When you think of yoga, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Whatever it is, it's probably not hip-hop. But graffiti artist, musician, and yogi Nicholas Giacomini, better known by his stage name MC Yogi, has managed to blend his three great loves together, rapping about Hindu deities and Mahatma Gandhi. His personal journey isn't typical, but one he delves into in his new book Spiritual Graffiti: Finding My True Path, opening up about the transformative power yoga had over the once juvenile delinquent.
As part of his book tour, MC Yogi is making a stop at The Shop Yoga Studio in Park City on Oct. 24 from 6:30 - 8 p.m. to read from his memoir; answer questions about yoga, art, and music; and lead a yoga session. His wife, artist Amanda Giacomini, will also be on hand to talk about her 10,000 Buddhas project. We talked to MC Yogi about his new book, his personal yoga practice, his music, and what he thinks is the key to healing what ails America.
Park City Magazine: Tell me a little bit about your book and why you decided to write it?
MC Yogi: My book, Spiritual Graffiti: Finding My True Path, is really about my journey from being a kid who was in trouble a lot, getting kicked out of school, and finding yoga when I was 17, shortly after living in a group home. It completely turned my life around. Writing the book wasn't something I planned. I was actually working on another record when I got a phone call from a publisher who had read one of my interviews and thought it make a great book. It ended up being a great way to remember and commemorate the teachers, mentors, and people I've studied with, particularly the ones who have since passed.
PCM: What was it that really attracted you to yoga when you began practicing?
MCY: Growing up, I wasn't athletic and felt disconnected from my body. Instead I was really into comic books, drawing cartoons, and always having my headphones on. I was escaping the world through my imagination. When I came back from living in a group home, my dad had started practicing Ashtanga yoga and I saw the changes it made. He was happier and healthier so I wanted that too. From my very first time practicing, moving my breath and body together I felt this immediate harmony and balance. Before that, I didn't know that you could experience such peace and satisfaction without drugs. I love it because it's not competitive, it's about reconnecting with yourself and I started doing it every day.
PCM: How did going to India influence you?
MCY: Within three or four years of starting my practice, I was able to go study with my dad's teachers in India which really opened doors for me. Not only did it deepen my understanding of yoga, it also broadened my horizons to a more global level. I'd never traveled outside of the States before that and it was very special.
PCM: In the US in particular, yoga is a massive industry and many people use it as a workout rather than a spiritual practice. Do you think that matters?
MCY: Yeah, I think it does, the spiritual journey is what yoga is about. It's fine to workout and you can practice for a long time without becoming a better person. Exercise is not enough to make your more compassionate or wise. You have to do the deep internal work and go down the path of complexity to better understand yourself. For me, the spiritual aspect began right away because I started mediating and was able to directly experience the peace an connection, that true feeling of unity with everything.
PCM: Most people don’t think of hip-hop/rap music and yoga as peanut butter and jelly. Why do you think they work well together for you?
MCY: One of the definitions of yoga is balancing opposites, trying to find some harmony, symmetry, and balance. Hip-hop is a great complement for that. Like yoga, which is an oral tradition passed from teacher to student through conversation and practice, hip-hop works much the same way through lyrics and poems that can be restorative. It's a little bit like a marriage because you're bringing two opposites to create something.
PCM: What is your favorite yoga pose and what method of yoga are you practicing these days?
MCY: Savasana. It's really when you can experience being effortless. You're not chasing or running, just letting everything fall away and being open in the present moment. I started doing Ashtanga because that's what my dad was doing, but having worked with so many teachers now, I have developed my own personal practice, picking, choosing, and adapting what works for me. I'm, of course, still learning all the time.
PCM: Speaking of marriages, your wife will be along on the tour to talk about her "10,000 Buddhas" project. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
MCY: She got this idea to paint 10,000 Buddhas when we were traveling in India through ancient Buddhist caves--they are the Sistine Chapel for Buddhas. There were 1,000 Buddhas there, sitting together. It really made an impression on her and she just decided she was going to paint 10,000 of them. Normally she is an oil painter, but it could have taken her entire life or longer to to them all that way so she came up with a stenciling method and spray painted them all around the world. She's actually recently reached her goal 10,000, but she's going to keep painting them.
PCM: Your music reveals how very socially aware you are. Considering how divided our country has become, what do you think people really need right now?
MCY: Respect, respect, respect. One of the biggest issues right now is getting people to understand how important it is to respect women and afford them the dignity they deserve. It's not a new issue, but we need to create a world where young girls can grow up without worrying about being harassed or abused. This applies to the climate issue as well, we need to respect our planet and that starts at an individual level. Too many mean-spirited people use the Internet as a platform to spread hate because they can do so without ever have to look you in the eye. We need to create a world where we take care of each other, respect our elders, our parents, and ourselves. I had a lot of self-hatred when I was a kid, but yoga helped me melt away those layers and begin to appreciate myself and the people around me.
PCM: What advice do you have for someone trying to go deeper and find their true path?
MCY: I think there are a few helpful things you can do. Find people you admire who are living their purpose, listen and learn from them. You shouldn't necessarily replicate what they're doing, but let them inspire you to discover your personal, unique path. That path will involve what you really love, it's probably a few different things. For me it's comic books, yoga, graffiti, and music. I write music every day, I'm developing my skills. You should synthesize the things you love to do and then find a way to benefit others. I think that's how you really know you're onto something, when what you love can be good for others.