Floyd Yoga Jam is this weekend, Aug 31- Sept 3. GET YOUR TICKETS NOW
Written by Rachel Bessman
MC Yogi, famed Hip Hop artist, graffiti artist, and yoga teacher will be performing at this weekend’s Floyd Yoga Jam in Willis, Virginia. On a mission to bring yoga, good music, and positive energy to the world, he’s releasing his book Spiritual Graffiti to expound upon his story of how he went from a juvenile delinquent, in and out of group homes, to one of the most inspirational contemporary Yogis, spreading his teachings to thousands of people worldwide. We had a chance to talk about his history and his upcoming book, and why he can’t wait to see everyone at Yoga Jam.
Where are you from?
I was born in San Francisco, I grew up in the bay area. I live about an hour north of San Francisco now in a town called Point Reyes with my wife Amanda. I love it there.
How long have you been practicing yoga for?
I think I’ve been practicing for about 20 years. I first started practicing yoga around 17.
What got you into it?
My dad was practicing. He was just a quiet yogi doing his own thing, ya know – he practiced what he was into and he never really talked about it too much. And then I found out he was practicing and I started asking him about it, and then I came to a class with him, and that was how I first got into it initially. It was Ashtanga yoga which comes from India.
Tell me some about your studies in India.
My first trip to India was in 2003. I was twenty-two or twenty-three years old and we went for about three months. It was a weird feeling where I just felt so comfortable there, so happy there, and it sounds kinda cheesy but I definitely felt like I’d been there before. And then when I travelled with my wife Amanda, we went to a lot of places – I talk about a lot of this in my book Spiritual Graffiti – but the bulk of the time was spent in South India studying with our teacher, and it was just really intense and rigorous and demanding and challenging and that practice really kind of cracked me open and helped me to tap into something inside of myself that really propelled me forward after that as an artist.
When did you start making music?
I grew up always listening to hip hop since the age of six, seven years old and I had a boombox and was always listening to like, the Beastie Boys, Run DMC… all my friends were into breakdancing and graffiti. We were really – my brother and I – we always were just involved in the culture and the music. I started writing songs when I was like twelve or thirteen, but it wasn’t until I was probably fourteen or fifteen that I started to perform in battles and stuff like that.
Talk to me about pulling it together – at what point did you decide to incorporate yoga into your music?
I think it just kind of happened naturally. Whatever I was interested in at the time just kind of got absorbed by my music. So, when I started practicing yoga I sort of delved so deep into the practice that I pretty much was practicing all day long in the beginning; reading books and meditating for like a month. I’m a graffiti artist too so all my art just got sort of transformed and yoga started to shape and influence all of the creative things that I was involved in. Whether it was painting murals or writing songs, yoga just had a way of integrating into all of it. It just kind of happened.
It’s like music is the backbone and anything you do just gets absorbed into it because it’s the ongoing thing in your life.
Yeah for sure, music and art. Ever since I was a little, little kid, I was always scribbling on stuff and drawing and just always very creative. So, I think when I started practicing yoga it helped to really streamline my creative process. Because, when I was younger I got into a lot of trouble as a kid. I was juvenile delinquent, I got arrested a bunch of times, was in and out of group homes for two and a half years, all my friends were into drugs and like gang violence. Just dumb stuff. But when I started practicing yoga it helped me take all of that energy and direct it in a positive direction because before that it was just really chaotic and…. Kind of illegal [laughs].
Old school hip hop has always been my jam, and I’m continually fighting this negative image perpetuated by people who’ve probably never heard real hip hop before that it’s all bad. So I love how you’ve incorporated it one of the most positive and spiritual practices in our world today. Let’s talk about that.
I was really lucky that when I was younger that there were certain artists at the time like Tribe Called Quest. A lot of east coast hip hop artists, they really inspired me to do something creative and fun, so when I first started listening to hip hop when I was like six or seven years old it was like a revolution for me. There was something about the energy, it was so dynamic and creative that it was just really exciting. And I felt the same way when I first saw graffiti. At that time in San Francisco during the 90s, hip hop, graffiti, turntables and all this culture was really like grassroots. We’d go to breakdance parties, people would be battling, painting murals, dancing, there was just so much community energy, I got really hooked into it. And for me it was always really positive. Hip Hop was sort of my saving grace in some ways because it gave me an outlet to express myself. And then yoga just helped to hone it even more, so I had a focus. Something I could really drop into that was powerful and about something that was more than ego – connecting to that greater power and really using music and the art to be a service of that.
