I have been practicing meditation and yoga since 1996, sitting and moving with teachers from the Tibetan Buddhist, Kripalu, Ashtanga, and Iyengar streams. Along the way I’ve trained as a yoga therapist and an Ayurvedic consultant, and have maintained a private practice in Toronto since 2008. From 2008 through 2012 I co-directed Yoga Festival Toronto and Yoga Community Toronto, non-profit activist organizations dedicated to promoting open dialogue and accessibility. During that same period I studied jyotiśhāstra in a small oral-culture setting at the Vidya Institute in Toronto. I currently facilitate programming for yoga trainings internationally, focusing on yoga philosophy, meditation, Ayurveda, and the social psychology of practice. In all subject areas, I encourage students to explore how yoga practice can resist the psychic and material dominance of neoliberalism, and the quickening pace of environmental destruction.
I’m the author of eight books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Of Threads of Yoga: a remix of Patanjali’s Sutras with commentary and reverie, scholar Mark Singleton writes: “I don’t know of any reading of the yoga sutras as wildly creative, as impassioned and as earnest as this. it engages Patanjali and the reader in an urgent, electrified conversation that weaves philosophy, symbolist poetry, psychoanalysis and cultural history. There’s a kind of delight and freshness in this book that is very rare in writing on yoga, and especially rare in writing on the yoga sutras. This is a Patanjali for postmoderns, less a translation than a startlingly relevant report on our current condition, through the prism of this ancient text.”
Of the forthcoming What Are We Actually Doing in Asana?, Buddhist teacher and author Michael Stone writes: “Matthew Remski’s WAWADIA research digs beneath the statistics of yoga injuries to examine the stories we tell ourselves about our bodies, perfection, inadequacy and freedom. We all know that repetitive strain or too much flexibility creates the conditions for injury. But what we haven’t brought to light yet are the consequences of the narratives we tell ourselves—how they set us up for physical trouble in practice and how they influence the way we go through life. This research will help you pay attention to the strange unconscious intentions that get all mixed up in a life-long practice, so you can clear out unhelpful motivations and follow through on what’s truly good for you.”
As a Ayurvedic consultant, I try to hold space for people as they integrate the shadows of flesh and heart. In the background of any meeting, I stay aware of whatever experience I’ve gained through ayurveda, yoga therapy, and yoga philosophy. Often, these disciplines provide useful lines of inquiry and protocols. But I try to be careful to not let what I think I know encroach upon the person, their unique growth, or mine. I try to hold my tools lightly, because they change.
I live in Toronto with my partner Alix Bemrose and our sons, Jacob and Owen.
Bio details: short form
- Formal (Tibetan) Buddhist study, initiation and meditation practice: 1996 – 2000. I’ve maintained a daily meditation practice since, but no longer identify as Buddhist.
- Took first asana classes in 2000. Maintained daily practice until 2010, and practice approx. 3x per week since then.
- 200-hour YT certification in 2003. (Darren John Main)
- 200-hour Yoga Therapy training in 2005. (Rocky Mountain Institute of Yoga and Ayurveda)
- 1000-hour Ayurvedic Health Education studies, 2005-2008. (American Institute of Vedic Studies)
- Co-founded Yoga Festival Toronto in 2008.
- From 2007 – present I have provided Ayurveda and Yoga Philosophy content for YTT and Yoga Therapy programmes internationally.
- Studied Jyotisha Shastra and Ayurveda in an intimate oral-culture environment from 2008 – 2011. (Vidya Institute, Toronto)
- 2009 – 2010: Attended intensive courses in Vastu Shastra and Hasta Samudrika with Hart DeFouw.
- Published a book on the Yoga Sutras in cultural and historical translation. (2012)
- Published a study and resource manual for introductory presentations in Ayurveda. (2013)
- 500-hour Professional Yoga Educator Certificate from Nosara Yoga Institute. (2014)
- Have completed approximately 200 interviews for the WAWADIA project.
- I estimate having trained for at least 1000 classroom hours with various senior asana teachers, and another 1000 with meditation teachers. I’ve instructed close to 4000 introductory-level asana classes. Between meditation, asana, and mantra recitation since 1996, I estimate that I’ve logged approximately 20,000 hours of home practice.
Bio Details: Timeline
- 1971: Born in Northern Michigan.
- – 1989: Raised Roman Catholic in a pre-Vatican II throwback school ( Michael’s Choir School, Toronto).
- 1990 – 1998: Made a living as a church organist, choir conductor, busker, and writer.
- 1991 – 1994: Attended University of Toronto, studying English literature and literary theory. Hung out pretty continuously with writers, and performed in fringe theatre, as well as with the Inner Stage, under the direction of the late Elizabeth Szathmary, who tried to give me lessons in Martha Graham technique. That was really hard.
- 1994: Won a national poetry award.
- 1994: During a period of emotional stress, I experienced a series of grand-mal seizures. Tests were inconclusive. The seizures resolved as the stress abated, and I have not experienced any for twenty years. But from that point on, I became very fascinated with spirituality – especially mystical states. The phenomena of Geschwind syndrome — hypergraphia and intense interest in religion – are alleged to arise from temporal lobe epilepsy. I find this resonant when I recall this period.
