Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.
Sammy Veall is a yogi with swagger
We meet the woman who brought hip hop yoga to Melbourne.
We meet the woman who brought hip hop yoga to Melbourne.
When I first heard there was such a thing as hip hop yoga, I won’t lie I got pretty darn excited. See I’ve always been a bit daunted by yoga. I love the idea of it, the peace of it, but I was intimidated by the ceremony of it. It has its own language and theology that I didn’t understand and couldn’t relate to.
But hip hop – hip hop I get. Though no expert, I have the words down for ‘No Diggity’, Skee-Lo and I go way back, Jay-Z, RUN-DMC, I understand their language. More than that, I love it: its rhythm, its beat, hip hop has a narrative that I can engage with. Hip hop gave me an ‘in’ to yoga. For this I have Sammy Veall and Yoga 213 to thank.
Sammy opened the doors to Yoga 213 earlier this year, after returning home from LA. This Saturday, August 31, Dumbo Feather Culture Club is hosting a hip hop yoga class as part the Cake Wines Pop-Up Bar. Come along and enjoy an hour of Vinyasa flow holding postures while listening to some fly music, including old and new hip hop, pop and acoustic.
Three days after my first foray into the world of hip hop yoga, abs still sore, I spoke with Sammy about her story, yoga and the passion, pain and power of hip hop.
Katherine: Hip hop and yoga, this isn’t an obvious combination but I loved it, how do they complement each other?
Sammy: In so many ways! Hip hop has attitude, soul, sex appeal – something that we all have and want to have. It makes Yoga fun and enjoyable, sometimes it can be quite serious and you can forget the true nature of yoga, which is happiness.
How did you come to hip-hop yoga?
I found yoga and music in LA when I was living there in 2012. And then I guess I chose to focus it around hip hop because that’s my favourite type of music.
When you were 21 a terrible accident left you with third degree burns to 35 per cent of your body. I completely understand if you don’t want to talk about this, but if you’re comfortable, can I ask what happened?
Yes sure, I don’t mind talking about it, it becomes a story you feel you are telling about someone else having told it so many times. Basically it was an accident that consequently changed both my life and the life of my friend. My friend threw petrol onto a burnt down fire that then exploded onto my face and legs. My legs were actually on fire so I had to drop to the ground and put them out. The accident itself isn’t something that I think about, but the memories of being in hospital for a month are the ones that hurt.
You’ve said that yoga helped you to heal and there’s a lot of research out there supporting the link between yoga and recovery. For you, what was it about yoga that helped? Was it more physical or emotional…?
It was both. I needed the physical side of Yoga to stretch my skin out from the skin graft operations and I needed the emotional side to help become comfortable with my new body. Yoga made me feel happy with what I have and to accept all circumstances that happen in your life and be proud of them, no matter what they are.
It’s really interesting the idea of the healing power of hip hop considering its origins; hip-hop culture was born as a response to poverty and violence; what is it about this type of music?
A lot of the rappers out there have been through unimaginable hardships and traumas at such a young age through their upbringing, due to the city they were raised in and the people that they surround themselves with. Because there is so much passion and pain within them it gets transferred into their music. Hip hop offers something more to people than just a good beat, it offers healing to the people on the other end of the radio, TV, or what have you, who can find a relevance within themselves to the lyrics in each song. And I guess a lot of people come to yoga to heal or to escape from something that’s too hard to think about, much like the artists come to their music to do the same thing.
You moved to the US to be an actress, you chose to quit acting after discovering hip-hop yoga, you moved home and at a really young age opened your own studio: in your life you’ve made a number of really bold choices. Were you ever afraid?
No never, if I was afraid I don’t feel I would have done any of it. Never once do I ever think about failing, I have the image of success and happiness in my mind through everything I do. The mind and your thoughts are very powerful. I have always been the person who strives to do something a little bit unreachable and challenging.
What drove your decision to open your own studio?
When I arrived back in Melbourne something was missing, I wanted to continue living with music and yoga and because there was nothing else like it, I decided to open my own! My sister drove me the most though and the rest of my family, if I didn’t have them it wouldn’t have happened.
Since I first heard about hip hop yoga I’ve been telling pretty much everyone about it, the standard response seems to be both baffled and enthusiastic. How has the studio been received?
Just as you say with amazement and enthusiasm! I love seeing people leave saying “Shit that was awesome!”
Studies have shown that one hour of yoga can increase the brain’s levels of the neurotransmitter GABA by 27 per cent. Low levels of GABA are often found in people with depression, so there is quite a bit of science emerging to support the argument that yoga can relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety. On Fridays you run donation classes for Beyond Blue, the not-for-profit working to increase awareness and understanding of depression and anxiety in Australia. How did this association come about?
I guess I have had trouble in the past with – I’m going to say sadness as I feel depression to be a very strong word and also anxiety. I still live with anxiety. Yoga for me was the one thing that pulled me out of this sadness and made me realise that you can be happy for no reason. A beautiful lesson my teacher Steve Ross taught me was that you can’t find happiness by getting things that you want or desire, for instance a new car, a new relationship or a big block of chocolate. Because as time passes this will fade and so will the happiness. Happiness comes from within. Our natural state is happiness, yoga is a great way to slowly shed away the daily pressures and stresses of life to ultimately find this happiness.
Do you have a favourite hip hop artist or song?
All my favourite hip hop songs have a few too many swear words in them to use for yoga unfortunately. I keep these for private sessions with myself. But for classes at 213 at the moment I am loving Anthony Hamilton! He is a mixture of R’n’B and hip hop and has this voice that makes you want to melt down into the floor.