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Meet The Teach: Derek Cook

When you see Derek Cook, you may wonder whether he's a martial arts instructor or yoga teacher, and either way, you would be right. The tattooed, muscular, thirtysomething Cook studied Budokon Yoga, a style developed by Cameron Shayne, which is rooted in Hatha yoga, yet also infused with aspects of martial arts.

Budokon not only opened up the former technical theater director to the idea of yoga and martial arts, but actually changed the trajectory of his life. It took him out of the the theater into the yoga studio, and across the world, to Japan and India.

These days, you can find him running NYC's Budokon Academy as well as teaching at the

Om Factory, Yoga Vida and Kula. YogaCity NYC's Dar Dowling recently caught up with Cook to learn more about his journey, and how Budokon, which means "way of the spiritual warrior" in Japanese, took him down a new path.

Dar Dowling: Was your first yoga class a Budokon Yoga one?

Derek Cook: No. I had taken "regular" yoga classes, but never got into a regular practice, until I found Budokon Yoga—and then I really dove into it. I found something I needed at the right time. I used to live a much different kind of life. I was coming off of a break up and having a hard time, so I was at a crossroads; I had to decide to go down a path that wasn’t good for me or a make a change.

DD: How did you find it?

DC: It was so random. There was a class at my gym really late at night, and it was the only class I could take, so I took it. During classes, I had this moment when I was like “I don’t think I can do this” because I was so out of shape; I had never moved, worked out, or taken care of myself. To walk into a class that required lots of strength and connection was a lot for me.

Afterwards, I knew I needed to do something, so I started taking Mimi Rieger's Budokon

Yoga class. After a while, they were having a three-day intensive with Cameron Shayne. Frankly, I don’t know why I went. I really didn’t think I would be able to make it through the weekend, but Mimi convinced me to do it—and so I went. And that was that—I loved it. It offered me a practice that I could commit to and that I could use to take me down the path I find myself on now.

DD: What has this style given you?

DC: Having a strong practice and something to go back to over and over again, where the work is really powerful and that I feel connected to, has taught me about choices. This helped me to understand and take control of my life—and account for what I am doing. But there is more: It's also taught me about community—we are like a tight knit family, and we're invested in each other's lives and growth.

DD: Budokon mixes yoga with aspects of martial arts. Have you always been into martial arts or MMA?

DC: No. To tell you the truth, I was never a fan of martial arts. I saw martial artists as guys who just wanted to fight, and had a very low opinion of them. I never saw the art part of it until I started studying Jiu Jitsu in Budokon, and it really showed me the beauty of the martial arts.

DD: What inspired you to teach?

DC: I've always been interested in teaching, and good at helping people figure things out, so, when I got into movement, it seemed like a natural choice for me. Plus, it gave me a chance to help people experience the same kind of growth I had.

After two years of teaching part-time, I decided to leave my happy career in the theater to teach full time. But before diving into it, I went to Japan to train and study with Cameron. It was one of those grand leaps, and once again I don’t know how I did it.

Then I went to India for a year, and actually ended up studying Tantra at a school in the south of Goa, and it remains one of my biggest influences from India today. Its message—that we are a manifestation of absolute consciousness and that everything else gets in the way of that idea—really resonates with me.

DD: What are your yoga classes like?

DC: For me, it's all yoga. When watching one of my regular yoga classes, you would see the martial arts influences in the way we move, but we do a typical vinyasa flow. We may also explore different postures, just like you would in any yoga class, but I am also a bit of an anatomy nerd, so some days we dig deep into alignment.

My Budokon yoga classes are a blend of martial-arts-based circular movements and hatha-style yoga, so students get the benefits of both. During class, we flow through a set series of movements. In general, mindfulness and functional movement all show up in my classes. I work really hard to make my classes accessible to everyone.

To find out more about Derek's classes and Budokon workships, click here.

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