- 1996: Published my first novel. Its theme and style are resonant with my seizure experience.
- 1998: Published my second novel, which was inspired by Gravity’s Rainbow.
- 1996 – 2000: undertook an extensive study of Michael Roach’s version of Gelukpa Tibetan Buddhism. I was initially captivated by his charisma and relatability, and Roach’s translation of the standard Gelukpa monastic curriculum was solid. The community that formed around him gave me, at first, a long yearned-for sense of belonging. As I began to meditate with the group, I also began to have strange quivering sensations that I didn’t understand, but which I associated with my previous history of seizures. After two years it became clear to me that he was a deeply flawed person, and that his presentation of Buddhist philosophy was deeply flawed. I’ve detailed this period of my life in many articles, like this one. Through Roach’s influence, however, I was also exposed to more legitimate teachers in his lineage, including his own Lama, the late Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin, from whom I took Tantric initiation in 1998. For over a year, I would make the trip from Vermont to New Jersey about once per month to hear him teach on basic Tibetan Buddhist texts. I also travelled to India twice on study trips – first for several months at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, and secondly with Roach’s group to Sera Me Monastery in Bylakuppe, to receive teachings from Geshe Thubten Rinchen. Throughout these four years, I estimate having sat through 1000 hours of oral teaching. I also began a preliminary study of Tibetan language, was meditating for about two hours per day, and studying textual materials for another two hours, while working as a radio DJ and a waiter. Before my disillusionment with Roach was complete, the last teaching I received in this lineage was from the late Geshe Lhundup Sopa, in the summer of 2000.
- 2000, fall. After meeting with Roach one last time before he went into a three-year retreat, I took my first asana class in New York City. The teacher that day at Alan Finger’s YogaWorks was Jean Koerner.
- 2000 – 2003: Lived at Endeavor Academy in Wisconsin Dells. I worked at the Ho-Chunk Nation Casino as a waiter for income. I’d gone on the advice of a friend in Vermont who suggested that I find his teacher, (the now-late) Charles Anderson. I was drawn to Anderson – and drawn in – through his anti-guru crazy wisdom, which both referenced and rejected multiple spiritualities. Practice consisted of a four-hour morning ‘darshana” during which Anderson would extemporize on a theme, and many of the approximately 200 people in the room, including me, would go into spontaneous ecstatic movement. In a way, it was a kundalini cult, although very few people there were conversant in the details and dangers of ecstasy. I eventually left not just because I was disillusioned by another authoritarian structure, but because I also wanted to learn more directly about this latent internal energy within me that certain practices and environments seemed to provoke. Many colleagues at the Academy had once been devotees of Sai Baba, Da Free John, Osho, or Swami Muktananda. One told me that “Yoga people know more about this stuff than Anderson does.” I had already felt these sensations stimulated by the intermittent asana practice I was doing.
- 2003: Left the Academy and travelled to Costa Rica to do a YA-standard yoga teacher training with Darren John Main. Main is affiliated with the Kripalu method. During the training, he demonstrated a spontaneous asana practice reminiscent of Amrit Desai’s teaching method of “meditation in motion”. It had a profound effect on me, but I didn’t know how to pursue it further. I took up formal daily practice, which I maintained for seven years, after which I reduced my practice hours to a more sustainable (for me) 3 days per week. I maintained daily meditation practice throughout, floating between the several methods I’d learned.
- 2004: Like many others in the early part of the decade, I mobilized my first training into a premature teaching job, opening a studio in Baraboo, Wisconsin with my partner at the time. This was the only studio in the state outside of the capital, Madison. In addition to running a full schedule of classes at Baraboo Yoga and Living Arts, I also taught daily at the Ho-Chunk Nation wellness centre, and weekly at the Lake Delton Wellness Clinic, the Wilderness Resort, and the Sundara Spa. This amounted to over twenty classes per week. I received great feedback, but I discovered very quickly that I was over my head in terms of my educational level and ability to serve individual needs. I attended classes at Mound Street Yoga in Madison, and made almost-monthly trips to Chicago for weekend intensives with visiting teachers. My favourite teacher was Kim Schwartz, and I sought him out whenever possible in Chicago, and once travelled to New Mexico for private lessons. Through Kim I became aware of Ramanand Patel, who I would study with whenever possible as well. I also attended intensives with Tias Little, Hart Lazer, and Adhil Palkhivala.
- 2005: By this point, I knew that I wanted to go further with my studies, because it was clear that the standard choreographies I had learned to present – even with modifications – weren’t necessarily beneficial for everyone who was coming to my classes. I travelled to California to take the 250-hour Yoga Therapy Training offered by Rocky Mountain Institute of Yoga and Ayurveda, administered by Saraswati Buhrman, with many visiting teachers on the faculty. At this point, Yoga Therapy was as messy and sprawling a discipline as asana instruction outside of strict methods has always been. The IAYT had existed rather quietly since 1989, but only reformed with some strength and direction in 2004. My training predated this tide of professionalization (which is still not complete). I returned to Baraboo with a certification in Yoga Therapy, and with what I felt was a modest improvement in my ability to give private lessons for particular mobility and stress-reduction needs.
