"Nothing happens at the snap of a finger"
Online giant Patrick Beach on how everything is a process and that life just... happens.
If you´ve ever only glanced at Instagram, he´s likely to have caught your eye. A huge online presence, a handstand aficionado and toddler dad – what else is up the sleeve of this world-travelling yogi? Today, founder Frida Starvid is talking to our new friend and old-time inspiration source Patrick Beach to find out.
It´s 7am in Seattle. Patrick Beach yawns. His daughter Harvey, now approaching three, gets up around this time. Patrick himself grew up about twenty minutes away, and after years on the move - living between Portland, New York, LA and the famous nowhere - Patrick and now ex partner Carling decided to go for the parent thing and move back to Seattle. Never underestimate the help from grandparents, we agree. In LA they opened their studio Commune Yoga the first time. Now, after three sequential closings and re-openings due to Covid, the studio is up and running again in Seattle. I ask him what it´s like to be a studio owner.
PB: Well, the decision to open a studio in the first place was spurred by an accident. We had a sold-out teacher training in LA but nowhere to do it. Then we found this space about five minutes from our house. We were excited. How hard can it be, right? Then we got to the truth of it. A studio is a living, breathing entity that needs to be tended to. I have gained a wild perspective on physical spaces and what they mean to people. There are things that need to flow for things to function. Teachers sub out their classes, toilets need to be fixed. The business of yoga is challenging. I´m not being critical, it´s just the truth.
I hum. Patrick´s aura of laissez-faire is recurring throughout our conversation. He seems to be pretty cool with things however they turn out. Compared to myself - an unrelenting force pushing for things to happen - he seems to be on a worldwide ticket to ride with life itself as a driver. Like being such a huge online figure, which he describes as something that was never intended, but something he´s come to know over a long period of time. When he started yoga at 20, there was no Instagram. When he was 24, there was. He was very early on it, and he never expected it to become the big phenomenon that it is.
PB: It was never part of a plan. I just used Instagram and got some traction for what I did. But nothing has happened for me overnight. For some people, for whatever reason, their consciousness experiences things as happening at the snap of a finger. That’s just not what I´ve experienced in life. Everything moves very slowly in a lot of ways, I´m just allowing the wheels to churn.
A yogic mentality, if ever there was one. I ask him what brought him to yoga in the first place, and he tells me he did a lot of competitive basketball growing up. People always think he used to do gymnastics, but that´s not the case at all. Anyway, he was just transitioning from playing basketball and was hurting a lot. He was at a private university; had studied Catholicism already and I was taking alternative religions and faith based system studies now. Yoga came up as one of those things, and his mum had also had a yoga practice for a while. He started reading and then putting together little mini practices based on the books, doing them in his kitchen. They weren’t terribly complicated, he says, but he was so rigid and unaware of his body at the time, so just doing anything was challenging.
FS: What would one of those little sequences look like?
PB: Some simple hip opening poses. Handstands and headstands at the wall. I thought I was going to kill myself. It was one of those things you just explore, one thing led to another and I was finding things that resonated with me. I was around 20-21 at the time, and there was such a lightness to it. Then as I started going to studios, I was the youngest person in every class for the first few years. I´d get kicked out of class all the time for doing handstands in Sun Salutations. That just wasn´t a thing back then, people felt weird about it. I did a little rinky-dink teacher training pretty much straight away and started teaching people in my kitchen. It seemed like people wanted to learn the things I was doing. It all came about very naturally, which was wonderful.
Patrick turns silent, thinking for a while.
PB: I don´t know about you, but in life, you try so many things. And with some things you run into walls left and right, everywhere you turn there´s a wall but for me with yoga it was the complete opposite. Even though getting more flexible per se has been really challenging, the rest of the process has been very seamless and joyful. It´s been a wonderful experience.
Oh my God, I think. Have I ever experienced something I would honestly describe as wonderful and seamless? The walls, however, I know everything about. Deciding to change the subject, I ask Patrick if the studio has a specific focus or identity. He´s famous for teaching his own method of Vinyasa called Awakening Yoga, which is structured as a number of sequences around different themes. And the studio is called Commune Yoga. Surely, that has a purpose?