Yoga and spirituality are a big factor in your rapping now, have you always been a spiritually minded person?
My grandmother was very devout, she was Catholic. My mom’s side had emigrated from Portugal. They came to America as immigrants, they were very poor. Both sides of my family were very catholic. So growing up there was always a really strong presence of religion. I was always fascinated by it, it was always really interesting to me, especially the art and the symbolism and the icons. But there was something about the structure of the church and how things were set up that didn’t really align with my personal beliefs. So for me yoga was like the key to a door I had been trying to unlock for a really long time. And I had experiences and glimpses of this space, this personal space, that feeling connected and feeling free and feeling inspired, feeling bliss and all of this good energy… it was like a passing glimpse that I would get, usually when I was painting or freestyling or even using drugs, but that was so fleeting. And then when I started to practice yoga I feel like it created a doorway into this space that was more sustainable because it wasn’t relying on a priest or a book or anything external. It just became an inward practice – a way to really access that space inside myself. So I’ve always been interested in mysticism and spirituality, but I didn’t really understand the techniques or the tools to how to really develop it. I felt like the traditional church didn’t really equip people with those tools and techniques. So when I started practicing yoga, meditation, hinduism, buddhism, I felt like I found a path that really worked for me.
Would you say that most people have some sense of spirituality within them, and that it just needs to be tapped into in the right way? And maybe yoga/music/art can be a good avenue for that?
Yeah I think that everything and everyone in essence is spiritual. It’s just our nature. We’re all made of vibrating particles and waves and energy and light, but yoga for me gave me a way to access that directly without needing anyone or anything else except for my body, my breath and my nervous system. And I was really fortunate because I had a lot of really good teachers along the way who mentored me and guided me and shared with me a lot of teachings and techniques – teachers in India, teachers here in the states. And I think because I got introduced to yoga through my dad it was always a feeling of family. Hs teacher became my teacher and then I went and studied with his teacher in India and I met another person who was connected… there was always this feeling of community. That’s what really helped me so much. Sometimes I really worry about the social media age because there’s a lot of connection but that doesn’t necessarily mean community. I think it’s really important to have a teacher and people who are practicing alongside you, it’s really valuable to have people around you who are involved in the same pursuit.
Biggest inspirations musically, outside of hip hop?
Bob Marley. He had a powerful message for me growing up, he was very spiritual.
East Coast or West Coast Hip Hop?
When I was growing up I always gravitated toward east coast hip hop. There’s a lot of great artists on the west coast but for me, I’m always interested in where things come from. I wanted to understand who the pioneers were, how hip hop unfolded, how it was created as an alternative to gang culture and to help stop violence and create community and celebration. And how in the beginning it was all about the people. For me east coast is where it all started.
What advice would you give to someone who has never taken a breath of yoga in their life but they want to get into it?
I would say to pick up a book. I love Autobiography of a Yogi, I love The Alchemist. I’d say just look into it, study it, do a little research. We live in a world now where there’s so many different kinds of yoga that if you walk into a class you might think that all of yoga is like that, which is not the case. A lot of it depends on who the teacher is. So I feel like books are good entryway. There’s also some great videos online too. I’d recommend yogaglo.com – I’m supposed to be performing a video with them soon. I’ve been teaching for over 15 years. My wife and I have taught to almost half a million people.
It’s crazy how things unfolded to lead me to this place. Yoga will open doors that you never knew existed.
What are you most looking forward to at Floyd Yoga Jam?
I love coming to Floyd! To me, Floyd is everything great about yoga because there’s community, there’s good food, there’s really cool people, and now it’s become a tradition because I think this is our third or fourth year, but it’s something we really look forward to and we always have a really good time. We’ll have a big party on stage.
Anything you’d like to add about your upcoming book, Spiritual Graffiti?
I think the most important thing for me, the thing I’m most excited about is being able to share this book with everybody because it really is an incredible map of how one thing led to another and how all of these unexpected sort of tragedies and accidents, how all of these things that happen in life are all leading you toward this thing that you couldn’t possibly imagine how awesome it is because it’s so unexpected. The way I’ve been saying it is that my book is a story about the power of music, yoga, and love.
Follow MC Yogi on Facebook and on instagram at @MCyogi and his wife, artist Amanda Giocomini, who recently completed a series of murals of ten thousand buddhas around the country at @10000buddhas. See him live at Floyd Yoga Jam August 31st, and visit mcyogi.com/tour for more tour dates.