By Indra Kubicek
Helping youth gangs disarm, arranging for Palestinian yogis to cross into Israel for a 'yoga gathering' & teaching yoga to soldiers in the Balkans. It may sound impossible but it was just another day for yoga teacher, David Sye!
I am starting to think my life purpose might be to spread the word about the amazing benefits of yoga and mediation. Any chance I get (even sometimes when people don’t want to hear my rant!) I aim to increase awareness of these ancient Eastern tools.
More and more my interest lies not in the physical changes we experience in our bodies , or even our mental state during a yoga class, but in longer term mental effects and moreover the beneficial societal changes that can be found through the practice of yoga.
So when I heard of this “Bad Boy of Yoga” who taught yoga to help UK youth gangs, taken yoga to Israel & Palestine & the Balkans, I was more than intrigued.
What to Expect at David's Class
“Yoga Elder” David Sye is not your average yoga teacher. I learned he is anything but when I attended his weekly yoga class at the Abbey Road community centre in North London. His classes are upbeat and energetic (I’ve never left a yoga class quite that ‘high’ on life!) and integrate modern day music such as hip hop beats. My favourites part was when Snoop Dog came on during our down-dog! He also incorporates partner work, encouraging his students to connect with one another.
When I arrived I immediately felt a sense of community with the small group of loyal yogis gathered at the door, awaiting David’s arrival. David greets each individually like an old friend before hooking up his ‘beat box’ so we could get down to business!
Unlike any class I’ve been to be before, we started in Sivasana and worked our way to ending with sun salutations. When I later asked David in our interview (click here to watch), he explained he learned this technique while teaching soldiers during the Serbian war!
Late when David invited me to his home for this interview, his true yogi spirit, welcoming and open, really shone. He wears his heart on his sleeve and encourages you to also. And he is so full of love. The never-ending and all encompassing kind.
The Strength of Compassion Through Yoga
Many long-time practitioners and yoga teachers might not be surprised to hear yoga has proven to have a positive affect in healing suffering, releasing & managing anger, and even getting gangs to surrender their guns…at least while they’re on their mat! But many people new to the practice or those who've never tried yoga likely do not know of all the ways yoga can make a difference in our world!
David has taught yoga in the most unusual of circumstances and along the way he has used the pure essence of the practice, acceptance and loving kindness, without judgement or ego, to play at the forefront.
His accomplishments are many, ranging from healing himself from a fatal illness in his earlier years through Tibetan techniques (btw, something his Western doctors were completely mystified by & could not understand how he did it), to bringing together Israelis and Palestinians for a ‘yoga gathering’, setting up an unprecedented arrangement with the Israeli army. This now annual event allows a group of Palestinian women to cross the border and roll out their mats side by side Israeli women on Israeile soil to practice yoga alongside new found yogi friends.
Back in his own country, David serviced many boys from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds. His physically intense yoga classes help these young men find a new way to calm their minds, release energy and angst through movement & above all - put down their guns! Some actually had to disarm before entering the class.
What a metaphor for of letting down the walls one creates to protect themselves from harm's way.
In his classes, David teaches them how yoga can be used to let go of these walls and begin to heal. David was involved in helping youth in the poor neighbourhood of Easterhouse in Glasgow, Scotland (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMaPo5be42Y#t=21) and with the 409 project in Brixton until it was shutdown.
How Yoga Changes Us and In Turn Our Interaction With The World
We all wear amour every day. And again, any yogi knows that when you move on to your mat, into the moment, and begin to flow, something unique starts to happen. We begin to change. And maybe we can start to see ourselves, the world around us, and life purpose in a different way.
Slowly we may start letting down the walls we spend years quietly creating through carefully crafted appearances, our CVs, or FB profiles. And we start to see one another for what we really are - human beings, all equal and looking for happiness - trying to navigate our way through the world.
The power of yoga can give than a moment of release. It can give us a lifetime of balance and an endless ability for compassion. It provides us with the mindset that there is a chance for a new start at every corner. It may mean surrendering some of the "armour" we wear but in the long run it feels much safer to pick up a yoga mat and release the armour instead of carrying a weapon!
David accredits much of his work to his ‘guru’, the late Clara Buck, a Russian woman who was a student of Krishnamacharya, BKS Iyengar and a close friend of Vanda Scaravelli, Angela Farmer and Shandor Remete. As David explained in our interview, Clara had a deep understanding for self-compassion and love. Both essential to finding a yogic life path
Thanks to David for sharing himself and his yoga journey with us.