by Abesi Manyando & Zain-Minkah Murdock

Physical, Spiritual and  Mental,. These words describe yoga, a practice originating thousands of years ago and defined as a ” Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, which, includes breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures.

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Yoga advocates and prescribes to a course of physical and mental disciplines utilized to attain liberation from the material world and union of the self with the Supreme Being There are a lot of skewed perceptions about yoga but former NFL Player, Derrick (DJ) Townsel is revolutionizing how people think about this mentally healing discipline.  “A lot of people tend to believe that only rich, California stay-at-home moms do yoga,” begins Townsel, a former NFL player, now known to the yoga population as “the Rasta Yogi”.

 

“When I played with the Texans I would see guys tear ACLs and that right there was just a sign that I needed to do more stretches because that could’ve very well been me in a practice or a game,” Townsel spoke of the wake-up call leading him to yoga. His favorite pose has always been the Scorpion, but as of late, he’s been doing the Visvamitrasana (vees-va-may-tra-sah-nah), or the ‘Flying Warrior’–a horizontally oriented pose involving a lot of balance and patience.

He gains a lot of his inspiration from fellow yogi, Laura Sykora, who sparked his interest with the inversion challenge. “Just seeing how easily she was performing poses and how hard it was to get into them, I was like, okay this is something that I want to really get into and try out,” he laughs.

He’s also disintegrating the racial and gender-based archetypes by just doing what he loves—something that actually started out in the middle of his living room.

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Despite his humble beginnings, the health coach from Florida has influenced many of whom may not have even met him in person. Social media has contributed largely to his efforts to break down the barriers these stereotypes have built. The Rasta Yogi also accredits yoga as a way to strengthen bonds with his family.

“Aside from the physical, the biggest part [of the personal benefits] is the spiritual,” Townsel discloses. “I grew up in a very Christian household, but I never really had that true connection with the higher power. But, through yogaand meditation, I have seen more than I have with some years of church…I was in church all the time and I would see people who were, you know, praising the Lord, and then fighting in the parking lot. I really haven’t been to church in years. But, my mom always calls me and asks, ‘Have you been to church?’ and I’m like, ‘Mama, my mat is my church.’”

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However, preoccupying himself with his new passion did not come without challenges.

“Trying to clear your mind and be still—that’s usually the first one that people deal with, with meditation, physically just trying to get past a lot of years of lifting weights and playing football, so my muscles were extremely tight…I’m not going to say it’s been an easy journey but it hasn’t been one where I’ve struggled much. I’ve just surrendered and been letting things happen the way they are. I just know that I’m going through certain things for a reason.”

He defines strength as, ‘subjective’. “Strength to me could be different to somebody else. To some people it’s physical, to some people it’s mental, to some people it’s spiritual…it pretty much changes person by person. For me, it’s helping others finding strength. My purpose is to help people, so I find my strength helping others discover theirs.”

Some things you should take away from the West-Indian yoga instructor?

“The main thing is, I’m a very easy person to approach,” he says. “A lot of people, when they comment and I comment back on things [on social media] they’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t think you would respond!’ I’m very easy to talk to. I love communicating with people, I love seeing people be the best versions of themselves—which is why I started personal training and PT [physical therapy] yoga because I like to help people realize the power they have within them.”

You can catch up with Derrick in Washington D.C on April 9th to start or continue your journey in Yoga. Check out when he’s coming to your town next here!   For additional workshops and to keep up with Derrick  bookmark  his website and subscribe to his newsletters here!

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