, corporate etc so it was just I decided to dedicate myself to modern yoga evolution.
Also a lot of teachers who trained under me wanted to make a career out of yoga so we had to grow to allow that, we have 8 different owners across all the studios and they are all senior teachers. I love that it happened organically like that rather than some corporate strategy, but we do focus on running a business really well, we enjoy it.
Have you got any tips for yoga teachers who want to combine their spiritual path with an entrepreneurial one?
Read about Purusha Artha, the four aims of a human life. You can’t get more spiritual then these teachings. To summarise, ‘prosperity is encouraged, as long as it is done through the eyes of your dharma’. Its easy, add yogic principles to how you treat people, run a business, social, how you treat yourself & everything! Don’t think there is any ideal spiritual personality, it’s a contradiction in terms. Do your dharma and life will be heaven on earth. How do you know your Dharma, well, this is what your practice is all about, good luck on that journey.
Practically, study business, understand what it takes, have good mentors, be an amazing teacher and train yourself well and sincerely and you will find your way. Also try to develop vision, use your practice to get really clear and trust what you see
Duncan Peak will be appearing at the Byron Spirit Festival in Mullumbimby this weekend. For more information go to spiritfestival.com.au