Phil Kayumba - Come As You Are
This is a deep and powerful conversation that we were honored to share.
Phil Kayumba is a Melbourne based trauma-informed Yoga teacher with a passion for shared community building and cultivating individual expression through collective movement and breath, hence his motto “Everyone, come as you are.”
Phil's teaching is imbued with lessons from an extraordinary life, from leaving his home in Rwanda at the age of 10 for soccer and education in England to discovering yoga in India while his father worked as an ambassador.
His travels through India continued to inform his practice and life, which only continued as he moved to Australia for study and became a father. Phil's resilience and compassion shines through as he shares about the effects of political violence in Rwanda, losing many much-loved family members, numerous assassination attempts on his father's life and becoming a refugee in Australia during his studies.
While Phil touches on many difficult and painful topics, this is an uplifting and inspiring conversation, filled with many unexpected turns and layered with Phil's love for his son, the practice of yoga, and life itself.
Note: This episode contains discussions of genocide, violence, mental health issues and other adult themes.
This episode is sponsored by Yoga Australia:
The opinions expressed in this podcast do not reflect the view and opinions of the sponsor.
Please email us to report any transcription errorsRane Bowen: Hello, my name is Rane, this is the Flow Artists Podcast. Every episode, my co-host, Jo Stewart, and I speak with inspiring movers, thinkers, and teachers about how they find their flow, and much much more. I hope you are well. You might be able to tell my voice is a little bit croaky but I have a bit of a cold which is why this episode's coming out a little bit late. I got the COVID test and that came back negative, which is what I expected but it's still a bit of a relief. Now, I’ve been looking forward to this episode for quite a while, it's an episode with Phil Kayumba. Phil is a yoga teacher based in Melbourne and he's got just an incredible story which I think he can tell far better than I, so I won't give too much away but please be advised, Phil's family have been heavily affected by the political violence in his home country of Rwanda which he shares about in this episode, just a little bit of a content warning there. This episode was brought to you by our sponsor, Yoga Australia, registering teachers and training courses to ensure that everyone in Australia has access to quality yoga teachers. Alright, that's more than enough from me, let's get into our conversation with Phil Kayumba.
All right, Phil, thank you so much for coming and meeting with us today, and speaking with us. It's great to finally get the chance to speak with you. Perhaps you could just start by telling us a little bit about your background and where you grew up.
Phil Kayumba: Yeah, of course, it's an absolute pleasure and an honor to be here. I've always been a big fan of you two, and being in your presence is really heartwarming.
Jo Stewart: Thanks, Phil. It’s so good to see you.
Phil: Yes, I thought I'd get that out of the way first because it's really, really vital I said that. As far as where I come from and who I am, I was born in Uganda but I'm actually from Rwanda. The reason being is that my family were refugees in Uganda, and had been for about two generations. My father moved back to Rwanda as a refugee rebel. During that really tumultuous period in African history in the 80s, in the 70s, and the early 90s, there's a lot of rebel movement going on, it was about self-determination and about the concept of going back to where they came from. There's a lot of history to that—if anyone's interested, you can go down the history of Rwanda and what that means is too big for us to go down—Then we moved to Rwanda when I was really, really young, four years old, and experienced quite a lot shortly before the end of the genocide and after the genocide in Rwanda. From that point onwards, I lived in Rwanda until I was 10, then I was granted the opportunity to play soccer in the United Kingdom. African kids soccer is a huge part of our lives so I was very, very lucky that I had the opportunity and also, the ability for my parents to be able to pay for a ticket to send me, which probably was a bit of a sacrifice but I think they saw promise in my dream and my capability to achieve it. I left my family for the first time at 10 which was really, really daunting, like every time I say it, I go back and I think, “Oh my goodness.” But I think it was the beginning of a sense of independence. I then moved to the United Kingdom for about six or so months and played soccer, football—wherever you come from [laughter]—then I incurred an injury in my ankle. [laughter] The notion that I was there was predicated on the fact that I needed to play and if I couldn't play, I couldn't be there any longer. It just happened to coincide with my father's arrival in the country, he'd also got a scholarship to study at the Royal Military College in Shrivenham which is not far from Swindon, which is not far from Oxford, really small towns. I lived there for another year with my dad and went to a just normal school, community college called Faringdon Community College. Then a year later, my father finished his master's and went back to Rwanda, but then he sent me to a military college called Michaelhouse in South Africa. I think the reason for that is he always felt that I lacked direction. I was always a bit of a dreamer, my teachers were always like, “Oh, Phil's not a bad kid but he could pay more attention.” I always found that to be a bit of a crack because my parents were going like, “Can't you pay attention?” Sure enough, I wanted to but I just couldn't so my father sent me down to South Africa. It was a bit of an opportunity to get me on the narrow and straight path but also, because he's a military man, so only rational that he makes that decision. In hindsight, now I see why but at the time, I was very frustrated.
Rane: Did you find it hard?
Phil: Very difficult. It's something that still brings up less so, but over the last few years, it's what I've brought up as a way to cathart those feelings with my parents, they put up a lot of tension on both sides but still a lot of results in terms of recognizing what they could have done differently, but also for me to rationalize they’re people who made mistakes and those mistakes brought some fruit nonetheless because I'm the person that I am now because of those decisions. Then I moved to South Africa and went to the school that was very, very strict, military precision, boy’s military school. It wasn't easy. I lost a lot of my ability to be sensitive during that period of my life. From the age of 12 to 15 I spent time at that school and I'd go back to Rwanda intermittently to see my family during the whole long holidays. There was a bit of a distance, so I'd go back and I'd isolate myself, then I go back, then I'd yearn to be with my family, so it was a bit of a catch-22. I'd want to be with my family, I'd go back and I'd be angry with them, then I'd come back and I'd miss them. Like all teenagers, I was going through a bit of emotional upheavals and so on, but it was hard to rationalize it with the context that I was in at the time. Also, my father was an important person by this point, a really important person in the country but also had a lot of tension with the president. My father has always been a proponent for accountability for justice. He's a studied lawyer. He always emphasized that in our house, whenever we had an issue, he'd sit us down and we'd have a bit of a home court kind of thing. Not always the best way to resolve issues but it taught us how to be quite pragmatic and factual. That issue with him being that way, he's always been very vocal especially with the president about term limits, assassination plots, and so on and so forth—again, that's something you can research on if you want to in your own time. [laughs]—But as a result of that tension, my father was made the ambassador of Rwanda to India. In most cases, that would sound a great thing, which it was, but it was actually initially intended as an isolation tactic for our family to get him out of the country and to quell his influence in his absence.
