Current town:  HONG KONG, CHINA

Yoga practice style:  POWER VINYASA
Website:  epicmma.com                                                                                                                                                                                                     
Facebook:  Darrell Erxleben
Instagram: @Darrelhongkong

What’s your story?  I grew up in Cape town, running around playing sports. It was a pretty tight community and I had a lot of freedom; as kids, we used to play games where the boundaries were the next town. I’ve always been really active; growing up, I played everything - tennis, rugby, golf, water polo. When I was about 20, I got a job offer to work on golf courses in Florida. At first it was pretty standard hospitality work then I got asked if I wanted to work in the gym. As I became more involved in fitness, I was introduced to yoga, too.

As I got deeper into the practice, I got to love it more and more - so much so that I decided to travel to India and study to become a teacher. I volunteered at Kripalu for 5 months, where I had the opportunity to practice lots of different styles, and train to teach Anusara-inspired yoga and Forest yoga. 

Weirdly, as soon as I decided to do that, things just really fell into place. As I was travelling through India I got a phone call from a guy in Hong Kong looking for a personal trainer who also taught yoga. I’ve been in Hong Kong for seven years now, training and teaching in different ways and different places, and I love it. 

What did you want to be growing up?  I had a lot of wild ideas as a kid but I remember wanting to be an athletic therapist at one point and always had this feeling I’d be a teacher of some sort… which is pretty much what I’ve ended up doing: fitness and yoga - teaching people to feel better and improve their health.

How would you describe yourself?  I’m an Aries, and a very typical one - active, outgoing, like to have fun, like attention but also like being by myself. I also really like a challenge. 

How would others describe you?   Easygoing; like nothing seems to bother me… One girl once told me I’m very graceful!  I don’t know entirely what she meant by that - it’s probably the yoga; I think it’s given me this bit of feminine energy that’s helped balance things after years of weight training and martial arts.

How would your mother describe you?  I asked her recently, actually. She said, “you were a very confident kid but you were full of shit"! I think I always wanted to get my way, so I found the means to do that one way or another!

What do you most value in others?  Respect - for others and for oneself- and honesty.

When did you last cry? What was it over?  It was over an advert! I can’t remember what it was about exactly but it was one of those heartstrings—pulling, self-sacrifice ads.

Is there anything you preach but don’t/find hard to practice?  Ego management - trying not to let it get inflated in everything I do - particularly weight training or yoga.

Favourite meal?  Pizza, or steak… ooh, who can say no to good piece of meat?! Okay, maybe vegans… but if you were in nature and an animal saw you, it’d eat you!!

Favourite drink?  Chocolate milkshake; or a glass of red wine - if I’m eating that steak.

Favourite book?  The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz - simple, easy to read, and very impactful if you follow what it teaches.

Ok, let’s talk about yoga, how’d you get into it?  It was when I was working in that gym in Florida. I met this American football player - big guy; like, 6 foot 5, 300lbs - who invited me to a yoga class. I wanted to improve the flexibility in my hips for my martial arts training  (to get lower to hit people harder, basically!), so I thought I’d give it a go. Also, the teacher was cuteso I figured I had nothing to lose!

That first class was humbling, to say the least. I was so surprised by these little ladies next to me doing things I couldn’t get near to - and not just in terms of flexibility but their strength, too. There’s me being a so-called athlete and I was a sweaty mess!

Best yoga story?  8-9 years ago, I went to NYC to meet a friend - a yoga teacher - decided to make the most of my time off there and do loads of yoga. I was heading off to my third class of the day and was very tired. We were in my friend’s brother’s house and I saw this bottle that said something like ‘rip fuel’. I though “great, I need some energy!” and drank almost half the bottle. Only then did I look at the label, which said never to take more than half a teaspoon. Half-way to the yoga studio, I start to feel really, really strange.I was basically starting to trip. I was shaking, couldn’t talk properly, couldn’t walk straight. I got to the studio feeling seriously bad - at this point I could barely write my name to sign it. I mean, I felt like I was going to die!! To make matters worse - it was a Bikram class, so not exactly chilled. In hindsight, I should definitely have left the studio but I wasn’t thinking straight! Long story short, that was basically the worst yoga class of my life.

What was the biggest challenge when you first started practicing?  ‘Challenge’ is an interesting word… Of course there were tensions when I first started - hips, knees, everything - and days when I found it tough to drag myself to my mat, but that’s not a challenge! A challenge is being a single mum with three kids, not getting to yoga!

Why do you keep coming back?  For me, yoga was like a really good glass of red wine; once you’ve had your first sip you realise how great it tastes and you want the whole glass. At the end of a yoga practice, you can take that deep breath and recognise what it is to really good, and you can’t help but come back for more!

Do you teach?  What’s it like?  It’s pretty fun being in front a group of people, helping them feel good - but thats when the ego can come in again - the guru thing. It’s such a fine line; you have to have a presence big enough to move the class but reign it in so it’s not about you, too. So that part can be tricky sometimes. I try not to take it too seriously; I think a lot of yogis take themselves to seriously and it can make the practice a chore.

Other than yoga, what keeps you busy?  Personal training, teaching strongman classes and other movement classes. Then my own practices - yoga, brazilian jujitsu, mu-tai; mixed martial arts. 

What advice would you give to someone stepping onto the mat for the first time?  To come back - you might not enjoy it the first time but do me favour and come back - and once you’ve back, it’d be a good idea to come back again… and again. It doesn’t have to be yoga; any practice - just keep coming back.

Tell us about a time your yoga practice came into play off the mat?  Nearly everyday when I’m walking to work and I stop that urge to walk over people - Hong Kong’s very busy and people don’t know how to walk here! They move slowly or move right into your path. I’ve learned to take a breath and fight the urge to kick them out of the way!

Honestly, I try to take my yoga off the mat all the time - even when I’m weight training - it the same face. It comes back to taking that breath. Even when you pick up that phone - taking that breath before you answer the phone gives you that feeling of presence and mental space. 

What does the BOYS OF YOGA project mean to you?  It’s about spreading the message that yoga doesn’t have to be something we think of as ‘feminine’ - it can be ‘masculine’ and powerful, too. And whatever it is, it brings people together. It also means be that practitioner who not only hugs the trees but can cut down and tree and make a house. BOYs of yoga doesn’t have to be actual boys it’s just raising awareness that there’s not one type of practitioner. 

If you could spend some time hanging out with some of the other BOYS, who would it be, and why?  I’d love to learn some breathing practices from Scott - maybe he can teach me a magic trick or two, too!

What’s your favourite pose? Why?  Hard to beat handstand once you’ve had a taste of that freedom. Or splits, because it takes time to get there but once you do… ahhhh…

What pose do you fucking hate? Why?  Lotus - I mean, it feels like that’s just not gonna happen! I’ve been there maybe once before but that’s definitely not an easy one for me.

Yoga is…  just the beginning. It opens you up, so it’s the gateway to explore everything in your life.

Your quote or mantra:  This is from another of my favourite books, Way Of The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. “Take your body and mind where most people don’t have the courage to go”.

Interviewed: May 24th,  2015

Photos by @michaeljameswong and property of BOYS OF YOGA Ltd.