A Practice with MC YOGI
A sleepy English bulldog naps in a pool of afternoon sunlight on the cool polished concrete floor of Wren & Wild, a sort of holistic hub that houses a highly curated resale shop, a healthy beauty products store and a big yoga studio in Bend, Oregon. Booker is oblivious to the foot traffic a few feet from his nose in the big space with high ceilings and lots of big windows.
“One two. One two,” the soundman levels up the PA system as a few movable walls are pushed into position, transforming the place into one open space for tonight’s special class.
MC YOGI (aka Nicholas Giacomini) ambles in, understated style in jeans, black hoodie and baseball cap — he’s seems at home here.
MC YOGI Shares Vedic Verses on his Book Tour
A wild-style, cryptographic cipher and hip-hop oracle who writes Vedic verses about Ganesha, Hanuman and Shiva, he’s in town on his Spiritual Graffiti book tour. Joined by his partner/wife, street artist Amanda Giacomini (aka 10,000 Buddhas), they’ve covered a lot of ground together over the years.
“We’ve both been practicing yoga for about 20 years, teaching for 16 years out of our studio,” he says as he settles on the couch under a big painting of Booker the far end of the space.
The source of their earthly power is a small yoga studio in Point Reyes, California, where it all began. “I feel like we were an anchor for it for a long time,” Amanda says about their studio Point Reyes Yoga. “And now it’s an anchor for us. We go out into the world and have all these ups and downs, we teach several thousand people in yoga classes, and then come home and we’re there with our core group.” MC YOGI concurs, “Yeah, I think Amanda and I have taught close to a million people because we’ve taught for 16 years or so.”
The début memoirist and Bhakti-circuit darling who has headlined some of the biggest sacred stages around has now penned an alchemic tale of transmutation. Spiritual Graffiti tells the story of transforming urban-American teen traumas and troublesome past life samskaras through the power of yoga.
“It’s about how yoga opened the door to this incredible ride I’ve been on as MC YOGI, going to India and studying with masters, traveling around the world performing at festivals,” he says. He’s referencing two of his teachers: San Francisco’s radical yogi, Larry Schultz as his first point of contact as a teen in the early nineties, then, later, with Ashtanga Vinyasa pioneer, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore.
Good karma in a country where drug rehab has become the primary coming-of-age ritual, MC YOGI stumbled into some decidedly profound grace in the form of a yogic intervention by his father, who brought his troubled teenaged son to Larry’s class.
MC YOGI on Teachers and Transformation
MC YOGI writes like he talks, with the fluidity of a practiced poet. Spiritual Graffiti streams effortlessly off the page. It’s an effortless read. “Krishna Das read it in two days,” he offers. But MC YOGI has more than just his story to tell; he wrote the book to impart the wisdom he acquired along the way. “I wanted to tell story, which is kinda interesting, about how my life transformed through the practice of yoga and meditation, but even more importantly, to tell the story of my teachers, because many of my teachers aren’t living anymore.”
Spiritual Graffiti is an autobiography of a yogi as road trip. Its pages track an inward journey that originates in Northern California, then travels east to New York, onto India and back again. MC YOGI’s early life scans like a blueprint for disaster. He was kicked out of three schools and a group home; violence, drugs, guns, gangs and cops all conspiring to propel the child of divorce into an asana practice that incited a Kundalini awakening and blew the fat-cap off his Rust-Oleum, firmly fixing his drishti on involution.
“I think I was about 18 years old the first time I read Autobiography of a Yogi [ParamahansaYogananda]. For me it was like a graphic novel. Hearing all the stories of the yogis and the saints and the mystics and the sages, it was like reading about super heroes. It really inspired me, and really led me to traveling to India and studying with my teachers.”
Further awakened by Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Ram Dass, Patanjali, and others, he found his soul mate, Amanda, in Larry’s yoga studio. They made their way to India together to develop a foundation in yoga under the guidance of realized masters.
Rooftops and Hip-Hop
Somewhere along the path, Nicholas Giacomini dreamed MC YOGI into being on a rooftop in India and connected the dots between the Rock Steady Crew and Babaji; between hip-hop and Kirtan; between the old and new; sacred and mainstream.