They sent him to India and the rest of us along with him and I'd only just started to really get a rhythm of the school, I felt like I had a sense of what I say stature and I also had a reputation that I'd made in those years that I was there, although difficult, now, I had to uproot and leave, not even to go home but to go to this foreign country, India. When I was told, I had two weeks to prepare for that transition. I wouldn't be able to prepare for it with my family, I had to prepare for it while at school, then I'd have at best a week or less before I moved to India with my family. As always, I accepted the situation. I think at this point, acceptance has become a narrative in my life and still is. I went with my family and moved to India in 2005, this point I was 15, and spent quite a while again with my family in close quarters but more with my siblings who I hadn't been around for a very long time either, so it was very strange having to play this big brother role when I hadn't been like a present big brother for so long. Those are just like nostalgia of big brothers coming home. There'd be that romantic period of his coming home when I'd arrive but the reality wasn't congruent with the expectation. I'd arrive and I'd be moody, and shitty, they're like, “Who’s that guy?” [laughter] The last few days, last week, I'd leave. But this time, I was here with them, I wasn't going anywhere. India, first, was hard for us to acclimatize as black people. The caste system there is very, very, very difficult to navigate. We found ourselves in a place of privilege but didn't feel that way. We had a car, a really nice car, my mother always taught us to be very humble, “Just because you're riding in a good car, it doesn't mean that you got to treat people outside of it any less.” Whenever we're looking outside, at least personally, whenever I was looking outside the car, making eye contact with somebody who had very little, I would try to look at them with a sense of empathy, not necessarily joy or something that would make them feel like I had more of looking down at them. That's always been the person I am, I feel for people really emotionally—even now, I'm getting a little teary thinking about it—You'd be traveling in the car and you'd be looking at these people with a sense of kindness and maybe, a sense of humility. They'll look at you and laugh and they would sometimes throw things in the window or shout out words Kaala Bandar which means black monkey. As time progressed, obviously, I started to travel more outside of the narrative of the embassy. I was a teenager becoming a young adult, so I wanted to do things and because I was a son of the ambassador, there was all these stipulations, “You can't do this, you can't do that.” I felt really hemmed in, I was like, “I'm in this new country, I'm not in the military,” I wasn't per se in the military but that kind of military setting where you had sergeants and people telling you what to do when you had drills, you had school, and you had all that, and I thought, “Here's a sense of freedom perhaps that I could latch onto and learn something different.” It was hard because you'd be like, “You can't do this, you can't do that, there's a reputation to uphold. You're not the ambassador but you're still the ambassador's children.” I respect that we're representing a country and also, we had a role in terms of, I suppose, respecting our parents and the mantle that we’re provided. During that period, I had a decision to make, either become more of an angry person or learn to let things go and be much more, some would say manipulative but probably more cunning.
Jo: You're growing up around diplomacy. [laughter]
Phil: That's right, I had to become one. The stories my dad was telling me at this point and my mom were about the politics back home, how people were being murdered extrajudicially, how family members were disappearing, and how the president was really out to get my dad. He started off with just very simple things and he just escalated, escalated, so as a family, we banded together and we got closer and closer together because even within the embassy, we're always not particularly sure of who to trust and what it is that we're doing. Actually, just a bit of a side note, a year ago or so, I think it wasn't a study but it was a report that came out showing that Rwanda had the second highest number of foreign spies in Australia after China. That's because there's a huge diaspora here in Queensland that is very vocal about the current president's actions and all that stuff. The Rwandan system is very much like North Korea but it is fueled by the money of foreign aid and sustained by public relation companies. There's a great image about Rwanda and its economic hub but all the locals are afraid and all the people outside are being killed with the use of the money that should be going to the people. It's a very very, almost futuristic, dystopian African state of kleptocracy. I use that word sparingly but not in this case. It's not about a dictatorship or anything like that, it's about one person's image. By the time we understood this as a family, my mother and the president's wife had actually started a school when we still lived in Rwanda and I had no more than a couple of weeks before I finished high school. I'd hunkered down in education, I thought there's this notion that I'm a black kid and that I'm less or dumber or something like that, so I thought I'm going to put my head down and I'm going to do my best academically so that I can leave, but also so that I can show and prove something. I started to mature enough to realize I didn't need to prove anything to anyone but I think it motivated me to push through school quickly. Then I asked for a transfer to Australia and asked La Trobe University. I put through a bunch of applications, to Bond University, and I always wanted to come to Australia, never to America, never to England, I already lived there and I hated the weather. The people are amazing but the weather is horrible. I'm all about weather. [laughter] If I have the choice, I'll make that choice. [laughter]
Rane: Sounds fair enough. [laughter]
Jo: Was it because you already knew that there was quite a Rwandan community in Australia that you wanted to come or what was the reason?
Phil: Because I’d be alone. In fact, the decision to come to Australia was specifically the opposite of that, because there'd be no Rwandans here when I wanted, not that I have an issue with my countrymen, I love my countrymen, I love my country, but I wanted to get out and experience what the world had to offer outside of that insulator of being Rwandan, of being black, of being a man, of being everything that I am. How can I be tested to really see through my own notions and my own values, and see if they're really the right ones? And that's to expose myself. Whilst in India though, I traveled a little bit to the North of India. I was in Shimla and Rishikesh. I spent a lot of time in those areas. I first got exposed to hallucinogens at that point and started participating in rituals, ganja rituals with some pundits, gurus, and people just sitting beside the road, meditating. I always had this drive to always go to people who are different. Even in school, when somebody seemed weird, those are the people I seem to be gravitating to because I was always like, “You're clearly doing something different, everyone else is going down this little path and they're afraid because what you're doing is different.” I used to be like, “Let me go and find out if I can learn what it really is.” I think that's who I am. In India, after school, I traveled to the North and that's when I met yoga. I said I met yoga because it felt like a person, I got taught how to meditate—just a little bit of meditation, nothing grand, just how to sit and to notice what's going on. That word to notice really made a big difference in my journey in yoga because I started utilizing it as a way to deal with my dysregulation, so when I get shitty or when I get anxious—or even when I get excited about something because I realized sometimes that my excitement to do something that was fun or whatever would lead me astray. I wouldn't see things, what they were, I'd jump in and gung ho only to realize it probably wasn't for me. [laughs] That was not a problem as well but there are some things, I probably could have perceived one for me before I chose to dive in had I taken a moment to notice—I digressed, so I lived in India and did all this traveling. I think that exposed me to finding a way to accept our people because I got called all sorts of things. One village, people love you, next village, they hate your guts, next village, they love you. That's what I love about India, to be truly honest, I could have said I hate it but I love that about India because it's a million nations in one, like you only need to travel for 100 kilometers before they're speaking what feels like a completely different language but it's a different dialect. The sense of expectation and reality is so different in parts of India, dark skin is loved here but not in the next village. That duality really allows you to accept things that you can't change but also, to lean into the things that you're enjoying. You'd walk into a village and people are nice to you, you'd really get into it. When people are really bad to you, you'd have to find a way to accept that and just move on without causing any issues. I think practicing that over and over and over again as a black young boy or a young adult in India gave me a sense of fortitude, how to deal with racial abuse, how to deal with being black, how not to lean so much into my blackness and how it's just to be filled. I'm proud of my blackness and I fight for the rights of being black, but there’s a time, there's like 100 people, I could start arguing, the energy turned out very bad. There are times in class where someone would say something that was very bigoted and I would stand up, and have an argument in the middle of a class with an Indian kid. I'd say it's changed the way you think because that's unacceptable. I think living in India taught me that “when” process because it's so vital. A lot of people want to have good causes and have great reasons for what they're doing but things fall short because of not realizing when is the when and that when became more clear to me when I started to notice, it all became this huge chain of things since that yoga stuff got us an opportunity to come to Australia. I left when I was 17, I arrived here and started university at La Trobe. I enjoyed my first year. I was doing law on economics because I was trying to make my parents proud and realize that's not who I am two years in, [laughter] but I learned a lot, learned how to defend myself, learnt the very basics about how to keep myself safe, legally speaking, and gave me a much more expanded vernacular. Then I thought I want to work with people. I've always been a people person, so I changed everything to HR and marketing. I wanted a degree and I think there was this thing about it coming, growing up, my parents about degree, degree and as much as now, I'm like, “Yeah, degree, it's still in there.” Like growing up your whole life, you're like, “Okay, I'm just going to get it so I can get off my back.” [laughs] A year before I graduated, my father ran away from Rwanda. He'd gone back for a meeting and he was tipped off that he was likely to be imprisoned or assassinated. After six, seven years of being ambassador, they'd wiped out his whole political base and all the people that agreed with his narrative. That point, I was in my last year of university here and the Rwanda government decided to cancel my passport and my siblings’.
