Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Feature: Hip-Hop Yoga

Hip-Hop yoga; a style of yoga class inspired by one mans passion for rapping and practising yoga.
Neil Patel began teaching this different kind of class back in the mid-noughties. Due to his fresh approach to teaching, his outspoken personality and passion for his work, he has become a well known figure on the yoga scene.

I had the pleasure in interviewing Neil, to find out more about Hip-hop yoga and the creative process involved in fusing hip-hop with yoga.

TWR: What inspired you to start hip hop yoga? And why did you choose hip hop music, which could be viewed by some as 'non yogic'

NP: I started hip hop and yoga mixed up around five years ago because of my love for both subjects. I grew up as an Asian rapper and as a yoga teacher so it was natural that I would experiment with the two at some point. After doing this for a while I figured I’d label it Chi Kri Hip Hop Yoga! Part of the reason for establishing a new brand under my parent company “Chi Kri Yoga”, was to slap the face of current yogic convention which made me sick. I disliked the egotistical and elitist way yoga  was viewed by many and wanted to throw it into nightclubs where alcohol is consumed and people think about sex - and  I wanted to leave the swear words all over the music. Why? Because God loves people who go to clubs and people who swear and who drink beers. Our God is bigger than all of the yogis and yoga clubs put together and would laugh at their foolish ideas of what is right and wrong. Our God knows dogma and habits and NOT the soul and that souls are everywhere and so must yoga be. I am not at all interested in people who view it as non-yogic, they are the ones with issues.

God has no issue with hip hop music or else it would not have brought freedom, inspiration, wealth, expression and industry to the entire planet. It’s not terrorism, it’s music. People need to chill! And anyway Hip Hop is poetry and the yogic scriptures are poems in many respects. The Gita is one LONG poem is it not? I also love to rap and teach, I love music, the beats are easy to sync, and a whole host of other reasons, but I mainly done it to make people think. My nature is to seek the anti-norm anyway, I don’t find any challenge in convention. It bores me to tears. If I am going to teach yoga I will take it where it is not going or explain it in new ways or at least, MY way : )

TWR: Do you feel creativity is an important element to teaching and does your own practice inspire your own creativity?

NP: Not really no. I am creative  because it’s my core personality but to be a good teacher you may just be a good proponent of your Guru’s work etc... you don’t have to create something new, but just be true to your personality. I am an artist and thinker so I will always spin out and come back with a new fix. My own practise of yoga asana comes from the dance background in our family – Indian Classical dance. I have the same approach to yoga as my mother, Tara Patel, who taught before me. She was very creative and experimental with her body and movements and it has carried through. Probably 50% of what I teach is non-classical yoga, it is mostly made-up stuff, a lot of the time it is improvised. My main source of creativity is meditation however. In this God, my guru and my soul speak to my conscious mind and deliver ideas and words. Most of my poetry is from meditation and all my book writing and philosophy is from meditation also.

TWR: Have you noticed a creative change in you students since they started practising yoga?

NP: I have notice that they all loosen up a lot emotionally and mentally. My teaching inspires self-expression and when I work with people 1-2-1 I find I come across many people who are totally blocked creatively and with their feelings, mostly through repression and it’s evil cousin suppression. I find my approach opens them up and gets them talking, after which, of course, practise is improved. You cannot get to God without being creative as creativity is part of his Prakriti. Creativity is a great tool for expression and because yoga opens up those channels stiffened by years of fear, creative confidence increases and years of darkness pours out – artistically, emotionally, and with just pure sweat. Hip hop yoga tunes people into rhythm again, and any finely tuned instrument will make a better sound.

TWR: Apart from hip hop, do you draw on other forms of art as inspiration for your classes and your practice and if so do you relate art that inspires you to yoga-such as a film quote or poem that could be seen as a having yogic qualities

NP:Apart from hip hop music?  Does anything exist apart from Hip Hop? No I have no other inspiration apart from God and Rappers. All the art I need is within me and comes out as I teach, the great artist is joy. J.O.Y. - To be happy is where all colour, sound, and words spurt forth from so I draw upon the source of creativity and inspiration. I have never noticed a film or quote that has been something I want in my class, I’m far too self-absorbed for that. I will use my own quotes and poems! I am the fountain of joy itself and each bubble and drop is creative fluid!

The classes have 5 key stages, starting with warm-ups inspired by dance and yoga movements and then moving on to yoga posture sequencing, onto yoga-posture/break-dance 'freezes' where students are taught how to hold postures/moves similar to that of dance and yoga classes. The class ends with a relaxation which you will need after sweating and pumping out to some heavy beats.
Hip-hop yoga is fun and a great addition to your yoga practice. Its great for working on your strength in those difficult poses and if your anything like me, the thought of rolling out your mat onto one of London's dance floors will definitely excite you! 

Neil Patel teaches Hip-Hop yoga in various locations around London. For more information on classes at the man himself, please visit: or

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