People all over England, Europe and America have chipped in to provide quite a lot of money to Yogabeats Conflict. I think it was almost £25,000 pounds we raised to do this project. This year we’re flying people out from The West Bank to Scotland to carry on training there as yogis.
Why have you chosen to fly people out of the West Bank?
It’s too dangerous in the West Bank.
I don’t recognise borders. There are no borders to me. Love is the only thing that exists. So, if we need to take them out of there, we take them out of there. I believe that yoga will create peace because it goes beyond where any source of politics goes.
These people are incredible. How powerful the human heart is in spite of conflict, in spite of oppression. I’m headlining a yoga festival in Israel and I told them I don’t want to keep any money that I make, that it will all go straight to the Palestinians and I said “you need to know that”. They said that was fine, that they were totally supportive. There’s a great tribe of Israelis that are for peace and compassion. I’m proud to say that a lot of them exist.
What’s inspired you to do this work?
It just happened quite naturally. I was in a war in Bosnia and I really saw humankind and all the aggression which was stirred up by politics. The press is always very economical with the truth because they bend the story by just leaving out a few words. The press are very responsible for creating a lot of the wars that we have on our planet right now.
I don’t see myself as a yoga teacher, I’m a yogi and I believe that our species will not survive unless we can carry out what is important to us.
There are no borders between countries and there are no borders between the human heart. All of this conflict is something we need to evolve past and for me it’s just pure intelligence. It’s just so obvious.
Why do you need a middle man for God? Why do you need a middle man for each other? You don’t!
You sound so fearless when you talk about doing something that would scare many people to do.
lt gives me such a pleasure to know that these people love me. I mean, they’re my family and so are the Israelis. I go between borders simply because I love both sides. It’s kind of hard to love one without the other. It’s totally impossible for me.
Is it safe there at the moment?
No it’s never really safe. I mean if it was safe, I wouldn’t do the work in the first place. It’s just, it is what it is and it always seems to work out.
So the intention, with the work that you’re doing is yoga for peace?
The yoga gives people there the physical and psychological tools to deal with being in an open prison. That’s what they are basically living in-an open prison and there’s no doubt about that. It’s a very difficult place. There’s no freedom. It’s very hard to get out of the West Bank. Life is extremely difficult and also frustrating. Yoga is a way that they can kind of find that inside of themselves and they can be free. So, you can have an overt oppression outside and inside a sense of freedom. I say interior freedom because everything that we feel comes from the inside.
Where did the idea originate, to use yoga to heal the conflict between Israel and Palestine?
I was invited in 2004 to do some yoga workshops in Israel by Israelis. I said “Yeah, I’m happy to do that as long as you provide me with classes of Palestinians too.” And they said “No, we’re in a war so that would be very difficult with a lot of potential conflict”. I said “Well then, I’m not going to come.” They said “Don’t be ridiculous.” I was in a Bosnia war and I don’t know what the enemy looks like, they’re just different people. To me, there are no such things as enemies.
Finally they agreed to let me teach a class over at Jericho. I went to Jericho and had 18 Palestinians in my first class. We went on the front lawn for prayer. And I had beats playing on the Boom Box and we were rolling and putting our legs up in the air. I really thought I might get into trouble, but I was fine and they loved me.
When I left the Israelis to go back to the West Bank they said “You know these poor people on the other side of the West Bank they don’t have good hummus. So, I became this hummus carrier back and forth and then finally they all wanted to meet each other.
In 2006 I was on a bus going to this meeting with 18 Palestinians. We were going to meet in Jerusalem at the American Colony in town and one Israeli came up to me and said “Can I have a word with you?” She asked “What are the Palestinians like? I’m really frightened of them because they killed a lot of my family.” I said “They’re just like you.” She says “Oh, you’re sure?” I said “Yes, don’t worry. You’re going to see how lovely they are”. So later that day, we’re in a hotel and I see this same woman hugging a Palestinian woman, and they were both crying. I just thought That’s it. That’s my work right there!
I mean, that one memory of them is burned like a tattoo in my brain forever. I can’t get rid of that. No politician can tell me that there’s anything better than that. The rest is just bullshit.
What gave you the confidence to take yoga into war zones?
I found myself in a war in Bosnia when I went there to run a radio station. I was going in and out of the borders during the worse part of the war and then I had my car stolen. I was on the run from the Middle Eastern police and I couldn’t get out of Serbia.
People looked after me when I had no money, nothing. I remember one time it was minus 24. It was horrible and they fed me, looked after me. I saw such human kindness. They didn’t really care that I was a yogi, they read me as a human being who was compassionate.
I felt my work was starting at that point. I didn’t think oh that’s what I want to do, that’s just what happened. For me, wherever I am is the place I need to be.
If you had to summarise your life’s purpose in a short statement, could you?
Yeah. My own self evolution. I know that my biggest pleasure out of this is my pleasure. I don’t give a shit about the world. I give a shit about MY world and I need to feel happy with me as a human being. I’m not such an egomaniac to think that I can save anybody. If I’m compassionate with someone else, loving to someone else, it’s because I’m loving for me. It’s a consequence of loving yourself.
So if you love yourself then you’ll love everyone else?
I think that’s one of the characteristics of all the advanced souls on this planet, they’re very childish and they’re in love with themselves but yet they do the hard work. It’s because they’re in a place of bliss.
It’s interesting to hear you say that you’re not trying to save the world, but your actions would suggest that in a way you are doing your bit to save the world.
Well we all have to come together now and stop it and rub out the borders between countries. It’s like someone saying well, I’m gay and I’m straight. I mean where does the borderline stop? Who knows? There is no borderline. It’s ridiculous. The line is in your head.
Okay that’s a great line to finish this interview with. Have a great time, wherever you’re going now.
I’m heading to Coventry for a big Yoga & Tequila Rave.
Yoga Tequila Rave- what?
Last year we had 240 people and we had 50 bottles of tequila. Basically, it started in Colorado when they wanted me to teach four hours of yoga. We had a break and they all disappeared and went into a bar. I walked in and they were all hiding their glasses behind their backs so I said “What the hell is that?” They went oh, it’s a tequila shot. I said “Well, okay I’ll do one of those too.” They said “Really?” I said “Sure.Allow us to celebrate. Don’t be such pussycats, you’ve got to celebrate your life. Don’t be wimps. Everything in life is celebration. Celebrate life in everything you do because that’s what it’s about. So, as I’m drinking the tequila I get a download from the universe, which is that I need to do tequila yoga. So I said “Let’s do tequila yoga!” and it was the best class I ever gave. Basically, one of the main principles is “turn off your head”. The head is political so if you cut the head off you go back to being simple. You just enjoy being alive without all the stuff going on in your head. You cut the head off. So I started to do this as a rave event; and now they are completely sold out yoga raves.
© Lightening Magazine 2016