They locked my mother and my siblings in the embassy house in India for a week and a half, no access to anything really. They took away their passports in a foreign country. Then my father found himself in South Africa as a political refugee in 2010. At that point, I had to make a plan because now, I was here and I was about to essentially be deported to a country that didn't want me and was probably going to kill me as a way to prove something to my father. I decided to declare myself as a refugee at that point but because I didn't have any paperwork, I couldn't go to school. My learning management system got cut off and I was in a bit of limbo. Then a month and a half later, my partner at the time told me she was pregnant and I was like, “Okay, well, I made my decision, clearly my part is done, the only thing I can say is I'll support you but as far as where we go from here, the choice is yours, you have this child, I'm with you for the rest of our lives. Even if we separate, I'm there to support you for the rest of our lives, you choose not to have this child, I'll still respect and love you the same way because it's your body and you have to have that choice.” Time went by, then the decision was made to keep Seve, who's now nine, my best friend. [laughs] That boy taught me a lot, but we'll get to that later. I knew I was going to be a dad but now I had to prepare to be a dad in a country where I had no right to work in, I had to finish university. After three and a half years of spending quite a lot of time, effort, and dedication, I thought I have to finish. So Jessica, Seve’s mom, and I, made a decision that she would pause her education for a time and work casually as she could and I would work, study, and finish, and think whatever, you want to go outdoors, [inaudible 0:21:25]. I managed to finish and graduated. Seve was born three, or four months before I graduated. I managed to organize things at the university and explain the situation and they were happy for me to do everything I needed to. Once my visa was declared, then they'd be able to give me my degree and so on. It was a really good compromise. Then my father was shot, it was an assassination attempt on him during this period, like this year was intense and he got shot.
Rane: Was he in South Africa?
Phil: Yeah, during the World Cup, it was in December. Seve was born six months later actually. Before Seve was born, I found out my dad had run away and found out I was going to be a dad. My dad was shot, then my son was born. My dad survived but in the year preceding that, there was five other assassination attempts. They really wanted to get him out and they failed. Then my son, Seve was born and I just started doing jobs everywhere. Really, I've had all sorts of jobs, I've painted, I've cleaned toilets, I've washed dishes, I've clipped trees, I've held signs. There's no job below me, even to this day, if tomorrow I couldn't sustain myself in yoga, I'd go do any other job with a sense of pride and my chin held high because it's a way to sustain yourself. I think doing that and suffering a little bit sometimes gave me a sense of respect for hard work and the sense of humility knowing that no one is above anything. Even if you do well, you have to remind yourself where you came from and where you could possibly return. I did all those jobs and they managed to sustain us just enough. I'd work during the day, then I'd do the night routine with Seve, I would clean him at night, swaddle him, feed him whenever he'd wake up, go back to work in the morning. I made that a thing to always be with my son every evening. I'd go emphasize, I’d be like, “Jess, you're sleeping, every night you're going to get a full night's rest. I don't have to be at work, I can get bad sleep but this is an opportunity for me to be with my child.” I may end up always working because that's the narrative, I thought you were going to be that usual nuclear family kind of stuff. I think that's what we all aspire too because what we're told, it was the right way to live. I did that but as time progressed, Jess' mental health just deteriorated, postnatal depression kicked in, I didn't know any of that stuff, I didn't know what it was remotely. She’d wake up, and just be really upset. I would think it was a sense of entitlement. I couldn't understand it because things that were happening back home was surreal—my dad's assassination attempts, my passport's gone, I'm having to go to DFAT and immigration just to quantify that I'm here—there's all these things that were happening in my life and I have to work, and I couldn't find a place for myself to empathize with someone who would wake up in the morning and just be like, “I hate my life,” when the bills were paid, despite all the things that were going on, the child was healthy, she was fine. It was tough. It was a tough time for me to be able to empathize with her and I couldn’t understand my role, probably making things worse at the time, probably because I just didn't know better. Then things just gradually got worse and worse. I go to work and I have to leave early. I started hating being at work because my managers would be like, “You're undependable.” I'd be like, “Yeah, but you don't supersede my child and if you can't support me in that, well, that's your problem.” Then they'll be like, “Well, you probably have to consider leaving,” and I'd be like, “Okay, cool, I'm gone.” I'd leave and go find another job. I ended up in call centers. That really became a place I was working in. I was eloquent enough to have conversations and understood the layer of the land because I'd done that job quite a few times before I graduated. Then as time progressed, I found myself using yoga as a way to switch off from talking to people. I'd be on the phone, then I really wouldn't want to go out and talk to people I work with. I’d be like, “I just want to switch off from human beings for a moment.” I started doing just stretches because my back would be hurting, then I started remembering Surya Namaskar, sun salutation, I started doing it for my 15-minute break, and I was like, “Oh.” Then I just started to go back to asana. I got this app called Down Dog and still use it today. It's been years now. I decided little by little and I started realizing in Shavasana, I would kind of disappear from everything. Sometimes, waking up, I start sucking air into your mouth, I'm like, “What time is it?” [laughter] I've been awake for six hours, I sleep for six hours? It just felt so good not to be much more relaxed and be so much more calm. I also noticed that I was reading things that were in the narrative of mindfulness now. The more I did it, the more it led me down the path of wanting to acquire knowledge about it. Then I met Rachel Goldenberg who's also a teacher. She's my partner. She's an amazing human being really. We met and we happened to just both love yoga. She was much more into it and she just came out of a really long marriage and a divorce. At this point, Jess had left me and Seve for a little while because she's just finding it difficult. I quit my job for about four or five months and was with Seve full-time. She came back from Queensland, then moved out of the house. I was left in this house and she left with Seve. Keep in mind, I had no right in this country, so she had the leverage to be able to say, “I'm taking my son with me.” There's nothing I could do about it. I couldn't be like, “No, you couldn't do that.” At this point, I was also not very sure whether if she called the police, what could I do? I'd heard about all these stories about men who were estranged from their wives or girlfriends and when things got a little bit heated, the cops would arrive and men would often end up in the divvy van. Being a black man, I'm sh*tty scared of that because a chain of events just sometimes can't reverse. I'd give in and capitulate on every argument, I'd be like, “I'll capitulate because there's a better chance I'll see my child and there's a better chance maybe, in a week’s time, you'll be more willing to have a conversation that is more grounded and willing for us to listen to each other.” She