Many years ago I was co-hosting a yoga retreat in the beautiful surrounds of the northern New South Wales hinterland with my business partner Jacqui. We ran these retreats four times a year and often we would have people booking onto the retreat that we’d never met and who were travelling from a different part of the country.
We had a guy called ‘Steve’ booked onto this retreat and neither of us knew a thing about him.
So picture this. Our serene yoga retreat centre was all full of ladies in Lululemon, Krishna Das echoed around the common room and candles flickered in the breeze. In roars a Harley and on it a guy in his tassled leathers. Probably in his 50s, this chap is heavily tattooed on every piece of skin visible, a bald head but a beard to his chest and a teardrop tattoo on his cheek.
He walks towards Jacqui and I and introduces himself as Gypsy. Jacqui thinks he must be lost and is looking for the commune up the road but no he tells us, he is ‘Steve’ and he is here for the yoga retreat.
I wondered how the Lulu ladies would take to this chap being in their midst. So different from the ‘normal’ yoga student at our studio. But I have to say from first glimpse I was intrigued by him. His eyes sparkled so blue, the way someones do when they meditate A LOT.
Over the course of the retreat, here is what I learnt about Gyspsy.
– he worked on the mines driving trucks in Western Australia and taught yoga to the miners in his downtime
– he was officially doing his teacher training at that time but had been unofficially teaching yoga for years
– he’d been in prison in his youth for things he said he wouldn’t tell me for fear of me judging him and it was in prison, back in the 70s, when the leotard class yoga teacher quit because she didn’t like the men lusting after her, that Gypsy got a few books out from the prison library and took on teaching the class to the inmates himself
– even though he earned a good wicket out there on the mines, on the weeks he had off, he chose to live a travelling lifestyle with just his motorbike and a tent
– we chatted about what living a life really meant, he recited the upanishads to me, I helped him with his arm balances, he helped me understand the true meaning of Santosha (contentment) as he explained how he found it both in a prison cell and under the stars in northern NSW.
I stayed in touch with Gypsy and always badgered him to write his story as it was such an amazing tale and one of really practising yoga. Sadly he passed away (way too young) a couple of years ago. His sister came on a retreat shortly afterwards as she knew how much yoga meant to him and wanted to honour him by coming on a retreat herself. We sat under the stars and shared stories he had told us and wisdom he imparted.
I was reminded of Gypsy this morning. A chap has been coming to my yoga classes this past week and he isn’t my ‘normal student’. He is a hippie in that travelling style, he has a look about him that says he has had hard times, demons to battle and life has given him a few rock bottoms from which he has had to climb out of. I have been wary of him, so keen to come to class but so different from the rest of us white, middle class yogis.
This past week he has brought me incense and poems for the yoga space. His practice is strong and shows both shri (grace) and tapas (discipline). He knows sanskrit, he talks comfortably about yoga philosophy and this morning he stayed after class because he saw me struggling with a sore back.
He asked me a few questions about the injury. He told me that in Mayan astrology we are in the phase of the red serpent which is a heating, fire stage of transformation. Then he looked me square in the eye and said ‘are you drinking enough water?’ – ‘none’ I replied.
He said I was all fire. Fire in my personality, fire in my dosha and in this astrological phase I needed to COOL down. Drink water he said, eat cooling foods, go with the flow, get a good nights sleep…be kind to yourself.
Ah the wisdom! I know all this but I’m not doing it.
Both these men at different times have taught me so much about not judging the exterior shell of something or someone. To be totally open to the wisdom each person has to offer you. So let’s make that our promise for our lives, be open, don’t judge…
And drink lots of water.