Conversations with Kris Nelson
Meditation Teacher, Yoga Teacher, and Organization Designer
Kris and I met several years ago when he showed up to cover the beginning of a yoga class I was taking. I thought he was smug; I liked what he had to say. Months later, we ended up going for tea (which is not code for anything else). We talked about books and Tantric philosophy and yogic d-bags. We promised to be each other’s wingmen. And though neither of us needs the relationship help any longer, a deep friendship has developed, rife with conversations about what it means to be a Recovering Yogi, change management in business, and a mutual love of bourbon. Lots of it.
Kris: Remember when my ex called you and asked if we were dating?
Vanessa: Remember the night I met you and Leah [Kris’s fiancé] out and we got really, really drunk at that bar on Sunset? Also, how’d you wind up in yoga?
KN: I do remember. I think of it often.
I started doing serious spiritual stuff when I was 8. My parents are theologians, humanitarians, and ministers in the Christian tradition. (When you hear Christian don’t think judgmental douchebags; think really awesome, brilliant, compassionate people.) I was pretty serious about the whole God thing fairly early on. And I met girls and alcohol in my early teens, which was neat. I can tend to be an extremist oscillating between strong polarities — life has always been a bit Hunter Thompson and a bit Paramahamsa Yogananda. Thankfully I’ve done a better job at balancing and integrating the extremes in my adult life. Yoga helped with this.
Anyway, after a solid binge I decided to check out a yoga class. It was next on the spiritual list of things to explore, because I had already delved into many practices, processes, and philosophies.
How about you? Any other debauchery lately?
VF: Nothing that rivals that evening.
I sort of lucked into yoga after my Pilates instructor told me it was a great way to lose weight. I was an atheist at the time, owing to a pendulum swing from growing up Jehovah’s Witness. In other words, I wasn’t looking for spirituality. And well, I started out like I do most things, with 80 days straight of Bikram, which then led to other styles. Eight and a half years later, I ended up with a deep reverence for yoga and God. And in recovery from the yoga scene.
KN: Recovering from yoga is yoga. RecoveringYogi is where yoga begins.
VF: Word. So, what’s right about the yoga world? What’s wrong with it?
KN: Really? Do we have time for that?
VF: Don’t be an asshole.
KN: You’re right. I’m sorry.
VF: It’s cool. Actually, you busted me. That was my not-so-subtle segue into talking about RY.
KN: Yes, good. For the record, I think everything is wrong and everything is right about everything.
VF: Tantric, much?
KN: Ha! Now you busted me. Let’s talk about what’s right with RecoveringYogi.com. I think people take the surface perspective that it’s whiny people bitching about yoga. But, when I read the posts, at least the good posts, I hear a lot of honesty and self-awareness. Recovery implies, at least to me, an evolution. I see people coming to terms with themselves and their projections taking their reality inward. It’s growth. I always say, “that’s yoga!” after reading.
VF: Yes! It’s funny, because I’ve thought about where does RY go from here? I mean, we can all bitch about yoga and get away with it while it’s still relatively new and fresh and funny. That novelty will eventually wear off, and then what? Without ample self-awareness, there could be a risk of becoming the machine we were avoiding. Fortunately, Joslyn and Leslie are equally as vigilant and we have really awesome contributors.
KN: Where does it go from here? And how do you avoid pumping out 12-Step RecoveringYogi retreats and bad t-shirts in a year? (Which isn’t a bad idea, come think of it…)
VF: Are you calling our t-shirts bad?
KN: You made t-shirts?
VF: I can’t answer that without sounding hopelessly self-promoting. But yes, we did. And for the record, they’re rad.
KN: RecoveringYogis should self-promote. Otherwise they’ll be broke like the normy-yogis. And, ignoring the previous, send me one, yo!
VF: Point taken. And absolutely you’re getting one. We have the Jesus/Yoga mat ones being printed. That one’s pretty much the fruit of our collaborative effort.
KN: I liked that one, and I love the Jesus/Yoga mat picture. But, I think my “Dear Self: Fuck You” article was some of my best writing in a long time. I read it again recently and I was like, “dear self: good job.”
VF: Yeah, you killed it. That article got a zillion hits, holmes.
You know, back to your question about how do we “avoid pumping out 12-Step RecoveringYogi retreats,” I don’t know how to answer that in a quantifiable way. I will say that we (Joslyn, Leslie, and I) are a pretty good balance for each other’s horrible ideas. For example, I thought it’d be brilliant to sell RY yoga gear. Like, kinda funny to walk into a yoga class carrying a mat emblazoned with our logo (Your third eye needs a contact lens). Joslyn and Leslie shot that one down in nanoseconds, pointing out that we probably shouldn’t capitalize on the industry we’re making fun of. The capitalist in me was like, Umm, but this is America. They won. I’m glad they did.
KN: That’s hilarious and that’s why I love you. I would have suggested the same. There’s nothing more American or more yogic than capitalizing on other’s suffering.
VF: I think there’s a Charlie Sheen joke in there somewhere. Which reminds me — great article on EJ. Is this too much of a lovefest?
KN: This is almost a Daily Show parody of Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber dialoguing.
VF: That’s bold. Okay, so from your first yoga class, what was it that drew you in?
KN: It felt good. It felt really good. I liked doing physical things and I liked doing spiritual things. Yoga seemed liked a nice balance. I liked what appeared to be an open culture with a sense of discipline and purpose. At the time I was a bit lost. I was looking. I was frustrated. I knew I needed something — a direction. Yoga gave me a direction… a path, if you will.
I was also awesome at it. My body really took to it. And given that I had about 10 years of spiritual work, I slid in nicely. Girls too. There were lots of girls. Hot, flexible girls in hot, flexible clothes. Brilliant. Most classes were 80% girls and given the common interest odds looked good. I met my fiancé in yoga.
All factors considered: yoga rules!
VF: My ex-boyfriend will likely buy you a beer for publicly stating what he’s been arguing for years: that checking out girls is a good enough excuse to go to yoga.
KN: True that.
VF: What do you consider to be hallmarks of a spiritual practice?
KN: Honesty. Deep, rich, relentless honesty with yourself (and others… when it’s convenient). The capacity to wait. Realizations come in flashes and growth marinates and maturates over long periods of time. This human thing takes time. And, lastly, devotion. The quivering pulse of the heart makes life sweet. Oh, yeah, and a sense of humor. You can’t take this shit too seriously.
VF: You’re great.
KN: You too. Cheers.