moved to Sunshine, an Australian reservoir in the North close to La Trobe University. I lived there for another two years and I would commute every second day. If I could, some weeks I went every day after work, I'd commute to Sunshine, I'd spend the evening with him and her if she was willing or I'd take him out for a walk and bring him back, then I'd commute back to reservoir, then to work the next morning. Every second day, I just went to Sunshine. It became a ritual. Sometimes, I'd miss the last train because I'd linger there, I'd put him to bed, and want to sleep in his bed, then I'd fall asleep, wake up, and I'd sprint to the train, and just be leaving. I'd have to walk to one place and take the last bus and I just end up at home at 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM and I have to wake up at 5:00 AM or 6:00 AM the next morning, go and do a call center job like, “Hello, how are you? Phil speaking.” [laughs] I repeat, I repeat, I repeat. During this time, I was just using more and more yoga, like every time I got really angry, yoga. Then back to where I met Rachel. She started doing yoga as a way to, I suppose, her grandmother has been doing yoga since she was young, she's 90 something now and still does it—you should have her in here. [laughter] Her grandmother is amazing—She inspired her to some degree but I also think Rachel has a natural disposition for the asana, very flexible, very strong, very young energy, nothing is too scary for her to try. We went to studios together. There was the first time I was in a studio. At first, I was a little perturbed because being fairly poor for Australian standards, I'd walk in these places and they were very opulent, like the doors or just everything smelled richer than I was and it really perturbed me but I still enjoyed what I got out of the practice. There was this again, a dystopia between opulence and humility. The practice of yoga is about humbling yourself and bringing yourself down a peg, then I'd enter these places that felt really opulent to me. That wasn't the case, it was just my own internal issues, my own problems to some degree. Some of them are very, very opulent, there's no way of mincing the words but I think the ones I was going to when I first started weren't as opulent as I thought they were, probably because I'd never been to a first world studio. I'd been to Asala in India and I don't give a damn, floor space, enjoy, place to make tea at best. [laughter]
Jo: Often, not even a mat.
Phil: That's right, not even a mat. When I came to those places, it allowed me to start a rhythm and to meet people who were teaching.
Rane: Hello, Rane here, I just wanted to talk a little bit about the future of the Flow Artist Podcast. We mentioned this on our Patreon page a while ago but we've decided to change things around here just a little bit. We really love creating the podcast but it does take up a lot of our time so we're going to let go of the fortnightly schedule after episode 100, this is currently episode 97. We've also decided that we probably won't focus on yoga quite as much, we really just want to speak with individuals that we're passionate about in a more diverse sphere. Episode 100 will be a very special episode where we get to reminisce about the past three years. We're going to experiment a little and try live streaming it. Look out for that very soon, we'll have more information coming up for you. All right, let's get back to our conversation with Phil.
Jo: Did you feel like the teachers were welcoming even though the architecture might have been intimidating? Did you feel like the community accepted you?
Phil: Some places, majority of them not so much, specific ones and I worked there, ironically. [laughter]
Jo: Making the change. [laughter]
Phil: I was like, “I like this energy, I'll be there.” Some of the places that felt a little opulent to me, actually over time, I found they had a sense of community. Some, I just wasn't connected to them, I don't work there, I don't practice there, not out of hatred but just out of the fact that our energies don't align. It's okay to respect somebody but keep them at an arm's distance. While I was with Rachel, when we first met—and we’re still together now—but when we first met, we started doing more and more yoga and I started to realize that it's something I really enjoy doing. The prospect of it being something that someone can earn money from was bewildering to me. It's like, “Wait a second, these people wake up, they go and do yoga, they teach people yoga, and they get paid for it? What do they do after that?” It's like I mean, “More yoga.” [laughter] I was like, “What? They pay their bills with this?” Someone's like, “Yeah, they can.” Genuinely, I was like, “I've been working towards this my entire life.” So I thought, “All right, I want to go to more classes and really understand what this is in my own body, and see if I can really make a go of it.” But it took me a long time, it took me maybe, two years before I decided, “Okay, I think I'm going to go for this, then teacher training.” I've been practicing at the Australian Yoga Academy for a while, Rachel has taken me there. It had a reputation and still does. I arrived and there was a versatile number of teachers. They had a teacher training that seemed quite comprehensive but also, I think sometimes, when I see something that’s available to me, I don’t look too far away. In hindsight, there are so many other things I could have done. I'm grateful and honored, in fact, that I still make the same decision to do that same course but whether I would have done it as the first course is a different thing altogether. I think that also, people who aspire to be teachers are deciding how you want to enter it because sometimes, it dysregulates how you feel—the first course can really change the way you feel—and that course is fairly intensive. Like any educational setting, some people thrive, some people don't. I went into this and before I did though, I had all these savings that I'd put aside. Those savings had come from the interim period between when I separated from Jess to when I met Rachel. That time I saw no one else, I didn't date and that period, I was an escort. It was a very different life. On top of the call center work, every now and then, I'd be an escort, I'd meet up with women, couples, all sorts of things. I suppose my sexual inhibitions are very reduced because I come from a country that doesn't have hang-ups as far as that's concerned, so I found myself doing something that I knew was morally and the value of it would be very difficult for my family to understand. But as time progressed, I started to realize that no, I actually didn't care. I met really amazing people, I earned a lot of money, and I learned more about myself more than anything else. Even though there's a lot of money, I can't quantify the money I made with the experience about myself. Not necessarily about sexuality or anything per se but the way I behave in that context, the way I treat people, how it changed me when I was getting paid for it, and how those same qualities could actually be transferred into my non-paid intimacy. Also, I really empathize for women during that period because I saw a lot of women, the relationships are really, really difficult, they didn't even look at themselves as people anymore. They have the ability to let somebody trust you enough to open up to you that way and leave with a sense of confidence, and you feel like, “Oh, I've done something good for somebody.” But it's not tangible. Yes, there's money exchanged, what takes place is different from every experience. You can't really quantify the experience with the money. That's just the way it works. After a while, I stopped and I thought, “Okay, I've made the money I need, I've experienced what I can, I think it's time to switch off and go back to being a person who interacts with people and have sex without being paid for it.” Not long after I met Rachel, I started the yoga journey, then I started to realize that everything I've done as an escort and dealing with people, the lay of that land and how it had to lend