- 2005: The most captivating part of my YT training was its introductory presentation of Ayurveda. I was fascinated, and, along with thousands of others, plunged into correspondence study through Dr. Frawley’s American Institute of Vedic Studies, eventually completing 1000 hours of study, qualifying me as an “Ayurvedic Health Educator”, and an “Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist”. Again, I quickly felt that I didn’t know as much as I wanted to, and was always looking for opportunities to upgrade my studies while continuing to work and help raise a family.
- 2005: Attended University of Wisconsin in Madison, with the intention of completing my abandoned degree and pursuing Religious Studies.
- 2006: Left Wisconsin (and college, again) to move back to Toronto.
- 2007: Opened Renaissance Yoga and Ayurveda with my former partner in our Toronto home. I also began teaching at the Toronto Athletic Club, and various yoga studios around the city. Again, the schedule was heavy, at around 20 classes per week. I also began to give private asana instruction, and to provide Ayurvedic Health consultations to private clients. I was also contracted to give preliminary presentations in Ayurvedic view as pertaining to yoga training for YTT programmes throughout the city. Through to the present, these programmes have included Downward Dog, Yoga Plus, Yoga Tree, Octopus Garden, Del La Sol, 889 Yonge, Kula Annex, Ahimsa Yoga. For those interested in more in-depth presentations of Ayurveda, I organized small classes at my home studio.
- 2007 – 2012: Maintained a busy schedule of Ayurvedic health education consultations at RYA and other venues.
- 2008: Co-founded Yoga Festival Toronto. This was a non-profit, non-commercialized, affordable 3-day event featuring local teachers and roundtable discussions. It ran for five years.
- 2008-2011: Continued my education in the most “traditional” environment I’d encountered, plunging into heavy study of Jyotish Shastra (East Indian Astrology) through classes offered at the Vidya Institute, which was directed by Gitte Bechsgaard, a long-term student of Krishan Mantri – also the teacher of Robert Svoboda and Hart Defouw. (I know very little about Mantri’s background and story.) My Jyotisha teacher was a long-term student of Defouw’s, and is now a Naturopathic Doctor. My daily practice (approx. 3 hours of mantra and study) of Jyotisha elided richly with my Ayurvedic training: they are closely-related limbs on the tree of Vedic vidya. From 2009 to 2011, I was encouraged to apply introductory analysis of natal charts within the context of Ayurveda consultations. However, at the same time, I entered psychotherapy. I quickly realized that these cultural paradigms were completely incompatible, and that while Jyotisha is a fascinating intuitive artform that can provoke positive discussion and contemplation, it projects an inherent power imbalance between Western readers and clients that I do not believe is beneficial in the culture to which I belong. This realization provoked a break from my teacher, that has since been repaired. He no longer practices Jyotisha either.
- 2009 – 2010: Attended intensive courses in Vastu Shastra and Hasta Samudrika with Hart DeFouw.
- 2009 – 2012: Instructed introductory courses in Ayurveda at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.
- 2008: Reintegrated daily writing into my life. I consider it part of my daily practice to this day.
- 2010: Published a second book of poetry.
- 2012: Broke the story of the death of Ian Thorson, a long-time student of Michael Roach. I used existing reports and provided reflections and memories from my three years in Roach’s cult.
- 2012: Published Threads of Yoga.
- 2012 – present: Expanded my repertoire to give introductory presentations in yoga philosophy, vocal presence in teaching, meditation practice and instruction. Began to travel internationally for presentations. I sharply drew down my public asana teaching during this time. I continue to lead restorative yoga classes occasionally.
- 2012: Developed the Ayurvedic component of a 50-hour restorative yoga training in conjunction with Octopus Garden Yoga Centre.
- 2014: Co-published a book on family life and spiritual practice with my friend Michael Stone.
- 2014: Published a third book of poetry, about the continuity of the rosary in my life as I’ve moved through Catholic, Buddhist, and Hindu identifications.
- 2014: Received a 500-hour Professional Yoga Educator Certificate from Nosara Yoga Institute.
- 2014: Covered the emerging scandal surrounding the late Swami Satyananda and several of his senior students, accused by multiple sources and survivors of sexually violating children and women in ashrams in Australia and India. My post called for a global boycott of Bihar School of Yoga materials until full disclosure is made, and reparations are paid to the victims.
- 2014 – present: Embarked on “What Are We Actually Doing in Asana?”, a research project into the psychosocial contexts for injury and harm in yoga practice. I published a working thesis in the fall of that year. Recently, however, my research has narrowed to focus on what I believe is at the root of the many shadows cast by the global yoga movement: the fruitful but vexing tension between therapeutic and transcendent ideals. I hope to publish the book (perhaps the first of several volumes) in 2017. I’ve been invited to present from this research internationally.