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The Macho Rasta Yogi/Former NFL Player Comes To New York—Get Ready!

When you see Derrick "DJ" Townsel's sculpted physique you might assume he is a player for the NFL, AFL, or CFL—and you would be right, but that was in the past. These days, the 30-something is one of Orlando, Florida's most popular yogis, where he is called the "Rasta Yogi" due to his love of practicing yoga while listening to Bob Marley, his west Indian heritage, and his trademark dreds.

DJ started practicing yoga to avoid injuries. He fell in love with it, and now brings his brand of yoga to athletes—specifically men who might normally shy away from it—as well as the African American community.

This month he comes to NYC for the first time, where he will teach workshops on everything—from a beginners' class to inversions to partner flight acroyoga—on September 25th and 26th.

YogaCity NYC's Dar Dowling caught up with DJ to learn more about his path from bruisin’ football to yoga, and why he loves Scorpion so much.

Dar Dowling: You're fascinated by inversions. Why?

DJ: I love them! I feel like they are the ultimate display of bodily control. I know a lot of people who can lift a lot of weight at the gym, but they can't hold themselves up when doing handstands. Yoga-wise, inversions help me to not only redirect blood flow, but focus and work on my memory.

I often meditate in headstand. It gives me a way to get a new perspective on things, and a way to clear my mind.

DD: Were you a natural at asanas?

DJ: No! A few years ago I couldn't do them at all. I started gearing up to do them by doing arm balances like crow, plank, and chaturanga. At times, it was frustrating, but then I remembered that you shouldn't put a deadline on your practice, you should continue to grow with your practice, and that helped me to stay on track.

DD: Do you have a favorite?

DJ: I love scorpion handstand because I can show my strength with an inversion and my flexibility with a back bend at the same time. I am using all the different aspects of yoga during that pose—tuning into strength, focus, flexibility and most importantly my breath—and it makes me feel complete.

DD: Is the NamasteFlight Backbend/Inversion Workshop at Triskelion Arts for all levels of practice?

DJ: Yes! Everyone can take it, even if you're a beginner. I make sure that everyone starts at their own level. And with beginners, I wouldn't throw them into inversions right away. We would start with introductory poses and I would give them tips to help them build strength and confidence, so they can then start to incorporate inversions into their practices.

DD: You're also teaching a NamasteFlight Acro Workshop at Triskelion. How did you get in to Aerial Yoga?

DJ: One day, I met KeAusha Jordan at a hot yoga class and we started practicing together. We were inspired by acroyoga poses we saw other people doing online, so we started doing them ourselves, thinking it would be fun to try. After a while it grew into less of a hobby and more of a practice. We loved the idea of connecting with ourselves through another person, and so we are teaching this together.

DD: Do you have need experience to take this workshop?

DJ: No, anyone can do that one too. We start with beginner poses to get people acclimated to the practice, and you don't have to have a partner to come to class. We get a lot of singles and then we partner them up. By doing this practice I hope that they will find like-minded people who practice yoga and are eager to share it with someone else. And build a yoga community of their own.

DD: When did you start yoga?

DJ: I played college ball, and then for the NFL for two years. I started doing yoga in 2012

because I thought it would make me a better athlete and help prevent injuries. At first I started practicing in my living room using online videos because I wasn't sure where to start or what branch of yoga I wanted to practice. Plus, I was also new to Orlando and didn't know where any of the yoga studios were.

As I practiced, I noticed that I started calming down, and the spiritual aspect of yoga really appealed to me. I found myself connecting to the universe, which made me free, like I was truly in the moment. After a while I went to a few classes at my gym and started connecting with people via Instagram, which really helped.

DD: When did you decide to become a teacher?

DJ: I met Ravenflower Dugandzic, at her studio, Inspirit Yoga Studio, in Orlando, and had a deep talk with her. Right then I decided to take her teacher training. I connected with her on a personal and spiritual level, and respected her as a business woman. I felt that I could learn from her about both yoga and business—and I was right. I am really grateful for her guidance.

It came at a time when I started thinking about helping spread the message to people who might not know about yoga and who need it—men who are athletes and people in the black community who aren't exposed to yoga. There aren't too many yoga studios in the black community, and many think that it’s a religion rather than a spiritual practice.

DD: What's teaching been like for you?

DJ: Absolutely amazing! I have taught in black communities in Atlanta and Miami, and people have been so very receptive to the physical and spiritual benefits of the practice. It’s been great teaching male athletes too. They often view it as a very feminine practice, but are looking for all the things I was when I first started. Now they see it can benefit them physically and in every aspect of their lives.

I love that I can share my light with people and connect with them on a higher level, and help them connect more fully with themselves.

DD: You're coming up from Orlando to teach your workshops. What does your schedule look like?

DJ: This is my first time in NYC and I am so excited. I'll be teaching a beginner workshop, on September 25, at Asali Yoga, and, on September 26th, I'll be teaching the NamasteFlight Backbend/Inversion Workshop and NamasteFlight Acro Workshop, at Triskelion, with KeAusha Jordan.

You can get more information about DJ on his website or you can catch him on Instagram.

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