into holding space for people in yoga. Then I went for my teacher training, took some of that escorting money and put a huge portion of it into my teacher training, so I just redirected those finances, paid for my debts, whatever was left, for teacher training. All of it was gone but I thought I'm now invested in something that I can make a career, I was sick of jobs, and I wanted something I could wake up to even if someone told me I couldn't get paid but I still do it once a day. That's for me. I paid the money for the teacher training at AYA and never regret it again. I'm a facilitator, I'm gravitating more to that word, I don't consider myself really a teacher per se, I facilitate space for people to get to know themselves and to cultivate the teacher within them because that's really what a job is about. Then during that teacher training, I met Jo Buick. Goodness, I don't even know the word to explain Jo, she's just an angel, heaven sent, like the amount of things that Jo does to facilitate other people living full lives, I think in a few years, I'm going to nominate her for like Australian of the year, like I have to, someone has to because she does amazing things, then Karina Smith also. Those are probably the two people that really inspired me to go down the way I hold space and the way I facilitate. Those are the two main teachers, then of course, you have Dominique Salerno and you have Melanie. Also, at AYA, you've got a range of teachers who are really, really inspiring, but for me, the trauma-informed yoga approach was my bread and butter, I felt like that's where I want to go. I found myself always contacting Jo and Karina. Shortly after I did the course with Karina, mindfulness and yin, I started a whole chain of events with trauma-informed yoga. Now, that's like, “I love that.” Every time I hold space or facilitate, it's about allowing people to feel safe. Safety for me is a key. Once you make someone feel safe, I think they do things in their own way. I'm just grateful now, I'm a full-time single dad, I've had Seve now since he was six. But when he turned six, life was interesting, he started getting tics, he’s eyes were rolling back his head and I'd be like, “What's going on there?” Then his eyes were just on the back of his head. At one point, I was like, “Seve, do you think you can avoid doing that otherwise to keep happening?” He just says, “I can't stop.” I was like, “Hmm.” Two weeks later, he started making a noise along with the eye roll. At this point, I started getting really worried, all sorts of things like, “My kid has a tumor in his brain, what the hell's going on?” I go to doctors and they're always dismissive, “Oh no, it's a small tic.” I've been watching my son when he's stressed, when he's a little anxious, his body starts to move and he can't control it, his eyes, I just really feel like we need to submit to a specialist so they can really look into it, and if it isn't, fair enough, I don't mind but at least try. They'd be like, “No, you're fanciful, don’t.”
Rane: They wouldn't even give you a referral?
Jo: Do you think there was an element of racism involved?
Phil: No, I think probably being a young father, there is ageism and also sexism. It's interesting.
Jo: They’re just like, “Oh, dad doesn't know what he's talking about.”
Phil: Pretty much, you'd think it's racism but actually there was no intention here in terms of racism, it was more about ageism and sexism. I've experienced that being a dad the entire time because I'm a very involved father. I spend time with my child all the time, so much so that my entire life is predicated around him. My teaching schedules run around how much time I can spend with him. So being a dad, I've spent time around moms, really well to-do moms, really not-so-well to-do moms, but moms. I've always been the young dad, and sometimes has been an older dad. The way I've been treated as a young dad, not so often, but in some cases, a young black dad creates a lot of angst inside of me because I get left out, it hemmed out and moms would be talking and there is no opportunity because I can't jump into the circle without prompting. I'm not that person going like, “Hey,” sit on the outskirts and if somebody gives me a look, I'm like, “Hi,” I wave, but all the looks were like “don't bother” kind of thing. So I got used to going, “Fine, I'll figure out myself.” Then Seve, over time, got these symptoms, then Rachel's father is a doctor, so I reached out to him, then he actually started the ball rolling. He sent Seve to a specialist at The Royal Children's Hospital. By this time, I knew it was Tourette's because he was ticking, jerking, and sleeping two hours at a time, then waking up because of a tick. When it first started, it was like hell, it literally feels like your child's being possessed by something because you can't foretell when it's going to come, you can't predict, you can't stop it, you don’t know how long it's going to go for, you don’t know how intense it's going to be and you don't know which body parts are going to move, and for how long. You're constantly in a state of anxiety, just waiting and waiting, and when it happens, you're waiting and waiting, it's just a waiting game. I've cried so many times holding him in bed. I've cried myself to sleep because I'm just so sad that I can't relieve his pain or this freaking thing. Then we went to a specialist at The Royal Children's Hospital and he was diagnosed with Tourette's, ADHD, and OCD. Because his mother is here, obviously, I always try to involve her in these things even though he's now in my care full-time. He sees his mom whenever. She's welcome to come and grab him if she's feeling well or has the time and feeling motivated. Despite our issues, I never wanted to limit her access to her son or her son to her. Now, four years later, almost five, Seve is managing his tics fairly well. I decided not to go down the medication path because I feel his brain chemistry will do what it needs to do. He's able to walk, play, laugh, and do everything else except now, we're able to go like, “This will end, we've had them so many times.” Like it happens, sometimes, we even make fun of some of the tics provided he's chill about it. Sometimes he'll do and he's like, “Dad, did you hear that?” [laughter] I'm like, “I did, wait till it comes back. [laughter] It's really an interesting one.” Then I'll be cooking or something and he does it again, “Dad, did you hear it?” I'm like, “Yeah, I did.” [laughter] We've made music to some of his tics.
Jo: Just normalizing it.
Phil: Yeah, but also teaching how to communicate with people about it, not to be shy to tell people, “Hi, I have Tourette’s, it's involuntary, if you don't understand what that means, don't sneeze and don't blink.” I speak to school every year, first, his class, I sit them down and I give them a bunch of real-life scenarios to make them understand what Seve is going through but I also give them coping mechanisms in case they're unable to cope with what Seve’s going through himself. Then I offer his teachers options to help his education. I created an open communication channel as I can with his teachers. Outside of the support he needs, he needs to be treated like any other child. He's special but also not special. We don't live on the predication that he has a disability, he's differently abled. One of the analogies that I share with other parents who have kids with Tourette's is, “You've got to make it like a superpower thing.” With him especially, it's a narrative. I tell him that he's full of this spirit and this energy and his body sometimes finds it difficult to contain that energy. We love comics. There are so many analogies we can use there where superheroes are finding it difficult to contain their energy, and they're about to explode. The recent Avengers—the Infinity War, the gauntlet, and [inaudible 0:45:18] the hammer—that's really been good for us and for me to rationalize that notion. Every time it comes up, he just lets it out. He’s like, “If I don't exhaust this, I'll explode.” [laughter]
Rane: That's awesome. Do you get in that mindfulness, noticing it, background as well?
