I was born in the Midwest, grew up in southern California and then lived in New York for just as long. But I’ve been away from the States for 13 years now. I was in Thailand for most of that time, and I still go back and forth for work. I have two kids, so my wife and I decided to move to Europe for their education.
I’ve spent a third of my life abroad. It all happened so fast, and before I knew it, I had this expat identity. Suddenly, I found myself feeling more comfortable with people who are nomads than with people who are grounded.
My yoga story is very similar to everyone’s yoga story. I was doing a job that I didn’t like. I had a pretty unhealthy lifestyle using drugs and alcohol, staying out all night. It all led to a health crisis and, at that point, I got dragged to a yoga class. It was really hard. I blacked out and I was sprawled on the ground. After that first class, I thought, ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done’, which motivated me to keep at it. I think I went to a yoga class for around 380 days straight. Everything spiraled from there. Within 12 weeks I had lost a ton of weight, quit my job, and within six months I left the country.
I was 25 when I left the States to go to Bangkok on a sabbatical. I was running a big restaurant in New York and was just burnt out. So I thought, ‘Ok I’ll take time off and go do some yoga in Asia’. I got to Asia and found that health and wellness is kind of like it was during the Eighties in the US. There were huge opportunities to capitalise on the area’s lack of progress in those fields. Within a few months, I was designing menus for restaurants, I was on the news and appearing on different media outlets. People who do what I do are much more in demand in Asia than they are in New York, so I stayed. I opened a health food restaurant with a yoga studio above it on a small island in Thailand, which then morphed into a yoga training school.
Absolute Yoga Academy, which I started in 2006, is now one of the largest teacher training schools in the world. Thailand is our home base, and there are six month-long courses offered a year at that location, but now we also have courses in Amsterdam, Bangkok and Manila. From these 10 courses, 250-300 yoga teachers graduate per year. Our focus is professional education, meaning we don’t do any holidaymaking or retreats. We have some fun, but mostly our purpose is to turn students into teachers. Our graduates are studio owners or teacher trainers themselves. It’s very much career-oriented.
Yoga culture in Barcelona is very unique. There’s a long history of yoga culture, but primarily Kundalini yoga, which is very spiritual and was started to promote Sikhism. It’s interesting because Kundalini yoga is very well established in Barcelona, but it’s not for everybody and many people aren’t looking for a religious experience. With this being the predominant yoga voice in Barcelona, I saw the opportunity to fill a void.
At YOGABODY Fitness, we focus on breathing and body—mind and body wellness without the spirituality. We don’t have incense. We don’t chant. We don’t use Sanskrit words. We don’t pretend to be anything we’re not. We’re a health and wellness organisation for people who want to get in great shape.
Yoga popularity is definitely booming in the city, but I think a lot of the things that scare people away from yoga practices are more prominent here. People curious about yoga go to a few classes, but then it’s too weird or too hippy or too Eastern, and they feel uncomfortable, so they stop.
My biggest inspiration to endorse this type of yoga was my dad. He took a yoga class, and he said, “Why are they always using those funny words?” My Dad grew up in a Catholic family and he doesn’t want to learn that stuff. But he wants to go to yoga. That’s when I realised that there are a ton of people like him. So what I’m trying to do is serve a different community—people who might not be drawn towards Eastern practices but need to get their stress in order, lose weight, increase their flexibility, or maybe they have to overcome an injury.
Alternative health is much more developed in other parts of the world. There are a lot of people who do what I do, and I’m kind of replaceable. Whereas here, I can play an active role and be part of a changing community. Despite the challenges of starting and maintaining a business in Spain, I would still rather run a yoga studio in Barcelona than in Texas, for example, where there are yoga studios everywhere. I really can’t wrap my head around the idea of being anywhere else right now.