My Yoga Journey
By Damien de Bastier
This is a bit of a challenge for me, as I don’t really like to talk about myself. For me yoga is more about the teaching, the students, the journey. I am there as a container to give a form to the content, but still I’ll try to share a bit of my journey with you.
I was born in 1974 and grew up in South of France. I was one of those kids who couldn’t stay in one place. Pretty early on I channeled that energy into sports; skiing, martial arts, windsurfing, skateboarding, baseball and later, triathlon. to name a few.
I went through some challenging years as a teenager. The formatting at school was quite brutal,
a bit of troubles at home, and I was lost in between the world of children which was becoming too small, and the world of grown-ups which didn’t seem very fun. So after a few years of depression and sinking deeper and deeper into despair, full of self-hatred and feeling I hadn’t been equipped with an owner’s manual of how to function and find fulfillment in this world; I tried to take my own life as it seemed the only option to find peace at the time.
Luckily it didn’t work but proved to be a pivotal point in my life; when I woke up in the hospital I knew 3 things:
- I was happy to still be here.
- I was completely alone in this journey.
- And lastly, I would do any and everything to feel better about myself.
UNCLE D AND MEDITATION
Shortly after my Uncle took me under his wing and initiated me into meditation which at that time I was hanging onto as matter of life and death. I would spend my summers working and earning some pocket money for the rest of the year, playing lots of sports and meditating with my Uncle in Washington D.C. as well as devouring every spiritual book in his library.
In boarding school at the time, I would find quiet corners behind doors, under stairs and often outside to meditate every day – even sitting on my shoes in winter to not freeze my bum on the frozen floor.
I remember feeling a bit confused between this inner life of spirituality which was bringing me light from within and the needs to engage in the outer social life of a teenager which was mostly about partying and mischief. I still kept a lot of interest in sports but had managed to tear up my knee, so my choices were getting limited and I could only compete in swimming at the time. I managed and went on to study psychology at university still looking for that owner’s manual of how to be in this world.
LOVE AT FIRST STRETCH
Psychology was quite interesting but it didn’t give me all the answers I was looking for. By the 4th year I was a bit disillusioned about the system that seemed to use patients to maintain itself rather than provide real help or support to those lost souls. So, it was the same Uncle, 8 years after that pivotal introduction to meditation who came to visit one winter in 1998 to say he was thinking about opening a yoga school.
I remember saying: “Yoga!! but that is for girls no??” and he replied that this yoga was quite challenging and that I might like it. He showed me the Surya Namaskara’s and then proceeded to twist my body in Marichyasana D!!! (a quite torturous yoga knot..) and I said : “I can’t breathe!!”..
And that was it, ‘love at first stretch’. Ashtanga was the ideal combination between my inclination for sports and the meditative awareness I had been practicing…
Before leaving, my Uncle gave me a poster of yoga master Dharma Mitra showing 908 yoga poses and told me to hang it in my room. So I would spend about 1 hour everyday trying to reproduce some of those yoga postures with the little bit of breathing my Uncle had explained. Six months after, he sent a videotape of Richard Freeman teaching the Ashtanga Primary Series. Being the only yogi I had ever seen in action, I was trying to model Richard Freeman with the idea that this is how all yogis were, with invisible wings hovering above their yoga mats.
I ended up ditching my studies in psychology and things went pretty quick after that. I went to visit my Uncle who at the time had already opened an Ashtanga Yoga Center in Washington D.C. I practiced there for about four months before following his encouragements to go to the source in Mysore, South India. By then I also had experienced the healing power of yoga as my knee was feeling better and better.
FIRST TRIP TO MYSORE
At the time of my arrival to Mysore in 1999, the shala was closed. I was alone and terrified in this strange place, sure that every Indian would try to steal my money to con and abuse me in some ways. I decided to stayed locked up in my room which I realized later was one of the worst hostels in town. I would briefly take an outing to find some food and spend the rest of my time ‘digesting’ the intensity of sounds, sights and smells. I remember thinking to myself “I’ll never be able to stay here for 3 months, it’s impossible!!” and after a few days of slow processing, I thought “Ok, maybe I’ll be able to stay here 3 months, but never will I like it, it’s impossible!!
Finally, the shala re-opened and a couple students showed me around, I made a few friends and a week later I was loving India and feeling completely at home. Ashtanga already taught me something: To never say “impossible”…
That first trip to Mysore was a blast! We were 50 or so students practicing in the old shala in Lakshmipuram. I met many beautiful souls I still cherish today. Although, to be honest, I wasn’t so sure about Guru Pattabhi Jois but in the end I decided he was ok J I just didn’t get why students were bowing to him and putting their foreheads on his feet. Luckily, every time I went back my heart opened more and I would see Guruji as loving us all dearly like his grandchildren. I remember too many stories to tell here but it was a privilege to practice under his watchful guidance.
TEACHING IN WASHING D.C
On coming back to Washington D.C. my Uncle told me that I should now help him teach in the studio!! I felt it was way too early and I didn’t have enough experience. He reassured me that with all the meditation and experience in India, it would be okay.
So there I was, deepening my daily practice, helping out in the Shala and slowly venturing to teach classes around D.C. in gyms and corporate offices. I was more of an introvert and was rather shy. I remember being terrified at the beginning of every class where I had to breathe through a big knot in my stomach. I realized though that once I got going the anxiety would ease and I could do a decent job of entertaining people on their yoga mats.
Totally in love with yoga, I was gradually getting more comfortable teaching and was so excited about life being in the USA and teaching yoga, that I couldn’t sleep for about a year and half. I was very lucky to be guided by my Uncle who was and still is a really good teacher with a strong focus on pedagogy: how to transmit information, especially on how to teach beginners and so forth. In between trips to Mysore, I would teach almost 20 classes a week around D.C., including the IMF and the World Bank. I would often attend Iyengar classes as I really appreciated their thoughtful methodology and I would often go up to NYC to practice with Dharma Mitra, my first yoga teacher from the poster.