Phil: Yeah. I communicate openly. We have sun breath. We have one way where he uses his hand. He uses his index finger over his thumb, and he'll breathe in up the thumb, breathe out down the thumb, breathe in up the index finger, breathe down. You just repeat that a few times. That only works so much, sometimes it’s just really intense. In that time, what we do is we just go and be active. We get out and walk the dog, or we get on the bike and we ride, or we wrestle, or just Nerf guns and shoot each other, just get ahead and do things. Because for him, doing things just disassociates from that notion of sitting and also ruminating on the fact that your ticcing doesn't change anything. If you fall over while you're running because of a tic, that's one thing. Pick yourself up, keep running. But your brain chemistry is pushing it around which to some degree will supersede the need to tic. The more we do that, the better it will be because he’s a very high-functioning, high-energy boy. The only way I'm ever able to get him to do mindful things is straight off the bed. I always have two mats in my room, side by side. He comes to my room every morning without fail. If I've gone to work, sometimes I'll leave him at 6:00 AM class and I'll be back home by 7:15 AM. It's not very long at all. I'll find him in my bed then I'd be like, ”Yoga.” And he's like, “No, dad.” I'm like, “Just 10 minutes.” We'll do very basic things—cat-cows—things that anybody could do—lunges, lateral flexions, twists, child's pose, we're done. We do that every second day or every day. Now, when I go and say, “Yoga,” he's like, “Oh, okay fine. Let's get it over and done with.” But you can see his body starting to change. You can just even see his breathing starting to change. But more importantly, you can see the way he's able to deal with the dysregulation. He has a place inside of him that he can go to—outside of the breathing, outside of everything—where he's able to go back and just become an observer. That's what I've always told him, like, “Go to your safe place and observe. Imagine that you're just watching people and seeing how they behave and it will teach you.” Talking about using silence as a good way to learn what's taking place around you. Having a dad who facilitates yoga, he gets mindfulness up to his ears. Even when I'm not talking to him, there are people in my building that I'm talking mindfulness to, or inviting people in the building, “Come, do yoga.” It's his life. He spends time with me. In the school holidays, he comes with me to every class because I don't have anyone else. I never have mom, dad, brothers, sisters, cousins. Just me and him here. His mom's family is fairly estranged from us because his mother had a tip for the family. They've distanced themselves from us and her. As a result, he has literally no cousin. He does have cousins but they don't interact with him. It's because of the isolation of their sister and her mental health, you have to make a choice when it comes to mental health—support or disassociate—It's sad because there’s intermittent support from her parents, but her siblings have disassociated with her completely. Despite being separated from her, I still make it a thing to support her. Take my son to see her, open my home for her to see her son, remind her that mental health doesn't define who she is. It's just a portion of who she is. We all have our demons, just that hers is much more open to the world. A lot of us have demons that we are able to exercise in the comfort of our own homes, but those of us who don't have the chance to do that, where it just comes up unexpectedly, those are the people that are vilified because we don't know. It's hard because I've had friends who I’ve had to distance myself from. Especially being a parent, I've got to realize that I can only give my energy to so many people. Because I'm so drawn to mental health and mindfulness, that's one of the things that has now become a huge part of my life, as of recent. That notion of how many people can I give my energy or letting people know that I don't have the energy to give them and that I need to prioritize it elsewhere. Otherwise, I have none left for me. It has been a big thing for me recently. It was very interlinked to my social media, very interlinked to my public persona, which has been under review over the last two years or so. The more I do this work, the more I realize I didn't want an image. I didn't want a pedestal. I want to be somebody who could just make people feel safe. I started moving away from a lot of things that I really couldn’t when I first started yoga—Lululemon clothes, and the mats, and the right schedules, and the perfect teacher, and the perfect time, and the big classes. It has a drawing to it, don't get me wrong. Lululemon was awesome to me. They gave me opportunities and some really cool things and they're a really nice organization, at least to me they were, I'm not going to go into the whole what's going on with them, but I can only speak for myself. I always like to emphasize that you can have reservations but also speak truthfully about your own experiences, and with them, I really have no argument, as far as my own personal experience is concerned. But as I realized that the grassroots part of yoga is so essential, the people that come in and feel like they don't belong, those are the people who really need it. I’m not the person who can afford a yoga mat and already has a Lululemon outfit, has a subscription to a studio, I love those people. I still hold space and facilitate people who already have that. But I'm much more fulfilled when I offer and hold space for somebody who was initially upset with yoga, or who felt like they couldn't do it, or felt like their body wasn't worth it. That's really where yoga is useful for me. That's my life.
Jo: I do have another question for you, two different questions about social media. I tell myself this and other yoga teachers tell themselves that you can't opt out because you need it for your business and that's how you're going to fill your classes. Have you noticed any change since you completely stopped doing it?
Phil: Yes, I have. I’ve realized that I find joy in the class of one. I'm less worried about how many people are in my class, how many people are going to be in my class. If I could look at the roster of how many people have booked into the class, it’s often I look at it just as a way to familiarize. I go like, “Oh, I know him. Oh, I know her. Oh, I'm excited” or “I don't know any of these people. I want to make an inherent effort to remember their names, to create a narrative and a relationship with them.” Never five people, yay, 20 people, yay, half a person, if there's any such thing, yay. [laughter] There have been times where no one's arrived. There's a bunch of studios who I'm not going to name because they're struggling, and that always doesn't necessarily work well from a business standpoint. But I'm still facilitating with these studios because I believe in the notion of community. What I'm getting out of it financially doesn't equate to the amount of time I'm putting into it. But what comes of it is that the people who come to these classes are people who generally would feel isolated. There's less access to yoga around them compared to us here in Northgate, or in Prahran, or St Kilda. When I'm there at 6:00 AM in the morning and I know I'm not making much money, I leave. Literally, this is actually going to be really funny, I arrive sometimes in the morning and I'm questioning myself. I've left my son in bed, I'm going to this place that's actually further than any other studio I work at, I don't think they'll be able to pay me for this class, and four people are going to arrive. I'm just thinking about it, thinking about it, and I go, “Just relax. Relax, just go and hold space.” At the end of the class, not once do I ever justify that conversation in my head. In the end, I'm like, “Yep. I'll be back next week.” That's why the whole social media thing for me had disassociated me from the true work of this. There is usefulness in social media, but for me, I couldn't delineate the usefulness and the addiction. Also sometimes, I'd be doing things for the purpose of posting them, not that I'd done things that I wanted to post. That flipping of ideas of, “Am I really going out to enjoy my time or am I going out to collect memories to share with the rest of the world?”
Jo: I found your social media in the brief window that you were back. I was like, there's so much beautiful poetry here. A lot of what you shared was your thoughts, your feelings, your creativity. Are you finding now that that's not going on Instagram, you're more creative in other ways?
Phil: Yeah, definitely. My creative juices, energy are being placed elsewhere with people. To put it bluntly, I decided I was not going to engage with social media anymore. I wanted to engage with people. I want to be in the presence of people. I wanted to have somebody disagree with me physically, not have a war of words, or not that I was really that person, everything I often posted was an opinion but was also delineated that it was just a suggestion. People could choose, and this is what I still do when I hold space. Everything I say in class is always a suggestion, only becomes yoga if it makes sense in your body. Beyond that, it's complete hogwash. I'm a GPS, you can just ignore me at any point. If you lose your way, check-in again. These are the analogies I utilize whenever I'm facilitating.
Rane: I want to steal that.
