Welcome to the final interview in the Gaiam/Yoga and Body Image Coalition “Yoga for Men/Men in Yoga” series. We’re pleased to introduce you to Travis Eliot, a world-renowned yoga instructor, meditation teacher, kirtan musician and certified Ayurveda practitioner. Travis is the co-founder of Yoga 30 for 30, CEO of Inner Domain Media, director of Holistic Yoga Flow teacher trainings and a member of the faculty of Kripalu Institute and 1440 Multiversity.
Every spiritual journey begins with the first step, allowing us to embark on a path that paves the the way to an experience that is distinctly unique and personal. For Travis Eliot, he was first introduced to mindfulness practices by his “New Age” mom.
“My spiritual past began when I was nine years old. My mom used to give me these meditation cassette tapes. I’d take these tapes, pop them into the stereo, turn them on, sit down, close my eyes, and follow the guided visualization meditations. Because I was young and, therefore, open, I’d go on these inner journeys. And this allowed me to be exposed to this reality that is beyond the limits of our five senses. Because of my experiences, I became aware of the fact there is more than just meets the eye from an early age. This is where the seed of spirituality and cultivating awareness was planted for me.”
Travis maintained a fairly regular practice over the next couple of years, until the teen years hit. And, as is common, interests and activities steered toward friends, parties, and socializing. It wasn’t until age 26 that Travis found his first yoga “teacher” and experienced a sense of coming full circle.
“I took my first class at Santa Monica Power Yoga with Govind Das (founder of Bhakti Yoga Shala). At the end of class, I felt I had found the person I was when I was nine years old. I felt like I had come home. There was a profound and deep reunion back to this place that existed inside of me that I'd been disconnected from for such a long time. The further I had become disconnected, the unhappier I was and the more suffering I felt – things like stress, anxiety, and general negativity. By the end of class, I felt that all evaporate and I knew that I had found my path again. I began practicing yoga with Govind Das as much as I could.”
But the desire to try yoga wasn’t strong at first. In fact, like many, Travis resisted the idea of giving yoga a go. Stereotypes and misconceptions deterred Travis from hopping on the mat for the first time for almost a year before giving yoga a chance.
“I was working at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Ray and I was working in the banquets department as a banquet server, and there was this guy in the department who would tell me about this yoga class that he was going to, and that he loved so much. He was trying to inspire me to go, but for some reason, I had a lot of resistance to it. I didn't even remotely know what yoga was, and in my mind, I would picture an older guy with a big beard and a white loincloth forcing himself into pretzel-like positions. To me, that's what yoga was, which of course is completely ignorant. But, that's all that I knew because yoga wasn’t that popular at the time. Ultimately, though, I was intimidated because I didn't know what to expect. I didn't think that I would be good enough. All of the insecurities that come up when you go try something new flooded in.”
Yoga isn’t a static or one-dimensional practice. Not only that, but there are many strands of yoga and countless types of yoga teachers. Finding the right teacher and practice style for you is imperative to developing a long-lasting and consistent yoga practice. Travis had the good fortune of landing in a class with a teacher, Govind Das, that resonated with him immediately and put him on the path that would shape the rest of his life.
“After a year, I let him drag me to a class. It wasn’t anything I expected but it was love at first sight. Physically, the fact that it had like a flow combined with elements that challenged my strength, flexibility and stamina really appealed to me. Govind Das ended class with chanting and singing and the musical part the experience really spoke to me, and reminded me of that special place inside me during childhood. In fact, I think it was the chanting and singing more than the physical practice that really brought me back to that place of feeling home again.”
After a near death experience on retreat with his teacher, Govind Das, in Kauai, Travis had no doubt that the path of yoga was his to follow.
“That trip, obviously, was a game changer. I walked away from there knowing that in the end, it's all about love and it's all about relationships. The rest of the week on retreat became a celebration of life through yoga, good food and community. You never know when your time is going to be up so you've got to let go of all the bullshit, and put your time and energy into the stuff that really matters. When I came back, I was on a mission and my yoga practice was just deep and powerful.”
After attending another retreat in Thailand, Travis was encouraged to extend his stay and begin teaching, something he had not considered up to that point. After several weeks of teaching and a point of reflection and deep listening at the top of a mountain in Thailand as a tsunami wreaked havoc below, Travis had no doubt that yoga was his calling to share.
“I hopped into the back of this pickup truck and they took us to the highest point on the island. We could see Fiji Island far away, where thousands of people had just been killed from the tsunami. I had this moment up there that afternoon not knowing what was going to happen. We didn't know if we were even safe anywhere. I remember just saying to the universe, "All right, universe, I hear you loud and clear. I'm going to dedicate my whole entire life to yoga. I’m going to practice yoga and spread yoga to as many people on the planet as possible. And eventually, a few days after that, I got off the island, got back to Bangkok, came back to Los Angeles and started teaching yoga.”
And Travis has been practicing, teaching and yoga ever since through live classes, online class options and the book he wrote with his partner, Lauren Eckstrom, Holistic Yoga Flow: The Path to Practice.
“My intention in sharing yoga with others is to bring them back to the Dharma. Dharma for me is nature, universe, power, god. So by bringing people back Dharma, I hope to bring them to that place where they can be the best versions of themselves - to be healthy and happy, allowing them to be able to spread their gift, and share that gift with as many people throughout the world.”
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By sharing stories with one another, we can inspire even more yogis to get started with their yoga practice, and empower one another to keep coming back to the mat. Regardless of who you are, how old you are, what size you are, what color your skin is, and how much experience you have, you are a yogi if you want to be!
AUTHOR BIO: Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker, and professor of sociology and women’s studies at Santa Monica College. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016) and co-editor of the new anthology, Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014.