Eventually I felt the need to venture outside the nest and explore further and so I followed my girlfriend to San Francisco in 2003. There I quickly met Larry Shultz, founder of ‘It’s yoga’ studios, the Rocket series and appointed Godfather of the yoga scene around San Francisco. Larry was a total character, very charismatic and a great storyteller, the original “BAD MAN” of the Ashtanga family. Around him was a big community of really strong practitioners and even though I never fully converted to the Rocket, I am very grateful of how he took me in, gave me a place to teach and encouraged me how to stretch my mind in yoga.
I ended up migrating to Santa Barbara in 2004 where I met with David and Andrea Miliotis who were running a very traditional Mysore program out of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center. In some ways they were the opposite of Larry Shultz. They gave me a real appreciation in honoring the tradition and the Mysore system. They are the embodiment of yogis who live and breathe yoga’s teachings to the utmost. Their passion quickly instilled in me the desire to teach Mysore style only, as it allows the space for yoga practitioners to go through a real transformation. I felt honored when they offered me to take over their Mysore program after I received Authorization to teach by Pattabhi Jois in 2007. During that time, I also had the chance to practice with Tim Miller in Encinitas and Richard Freeman in Boulder. Both of whom I still use as a daily inspiration even though my time with them was all too brief.
It became clear that yoga stretched way beyond the mat and had as much to do with tools for living a balanced life by cultivating a meditative awareness. And so, using my challenges as stepping stones, I am very lucky to have gotten involved with Men’s groups, 12 step programs, ayahuasca, massage and bodywork. All of which strongly shaped who I am today and ended up providing me with a variety of tools I still use to assist yoga students on their journey. Although, times in the cradle of yoga in the western world were proving difficult and after 10 years of living in the USA, I felt it was time to move out.
I met Andrea in Barcelona and after a year of living on a boat we took a job in Bali to run Prem and Radha’s yoga school in Ubud. We really enjoyed Bali and ended up staying for a year. I gave my word I wouldn’t teach in Ubud and so in 2011 we went teaching around Asia and Australia with the idea of finding a base to create a yoga community. Traveling was great, we scouted many places along the way but often times we would find ourselves saying “It’s nice, but it’s not like Bali.” So we ended coming back to Bali and after a bit of searching we were blessed to find the great location, which is now Samadi.
During that time, I was lucky to be exposed to self-inquiry with a very special person whom I consider a mentor. Using Byron Katie’s method called “the work”, we looked at every situation in my life and questioned them until it became clear that all problems came from my thoughts rather than from reality itself. I hold a very fond memory of these years where we would meet daily on skype and operate on my mind like a surgeon and his assistant. Inquiry still operates in the background of my life and reminds me to not take my thoughts too seriously.
MYSORE IN ANTWERP
Also during this time, I started a Mysore program in Antwerp, Belgium. Because I was living in Bali I offered to teach a few months of the year and then invite other teachers to cover for a few months. It was a fun project that allowed me to come back to Europe every year. the community grew and were very dedicated, it was nice to be able to share with friends and invite teachers. They were lucky in some ways as this allowed them to be exposed to many wonderful teachers. Now more than 60 people are practicing daily, rain or shine (mostly rain). I think one of the biggest gifts of being a teacher is to see students grow and reclaim themselves.
THE BIRTH OF SAMADI BALI
Yoga is very powerful and if practiced sincerely can bestow many gifts. Yoga fed me and helped me grow. Yoga got me to travel around the world and meet amazing friends. I feel I am very lucky and grateful for that. After being blessed with living and sharing my passion for many years, I felt the yearning to give back some of the light that yoga brought into my life. Human life is similar to that of a tree: We start small and we grow slowly, we are shaped by life’s many experiences and if we are lucky we can grow big enough to provide shelter for others and nourish them with our fruits. Samadi is such a fruit, and is a bigger gift than anything I could ever have wished for.
It is the lovechild of Andrea and I, and I am so grateful we are 4 partners to share the responsibilities and also bring different colors to the painting. All our staff feels like a big family and I am honored we are able to contribute a to the local Balinese community. I love to watch Samadi grow and observe how it is evolving, morphing and creating itself by all the souls who connect and contribute to it in so many ways.
I still travel to Europe every year and enjoy teaching workshops and trainings with friends who invite me in their yoga schools. It is great pleasure to come back every time and see students maturing on the path. It is a great joy to be able to contribute to their inspiration. I say my job as a teacher is to entertain the students while yoga does the cure 🙂
I also run a 4-year-long apprenticeship program here in Bali to train dedicated practitioners into quality teachers. As the yoga lifestyle keeps on growing it is more and more contaminated by commercialism, ignorance and greed. Teacher certificates come out of laundry baskets and every beginner can call themselves a yoga teacher after a one-month training. Unfortunately, as the number of unqualified teachers rise so do the injuries, misconceptions and abuses. I realized that even if I was trying not to contribute to the problem, as long as I wasn’t contributing to a solution, I still was part of the problem. So I began to work with a group of very dedicated students to help them grow into real teachers.
MY LOVE FOR YOGA
With living yoga for almost 30 years, I sometimes feel like a grandfather. I have been blessed and am very grateful of how yoga shaped my life, and I’m very happy that the journey goes on. I am loving every moment and I embrace the paradox of growth while hopefully never growing up. I congratulate all of you readers who made it so far, you have the patience and perseverance needed to be a true yogini or yogi 🙂 Two hands together…