Phil: Adopt it, by all means. It's one of those things that I feel every person should take, and it's useful to all of us. It’s not theft, it's an adoption of the useful term. I’ve gone a year, next month would be a year off social media—haven't posted, haven't read other people's posts, haven't liked, literally haven't touched it. I set myself a promise, almost like quitting smoking or something, I just went, “I'm not going to touch it until a year's time.”
Jo: The year where everyone spent more time on the internet than any other year.
Phil: That's right. I thought it's just really interesting. During that year, I rode hundreds of kilometers, I ran hundreds of kilometers, I did hundreds of hours of yoga, hundreds of hours of pilates on my phone, hundreds of hours of HIIT. I have more time with my dog. I spent time just staring into her eyes. My son and I watch the goofiest things together. I find that whenever I have free time, I'm just reading or staring at the wall. I find more usefulness out of staring at the wall and trying to engage in what the rest of the world's population is doing, for me. I want to emphasize that anyone hearing this, sometimes if you're on social media or whatever, there is this notion that somebody else is quitting, it needs to be your path. That's not the truth. We all know what's good for us inside. We can feel it. You can feel it when something has overtaken you or you feel like it's of use to you. It's important to always be congruent to that internal voice. A year ago, that internal voice told me, “Get off.” Three weeks ago, it told me to get off altogether, and I have no qualms with it. If there comes a time for me to change my mind, I reserve the right to do so. Instagram's not going anywhere. If you really wanted, you could find my posts, they're out there somewhere in the ether. There are always people I was connected to. If I really wanted to find them, I could. But what I was sharing is already available. Those people who read it at the moment they read it, that's who I was reaching out to. To anyone who didn't read it, it wasn't meant to arrive. It's accepting what you can and cannot control, and then being here. That's my priority now, just to be here. Otherwise, my life will come to an end and now, all I remember of it would be a two-by-something square screen, and I don't want that.
Rane: Fair enough.
Jo: Did you notice that your relationship with your son changed, not having your phone?
Phil: He actually made light of it because he was like, “Dad, you're always on Instagram.” Because I'd be like, “Seve, say something.” You're trying to get your child involved. He's like, “No, I don't want to say something.” I'd be like, “Why?” And he’d be like, “Because I don't want to.” And I'd be like, “Why am I trying to involve you in something you don't want to, especially, why am I exposing you to the rest of the world? Just so they can tell me how cute you are? So they can like it, and validate how cute my child is?” Also I already see the vanity in it and I hate vanity. If I could tattoo it on my forehead, I would, but humility is one of the qualities I really gravitate to. I always exercise and practice humility. Whenever I feel like I'm being vain, I run in the opposite direction. Seve definitely made me aware of social media but also he’s now more aware of how present I am. He could be gaming because gaming is one of the tactile ways we've found that can help him with his tics, and also the focus to communicate. He's got a headset, he's got a community to be a part of. Sometimes they argue, sometimes they're best friends. He makes weird friends and then cusses them out. They come back and I'm in the kitchen either reading, drawing, playing my guitar, just doing something basic in the other room. I'm not always with him but I can hear him. Compared to a year ago, I get involved now. I'm like, “Seve, you can't say that. You can't treat someone like that.” I hear the narrative of the conversation he’s having with his friend. I'm actually able to keep in touch with him even though I'm doing other things, or when I was on my phone. It would just be me on my phone. He could be right next to me having a conversation and I couldn't hear him. A year later, I could be cooking, watching a tv show, feeding the dog, like all sorts, and I'll still be able to tell what's going on as my mom could. All those other things are very different to me than social media. It has visceral, biological biochemistry that it changes in your mind and for me, it overpowered me. I suppose I'm too weak. I acknowledge that weakness and I'm okay with it.
Rane: I'm definitely too weak in that to work.
Jo: Me, too. We're trying to do no-social-media Sundays.
Rane: Let's fall into the wayside a little bit.
Jo: For some of us.
Rane: Maybe for me, yes.
Jo: What I've also been doing and in the lowest stakes way possible is when I wake up first thing in the morning, I always meditate before I look at my phone. Sometimes that just means I fall back to sleep. That's okay too.
Phil: That's fine. That’s the thing, without social media, this wouldn't access the people who need it. I wouldn't be such a big fan of Flow Artists if social media didn't exist. The number of people you've had on this and the wealth of knowledge and wisdom you've shared. But also to both of you to be able to hold space, you're such both great holders of space. You have all these people come in and they speak candidly because there's a sense of trust. With this, I want you to keep going because there is value in this and that's where you've got to be able to delineate. It's okay to have a little addiction to something that gets so much out of your way, but if you're well addicted and there's very little coming out of it, you've got to make that opportunity cost. For me, it's about the opportunity cost, what am I losing to gain something.
Jo: When we first started doing this, I realized how rare it was to sit down with someone and just have a conversation, to not look at a phone, and to not even be eating, or doing those other little life distraction things but to fully be present with people. That's a real gift that the podcast has given us. When we used to do it, afterwards, I would actually feel quite tired. That hour of focusing was like, “All right, I'm done for the afternoon.” Sometimes it feels like a meditation as well. Everything that you've shared has been so fascinating and so heartfelt that we've just been on the ride. We've hardly had to ask you any questions. [laughter]
Rane: We've got a whole sheet of questions here. I think we've asked two or three.
Phil: That's okay. I went on a bit of a ramble.
Jo: Oh no, that's what we live for. That's what a podcast is all about. It's such a privilege to be able to share with someone the things in their life that they're the most passionate about, and the things that mean something to them and their life's journey that's got them to this particular place. You don't normally have those kinds of conversations with people, especially if it's the first time that you're meeting them.
Phil: That's true.
Jo: It's pretty awesome.
Phil: I suppose it's that circuit inside, giving and getting at the same time. You can feel it because you hold the space. It's almost like I’m fighting, “Better than that. Here's my life.” [laughter]
Jo: For people listening as well, I know when I listen to podcasts, because they're right in your ears, it’s different from watching TV when you're looking at a screen.
Phil: It’s a very personal experience. That's very true. It sounds more like a conversation and less like something happening far away from you that someone else made, you feel like you're there. It's interesting because podcast is something I was wanting to get into but for the life of me, I've got the worst way of arranging my life.
Jo: Sounds like you've got a lot of other things that you've got going on.
Phil: It's that altruism of always wanting to achieve and do more and more and that's also something that personally, I have to work on. For me, it's not about remuneration, it's about value, feeling that sense of service. When you do something that makes you feel you're of service or it increases your value and the more of those things you come in contact with, the more of them you want.
Jo: It might be a little bit of a flip side of what you're saying how much you value humbleness. In my mind, humbleness and service go together. You live for what you can do for other people.
Phil: That's right.
Jo: That value of humbleness drives you to the point where you might just empty your own batteries giving to other people. Whereas, if you were just a little bit more arrogant and kicked back and like, “I'm sweet. I don't need to do things for other people,” with all of those values, there's the real strength in it, but there's also that shadow side to watch out for, and to know that tendency in yourself and to know you're like, “Okay, this doesn't have to be another project.” I and Rane definitely are way too good at giving ourselves new projects. We get excited at the beginning and then we get cranky because we don't have days off.
