Kevin Flee is the founder of @diaryofachubbyyogi a warts-and-all, often hilarious, Instagram account charting his yoga practice. This YogaLondon graduate is also a yoga philosophy junkie, rock and roll musician and loves to diffuse the tension in a yoga class by talking about bums and bits – it works every time.
1. What brought you to the UK from your birthplace of South Africa?
I fell in love with an English girl, she lived in London and I lived in Johannesburg and it wasn’t enough to see her once a year. At the time I was a rock and roll musician, but I quit the bands, sold up, and went from being a D-list celebrity in South Africa to being a nobody here in the UK.
When I got here I did nearly every weird job going to make ends meet, including being a ‘naked sushi model’ on TV in a Jimmy Carr show, my motto is ‘as long as it does no harm’…
2. You started yoga as a teenager – how did you get into yoga at a young age?
I was actually a promising hockey player in South Africa and would have been the goalie at the Sydney Olympics but for a nasty knee injury. As part of my hockey training, I was sent off to do yoga to increase my focus and flexibility. It was Kundalini yoga taught by an amazing hippie teacher, who used to interlace her toes in Baddha Konasana. She got me into pranayama – the use of the breath to control the mind and thus the consciousness blew my young mind – I loved it.
3. What inspired you to start up your Instagram account @diaryofachubbyyogi?
It started out as a way to be accountable to myself. I’m rubbish at keeping a diary, always have been, but I’m a photographer and I liked the magazine-like aspect of Instagram. I decided to start the account for myself, with the challenge of posting daily.
Over time, the private diary aspect of it has slightly changed. What happened was I started getting messages of support and thanks from people who had been inspired to get off the couch and do some yoga, and who appreciated my honest approach. Since lockdown, I’ve been teaching online classes every day at 11 am – it’s been great.
4. What prompted you to do the 200-hour yoga teacher training course at YogaLondon?
I had no intention of actually teaching. The truth is that I hated public classes. I sweat and grunt and my Ujjayi breath sounds like a telephone pervert – I’m THAT guy. So I prefer a home practice, but I was getting frustrated that I didn’t know what to do. My ex-girlfriend (who is a yoga teacher) encouraged me to do a teacher training course so that I could teach myself.
When I was training, a friend of mine was inspired by my increased flexibility and asked for help. He and his mates became my practice students for my assessment. It ended up being three months of fun, teaching crusty punk kids on a bit of carpet wearing jeans. They would never have been seen dead in a Shala but they loved the yoga we did together and I thought – I can DO this!
5. How did you get into doing YouTube videos?
My YouTube account started as a way to disseminate all the yoga philosophy I was learning about and that I didn’t get time to get into my regular yoga classes. I absolutely love the mythology of yoga and the surrounding texts, such as the Mahabharata.
For example, the story behind the three warrior poses – Virabhadrasana – is just epic, and quite dark, which I love.
It then evolved into a way of teaching my family and friends back home and around the world, and it also means I get to sneak in special tutorials – bad back, sore knee, stiff hips, etc – without people knowing.
6. How important are Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to you?
First I want to say that Patanjali’s yoga sutras and his path of Rajah yoga are not the only way, BUT, if you’re lost and confused, then look to them – they will show you a higher path. A path of balance and equanimity, and an ethical code for life.
But the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (and Pattabhi Jois, Father of Ashtanga yoga) show us another way. They say 99% practice, 1% theory. It is through devotion to practice that we learn compassion, by learning first who WE are.
7. You’re a rock and rolling man’s man – how do we get more men into yoga?
It’s difficult to ‘get’ men into yoga, they have to ask for it. What we can do is educate men about what yoga actually is.
The biggest thing is to convince men that yoga is not a competition. Men are hardwired with the need to win, and it’s hard for them to re-learn that yoga is about going deeper within and learning just to ‘be’.
8. As yoga teachers how do we make larger-bodied students feel more at ease?
I was actually trolled last week for not being chubby enough! But when I started I was bigger, and I still feel it.
The most important thing you can do to make larger students feel at ease is simply to smile and be welcoming. Our body shapes are all different, and just because someone’s skinny doesn’t mean they’ll find yoga any easier. In fact, some larger bodies can be more flexible.
If you can get across the idea that it’s not about the outcome, then any ‘body’ can do yoga and feel confident doing so.
9. Do you stick to your lesson plans when you teach?
No. Being a musician taught me to ‘play to the room’ and the same applies to my yoga teaching. I’m open to change and I allow flow to happen. Teaching like this does mean that you should only teach what you’re confident doing personally.
I’m also not a precious teacher, and I’m happy to stand corrected. I have a Vedic student who often corrects me. The first time it happened my ego took a bit of a blow, plus I was worried I’d offended him. I am a mid-40s, straight, white male and I have a lot to learn, so I’m happy to be taught.
10. Do you worry about cultural appropriation when you teach?
I have mixed views on cultural appropriation. Sure, I don’t want to offend or culturally appropriate – or misappropriate anything. But I also believe in cultural appreciation. If you’re interested, then take the time to study the tradition – it’s a gift that’s been given to us all.
I’m inspired in this by the Hindu god Shiva (the Destroyer) who literally gives boons (grants wishes) to anyone who asks – gods, demons, people, even animals.
11. As you say, you’re a middle-aged, white, straight man. How do you open yourself up to the experience of others?
When Apartheid fell, I was 13 years old and in a private high school, which was completely segregated. Up to that point I hadn’t actually met a single black person, that was how separate things were. The changes that have happened in South Africa have been echoed throughout the world, but we still have so much to learn.
It’s not just about racism, but sexism too. Recently I was called out for unconscious sexism by calling my guitars ‘she’, and how that reflected my male need to dominate the female.
I’m always open to learning and I don’t set myself up as any sort of guru. I just aim to be a cool human being.
12. What’s your favourite yoga pose?
Savasana! Because it’s so difficult. You have to become a corpse and lose your need for thought. It’s like falling into the abyss and letting go.
In terms of active asanas I love three standing poses together: Vrksasana (Tree pose) into Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3) into Utthita Hasta Pandangusthasana (Extended hand to big toe pose). I find it satisfying because I can do it as my hamstrings have lengthened over time.
13. What’s your yoga ‘Achilles’ heel’?
You’re the first person I’ve admitted this to, but it’s twists. I think it’s my guy hips, but I have a real fear of twists. I don’t mind inversions and balances – I’m happy to fall on my face because I haven’t got a lot to lose.