Vaughan Dagnell is a soon-to-be YogaLondon graduate and founder of the charitable organisation Flip Your Dog for Mental Health. Set up in response to feeling disconnected in lockdown, his first fundraiser raised almost £4k for mental health charities and he plans on making his efforts an ongoing platform to join yoga and mental health. We talk to Vaughan about his love of yoga, his own mental health struggles and his hopes for the future.
1. What was your first experience of yoga?
My Dad was a hippy and set up an am-dram company that did a play about I Ching, The Chinese Oracle. As a seven-year-old, I played the part of ‘the entity born of yin and yang’. With this production, we performed at Stonehenge, Glastonbury, and other festivals.
While on tour I saw people practicing yoga, tai chi, going through the re-birthing experience, and a whole range of energy work. Due to that experience and my upbringing, I never questioned yoga. It was embedded in my life.
2. That sounds like quite an experience, what was your childhood like?
On paper, my childhood sounds quite deprived. I grew up in a single parent, low-income family in squats and shared housing. But I never thought we were struggling at the time.
The housing association houses we lived in were run by a Quaker organisation that helped house a whole range of vulnerable people, including those coming out of prison and disabled people. Because of this, I was blessed to grow up in a community that was both open-minded and open-hearted. I also learnt to see the human and not the condition.
3. How has your experience of going from student to teacher with YogaLondon been?
It’s been amazing – I’m already looking at the next course! It was never presented as a big challenge but as something that was natural and organic, although something that we gave our all to. I hadn’t done an exam for twenty-seven years prior to last week.
The course has deepened my practice and my understanding of the way my body works, and how sequences are structured. It’s also highlighted the synchronicity of breath and movement and the benefits to both body and soul.
4. What are your favourite yoga poses?
I love Marichyasana C (Marichyasana 3), and Extended side angle pose (Parshvakonasana) and all its variations. I also love Bird of Paradise pose (Svarga Dvidasana), which I remember the teacher took us into without us knowing where we were going, and then we were like ‘Wow!’
Oh, and of course I also love Wild thing or, as it’s called in Australia, ‘Flip Your Dog’. It’s such an open-hearted, dynamic pose, as well as being elegant and challenging. It challenges you to really trust yourself.
5. This leads neatly onto your CIC, Flip your Dog for Mental Health. Tell us how it all started.
When we went into lockdown last year I was struggling with feeling disconnected. I then had an idea that I’d like to find a way to explore my true purpose. The idea for a one-off event to raise money for mental health charities for vulnerable people just made sense for me.
So in Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2020, I set up a Virgin Money Giving page and asked yoga teachers to donate their time, with all the money raised going directly to mental health charities.
6. And what are your goals for FYD4MH?
FYD is a passion project for me, along with yoga. When I graduate I hope to teach yoga as part of the programme. The plan is to hold monthly wellbeing events in partnership with other organisations, such as MoreMind, Fierce Calm and Mind.
We’re a platform to allow yoga teachers and studios to express their altruism. We are also paying yoga teachers to teach and then the profits are going to charity, so we feel it’s a sustainable model.
We now have a board of trustees and we’re working on becoming a Community Interest Company (CIC).
7. What was it that drew you to Mental Health charities in particular?
I’ve been through two or three really challenging periods of my life, including break-ups, losing my job, and witnessing substance abuse in my family. And the most recent tough times brought me back to the UK after living in Australia for six and a half years.
Often my ego prevented me from asking for help. But over time I’ve learnt that we have to be vulnerable, and not to be pressured by the expectations of what other people want us to be.
I also feel that mental health is something that unites us all. The yoga industry can be seen as something that values profit and gain, and I’d like to focus back on wellbeing and community.
8. Who supports you in times of need?
I have four pillars of support. I’m really close to my Mum. I have a friend who lives in Australia, and he and I do a zoom call every week and hold space for each other. Then there’s my best friend Daniel, who I’ve known since I was twelve years old. We’re like chalk and cheese, but we know each other so well.
And then my sister, a Steiner school teacher – we’re very much on the same page. I’m very blessed to know that these people are 100% there for me.
9. And how important is yoga to you in terms of mental health?
During my lowest times, yoga, breathwork and community have brought me back. As I mentioned earlier, I was surrounded by yoga and alternative therapies from a very young age (I’m also a qualified Reiki practitioner).
When I got into yoga in my twenties I started by going to the Iyengar Yoga Studio in Maida Vale. Getting into yoga felt like coming home.
10. What words do you turn to in times of need?
There are three poems that I love. When I was traveling through South America I had photocopies of them which I used to give to people I met. The first one is The Invitation by the amazingly named Oriah Mountain Dreamer. The second is We are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting for, by the Hopi Elders. And finally Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
From The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
11. What are you most looking forward to doing when things get back to ‘normal’?
Hiking! And not just in my local area. And dancing, preferably at a festival with lots of other people.
I’m also looking forward to meeting close friends, but also the serendipity of meeting and connecting with strangers.
If you’re a yoga teacher or studio and you’d be interested in getting involved with Flip Your Dog for Mental Health then Vaughan would love to hear from you.