Phil: She’s noticing it. That's exactly what you're doing, that's mindfulness. One of probably, the best things I've repeated to myself for ages now—and it came up when I was in Shavasana one day—and that was that yoga in its own right is just about noticing. It’s like paragraphs, you've got paragraphs and then punctuation. Life is filled with paragraphs but Samādhi wisdom is the commas and the full stops. Those moments where you look at a flower and look more beautiful than it's ever been, or your cat climbs on you in that moment of despair, you open the fridge and you realize, “Oh I probably need to go get more things because I need to make dinner for that person I love,” that's the wisdom. The more I've come to terms with this, the more I've realized that if you're not chasing this everlasting expanded state of wisdom, you're then able to accept that you're not always a wise person. It sets that tone of noticing when things have happened. Noticing is such a keyword because it allows people to fail, and allows people to know that failing is partially part of the process. You're also allowed to choose, to change your mind, but all this comes with that notion of knowing that you're more than enough. The process of learning and growing is just filled with so much crap. Your crap is just as heavy as somebody else's. That's what yoga is. It's not this altruistic, everlasting state. Every time I see people who exude that, who want to always seem put together, it frustrates me. As people who hold space, we need to humanize ourselves. The more we do that, the more people come, the more people feel like they can do it, too, and that's my drive that makes me really happy.
Jo: Following on from that, we just did an Accessible Yoga online training in lockdown. I was just catching up on the extra videos, and Jivana Heyman had a beautiful explanation for what yoga is and it's making friends with your own mind.
Phil: Yeah, 100%, very much so. It's a much better explanation.
Jo: No, this is beautiful. They go together well. It's knowing yourself, understanding yourself, and sometimes a bit of tough love with yourself. You got to be on your own team.
Phil: You tend your own fire. It’s good to help somebody else's fire, but don't forget to keep tending your own. Otherwise, it will go out and then you're going to be trying to grab other people's heat.
Jo: It's interesting as well because sometimes, if you're feeling useless, or life doesn't have meaning, helping someone else is the way back into feeling love for life and feeling like you do have something worthwhile to contribute to the world. It’s like that balance of giving but also receiving.
Phil: Yeah. That's the duality of knowing how much you're taking and how much you're willing to give. Sometimes when you're empty, you can fill your own cup up by giving to other people. I do this quite a lot. I go to Coles and I'll buy a few basic things, especially when I walk past somebody who wants cash, or is really struggling, I'll go in and grab a bunch of staples, bread or buy a little bit of that milk that’s on the fridge, the long-life milk. Maybe just a few things, small things that I'd probably carry with me if I didn't have a steady home. I'll walk up to him and be like, “Hey, does any of this look interesting to you? Would you like any other stuff?” The majority of times like, “All that stuff would be useful.” And I'm like, “Here you go. I hope that helps.” And I'll walk off. I'm not so sure what they require but I can give what I can. I'm not a rich man but I know that I can afford to offer something. Offering yoga class to people I meet in the park. There are a few people who I’ve met in the park, playing drums and like, “What's that drum?” and like, “What do you do?” “Yoga.” “Oh, I was going to try that but I'm a smoker, and I do drugs, and my life's not together.” I'm like, “Come now, you can sit on my mat. I'll sit on the grass and I should do some stretches. Get on your back. Put your knees to your chest.” A couple of twists here, there, 30 minutes in, 45 minutes in. We're done. “That felt good, man. I just went 45 minutes off drugs.” “Well done. Have a good day. I hope I see you again.” I've become such a serial offer. I offer yoga everywhere. Some people are probably going like, “That guy's offering yoga everywhere for free.” Some people don't have the means, the time, and sometimes, now is the right time. If I don't have much to do and somebody approaches me and asks me what I do, why direct them to a studio when I can do it for them now and here?
Jo: Especially when you've had the experience yourself of walking into a studio and not feeling welcome, and feeling intimidated to even walk in that door.
Phil: That’s right. It's a process. It really is. It's been an interesting one. Like always, my whole life revolves around my child.
Jo: Are you looking at the school pick-up time?
Phil: That's literally been my whole life. “Phil, can you work this time?” “I don't know. I'll be picking up my son.” [laughter]
Rane: I do have just one more question. If you could distill everything that you've learned and everything that you teach down to one core essence, what do you think that one thing would be?
Phil: Acceptance. Accepting everybody as they are, even if you don't understand. There is always an opportunity for a wealth of knowledge. I do this because I realize that everyone else is me and I am them. I need to remind myself that. As always, the theme of my life is to be humble, and accept everyone, and offer what I can, to accept when I can't. To be truthful about that because there have been times in class where I can't put the words together. I acknowledge, I’m like, “Today, my mouth is not doing so well,” or “I forgot, which side were we on again?” Just acknowledge those things. My whole life is to ground myself, humanize myself, and make myself accessible to every person that reaches out to me, who speaks to me, and to speak to everyone with the level of truthfulness and respect. To remind people that I'm no different from them. Everything that they may aspire for that they see in me is exactly already there in them. We all have a wise teacher inside of us and that teacher can supersede somebody who’s been doing it. You could start yoga today and acquire more in five years than somebody who has been doing it for 20 years. There's no knowing unless you give it a try. The suggestion that watching somebody that you revere is there's no guarantee that you can't be better than them in understanding, not better than them, but different, I suppose. We all acquire different things at different times but everyone is capable of this and that's my mantra. They just have to give it a go.
Jo: Thank you so much for everything that you've shared and also for journeying to our house. It's such an honor to get to sit down with you after many Zoom conversations.
Phil: Yeah. I love coming here. I love Northgate but also I love your home.
Jo: Oh, thanks. You're welcome back anytime.
Phil: I will come back with a huge platter of African food like two dishes because that's all I can make. [laughter] People are like, “Wow, what else?” I'm like, “It's literally a flower and something sauce.” [laughter]
Rane: Beautiful. Thank you.
Phil: Thank you.
Rane: I hope you enjoyed our conversation with Phil. He's had such a fascinating journey. My jaw was on the floor for a lot of the conversation. You might notice we didn't have to ask that many questions. If you like to share your thoughts on the interview or anything else, please feel free to get in touch. You can join us on our Facebook group, The Flow Artists Podcast Community, and drop us a message there. Or leave us some feedback on our Instagram pages, I'm @ranelovesyoga and Jo is @gardenofyoga. You can also email us at email@example.com. We would love to hear from you. Our next episode will also be very special. It's a conversation with Richard Liddicut. Richard has been teaching yoga for over 40 years and has also been Jo's art teacher since she was a child. He's got so much knowledge to share including about the early days of the iconic Mangala studios. I've been looking forward to speaking with him. Look forward to that episode in a couple of weeks’ time. Our theme song is Baby Robots by Ghostsoul and is used with permission. Get his music from ghostsoul.bandcamp.com. Thank you so much for listening. Jo and I really appreciate you spending your time with us. Arohanui. Big, big love.