Apart from the fanfare and hypnotic beats, MC YOGI isn't your typical rapper. He draws inspiration from yoga's long, rich history and waxes poetic about Hindu deities, mantras and meditation, honoring centuries-old tradition while also turning it on its head. Yoga found him when he was living in a group home for at-risk youth and quickly became a necessity in his turbulent life. Inspired by its sacred teachings and transformative power, MC YOGI started spreading the practice through his go-to outlets—cartooning, graffiti art and music—and his passion for yoga caught on. Now he inspires crowds at festivals around the world and students in his cozy Northern California yoga studio, Point Reyes Yoga. We chatted with the artist about what sparked the idea for "MC YOGI," how the practice changed his life and who inspires him most.
Tell us about your story! How did you get into yoga? How was MC YOGI born?
Yoga landed in my life when I was 17 years old. I’d been living in a group home for at-risk kids for the past two and a half years and was fortunate enough to learn Hatha yoga, thanks to my dad. There were several books my mom gave me when I was living in the group home—books like Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho—that sparked my interest in meditation. I was also really into mythology and stories about spiritual heroes when I was really young, including Star Wars. I’ve always felt drawn to sacred, internal practices and discovering new ways to hone my art, style and understanding of myself.
The more I followed the path of yoga, the more my music and graffiti art began to change. Honestly, I never really wanted to teach; I’ve always been more interested in studying and learning. One of my first mentors, Larry Schultz, who had a big following and a yoga studio south of Market Street in San Francisco, really pushed me to become a teacher. He said I had a unique voice and an interesting perspective because I was a graffiti artist, a lyricist and an emcee. My wife Amanda and I traveled to India a bunch of times to study with Larry’s teacher, Pattabhi Jois, and one night we decided to throw a free concert on a rooftop in South India. We made wheat-paste flyers and invited all the yogis and anyone who wanted to come. It was a huge success, and that night MC YOGI was born.
What made you choose hip hop as a platform for spreading yoga and yoga teachings?
I talk a lot about that in my book, Spiritual Graffiti. We grew up with hip hop; that was our rock 'n roll. My first cassettes were of groups like Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys and The Fat Boys. I never really set out to be a yoga teacher, musician or producer. When I was little I always dreamed I’d be illustrating comic books. I was really into painting graffiti from a young age; I started around 11 or 12. After leaving the group home and discovering the practice, I started to look into Hindu and Buddhist teachings, and the symbols, stories, teachings and wisdom lit me up. It was inspiring to paint, learn and write about them; it seemed like a natural fit.
Your songs about yoga are both educational and inspirational. What are your intentions when you sit down to write and create music? Is it more for yourself or others, or both?
Most of my songs are a stream of consciousness. Sometimes I map a specific storyline or theme, but mostly it just flows very naturally. I don’t think too much about anyone else when I write—it’s more like a meditation practice, where I do my best to be present, listen, connect, and then track, record, mix and master. Whatever happens after that, I do my best to release the outcome. The main point of art for me is to discover, then develop my skills so that I’m constantly growing and evolving as an artist. In the beginning I wrote as a way to share what I was learning with the other kids in my scene, but now I just follow what feels authentic and true and do my best to express that.
You’ve said that creating art, making music and practicing yoga all help you reconnect with yourself. What has yoga in particular taught you?
Yoga is extremely humbling. No matter how long you’ve been practicing, there’s always another more challenging posture. That said, it’s also incredibly enlightening because the practice reminds us there is nowhere to get to. It’s more about subtraction—revealing what’s real and stripping away those heavy layers of false identification that cause suffering. Yoga takes so many forms: meditation, selfless service, self-study, kindness. There is room to let go and connect deeper with the self, and there's always more to discover.
In what ways has yoga changed your life?
It brought me out of a dark place and showed me that it is possible to feel peace, contentment and purpose. I just kept following that feeling, and everything seemed to happen synchronistically. One posture led to another, a freestyle became a song and practicing together with my wife led us to opening our yoga studio, Point Reyes Yoga, which we’ve been running for over 15 years. Everything evolved and expanded from the initial seed of loving and being grateful for the practice.
When you travel a lot it’s good to know there’s a safe harbor you can return to. Experience has taught me that through the practice, I can bring my mind back to a place of peace and connection again and again, no matter how far I’ve wandered. Sometimes it takes a lot of slow deep breathes, a long meditation or vigorous asana practice, and sometimes all it takes is reading a simple sentence written by a saint or one of the mystic poets. What’s awesome is that yoga provides so many unique pathways back into bliss, back into the now. I call them road maps.
"Yoga takes so many forms: meditation, selfless service, self-study, kindness. There is room to let go and connect deeper with the self, and there's always more to discover."
You’ve studied with so many amazing yoga teachers, including Larry Schultz, and have been exposed to a number of different styles. What do you practice and teach now?
Vinyasa remains the heart of my practice. All my asana teachers had that in common, but I’ve also spent a lot of time with several incredible swamis, scholars and mystics who didn’t have a physical practice per se. The natural evolution for me is a combination of practical philosophy and physical integration. In other words, practices that lead to a direct experience of our true nature.
Who or what inspires you?
My wife Amanda is one of my greatest inspirations in life. She started a project called 10,000 Buddhas. She began painting graffiti Buddhas after a trip to India where we visited an ancient Buddhist cave filled with very old, colorful and incredibly beautiful murals. When we got home she started painting hundreds of Buddhas and had a flash of inspiration to paint ten thousand of them. Now she’s painted more than fourteen thousand all over the world—huge murals, sometimes three or four stories high. She’s an incredible yogini and artist, and her devotion to her practice is seriously amazing.
What do you hope people take away from your music or your performances?
My only prayer is that people have fun, feel lighter, maybe a little more inspired and connected and, in turn, they go and create something awesome.
What would you say to someone who wishes to connect or reconnect with themselves?
There’s no escaping practice and some kind of self-study or reflection. Whatever you’re devoted to will appear to you. If it’s ego and superficial, that is all you will see. If it’s truth and beauty, then the power of concentration will make it possible for that to shine through everything you encounter. The mind is incredibly powerful but the soul is stronger still. When the mind is connected to the soul and you have a practice of creating something beneficial with that power, that energy, there’s no limit to what you can do.
What are you currently manifesting on or off the mat?
Songs, songs and more songs. Get ready!