MC YOGI has cleaved a clear channel to receive the knowledge he imparts in the book and in his life. “I think when you open to receiving, when you really want it, when you’re thirsty for the truth, when you really have this insatiable desire to become awake, then all these teachers appear. When you have that desire to practice your life becomes like a magnet for teaching and for wisdom because you get it from all directions.”
While he was in India the spiritual graffiti in the streets of Mysore lit up the cartoons in his head. “Because I grew up reading comic books, when I went to India and saw the Hindu deities like Hanuman and Ganesha… they were like super heroes in my mind. I really gravitated to those myths and those stories, and it helped me to understand the philosophy of Yoga.” It was around this time when he found some Hindi comic books that opened his mind to traditional myths and stories in a easily digestible graphic format.
MC YOGI on Comic Books as Teachers
“These myths been huge teachers to me,” he says, “There’s a lot of encoded wisdom in those stories that have been passed down from generation to generation to generation…It really depends on the commentary you listen to because everyone is deciphering the code in their own way. I like to read the stories, listen to the stories and see how they apply them to my everyday… these archetypes of being broken down so you can rise up. Going through tragedy, going through these traumatic experiences and coming out the other side sort of like a new person. I feel like all the great myths have that story of transformation, of going from darkness to light, over coming obstacles of pain, trauma, and suffering so you can come back and be of service.”
Music, Language, and Practice
The class now about to begin, MC YOGI switches to teacher mode, picks up the mic, queues up a track on his laptop at the front of the room and opens the yoga class at Wren and Wild with a full mat capacity. More than 150 yogis are poised to practice. He opens with a lighthearted joke, then does one of things he does really, really well: teach yoga. Invoking the unifying magic of music and the power of language he takes these yogis deep into a collective asana experience. He opens new doors for some, like a bearded guy named Rich with a brain injury who is new to yoga, while others lean deeper into their practice.
Satsang, Spiritual Graffiti and 10,000 Buddhas
After the class, Amanda leads the satsang, or spiritual gathering. She imparts some moving stories from their travels and invites us into the 10,000 Buddha’s experience with a video presentation and reading. MC YOGI reads from Spiritual Graffiti and settles back on the couch for someone one-on-one book signing as a line snakes through the space.
“While I was finishing the book she reached her 10,000th Buddha,” he says about Amanda, who synergistically achieving her goal of painting 10,000 Buddhas.
Energized after the class, MC YOGI takes a beat and a few breaths before he greets each person one at a time. He meticulously and artfully renders his gratitude in sharpie inside their hardcover copy of Spiritual Graffiti.
“That’s why I love practicing yoga, I slow down and just breathe. After about 15 minutes of just conscious breathing, doing some postures and sitting in meditation,” he says, “I always feel completely refreshed. I always feel better. I think we need yoga more than ever,” he says. He adds that he doesn’t usually practice or teach to music, but he sometimes invokes it as a unifying element for these big classes.
MC YOGI on Creating Ritual through Yoga
“The theme of the class today was creating your own rhythm and routine, like your own personal ritual. Not what someone else is telling you to do, but something you’re creating for yourself that helps to provide structure for your life.”
He says most of the people he talks to come to yoga because of some kind of trauma. “Because of something they’re trying to work through. That was the case when I came to yoga. It’s always amazing to see people come to yoga and move through so much difficulty. The practice help to free it up and move the energy.”
MC YOGI doesn’t see yoga as a luxury.
“In this day and age with all the overstimulation and the saturation of all kinds of misinformation, you need something to be able to cut through that noise.”
After Bend, the Spiritual Graffiti book tour headed north to Canada for the Bloom Festival, where they taught a yoga class to 300 high school kids. “Usually, we do festivals and big stages. Doing this stuff is like getting back to where we came from. Back to the local mom and pop yoga studios.”
His parting words, like his book, are inspiring. “Keep going, keep practicing, keep developing, keeping evolving, keep listening, tuning in and connecting because the more you come to your practice, if you do it every day, it starts to open and unlock all these doors that you may never have known existed.”
Award-winning journalist, documentary director and long-term LA Yoga contributor Sam Slovick is the director, writer and producer of the Radicalized documentary, currently working on the Kirtan Road Dogs documentary.