PB: Yeah, sure. Our little catch phrase is We Grow Together. We want to keep a space where practices are created that meet people where they are. Awakening Yoga is obviously the foundation, but we have a wide range of teachers offering different things. Yoga is so multidisciplinary. Not to offer the opportunity of choice would seem a little bit shallow in terms of the depth of the practice. When someone finds their right form of practice it´s a life-changing experience. Also, just because you found Power Yoga or Vinyasa at one point, it doesn’t mean that you can´t find Yin Yoga at a later point. Or the other way around. Ther ´s a different physical medicine for each person to be able to find balance and ease. I´ve tried so many different things, I continue try to understand why different things land in a certain way with somebody, even if I personally don’t have an interest in pursuing it.
Patrick says creating comfort within a method will give you a framework to explore what works for you and what doesn´t. It´s important to be open ended and not too rigid. That if you´re rigid in your physical habits your thought patterns probably also follow a rigid path.
PB: I´m not saying this overly metaphorically - we´re such creatures of habits and patterns. If the only way for you to connect and make your practice count is to do it at a specific time in the morning after having a cup of coffee and a shower, you’re building up a setting that is very specific. I´m not saying it´s bad, but maybe you´ve just replaced one set of rules that you wanted to get away from with another set of rules, that are perhaps more rigid than before. One of our mottos is “turning repetition into ritual”. Yoga is very repetitive, regardless of style.
FS: How do you assist students in turning repetition into ritual?
PB: In a number of ways, but the biggest is creating practices that meet people where they are, instead of presenting a class in terms of “this is what it is, and you just have to do it”. I like to see how you can play with the same thing differently. How can you pull on your past experiences, comfort and knowledge, and explore something in a slightly different way?
FS: Would you say this is serious self-inquiry, or is it more fun and play?
PB: It´s both. If you’re always in the space of self-inquiry I think you can become a bit self-obsessed. I believe in being playful and working with an attitude that isn´t terribly serious. What I try to bring into every single class is the sense that “it only matters as much as it matters to you”. Any pose, any transition, any part of the practice – do it only if you care about doing it. I mean, somebody learning handstands is only as relevant as it is to them. It´s fun, you learn a lot of skills, teach yourself to overcome doubts - but if you don’t care about handstands, what does that matter? That doesn’t change who you are as a person. And my honest intention is always to help people find their own space, and to know that it´s OK. I think knowing that it´s OK is such an assuring feeling that so few people have.
FS: There is so much self-doubt. At times it can feel like the most common feeling of our time.
PB: And I have it to. We all have it. Those feelings of self-doubt don’t escape anyone, and you have to work with it over and over again. It´s not like you can fix it once and it is done.
FS: You have to keep patting in on the back. And giving it yoga.
PB: Giving it trust, connection and awareness.
FS: It sounds like that is your personal yoga philosophy, or a part of it?
PB: Oh, massively.
FS: Are you invested in the classical philosophy of India? Are you a reader?
PB: Depends on what level of study you are talking about. I´ve studied a number of different traditions, but not on a scholarly university level. That would be a whole different thing, and not to acknowledge that is a bit naive. All we study in contemporary yoga is basically modern, regardless of the lineage of your practice. But that’s ok, too. I have a friend who said “If you´re doing something that works for you, who´s to tell you it´s not real?” There´s a lot of truth to that as a statement and a belief system.
FS: Also, the same thing can look similar on the outside but can be a completely different internal experience from one person to another person.
PB: We all play different games within this. Finding that experience is fun. It also allows for versatility and parody within your journey. The journey is yours. And if you enjoy what you experience on a regular basis and continue to do so, it doesn’t have to progress in any level of skill as long as you stay curious within it.
I ask Patrick if his mother is still active. He tells me that at 64, she still teaches Yin yoga and some softer classes at their studio platform Commune Online. I ask him if and how his own practice has changed over the years.
PB: My practice when I started was just more aggressive. More handstands, more core work. There was a snappy origin to it, which was just how I felt at the time. It definitely wasn’t about the things I´m talking about today, it was more about doing. Doing the class, giving my best effort, putting myself out there. That’s the mindset of many people in the 20s. Since I was about 29 my practice has become much more introspective, specific and intentional. But nothing happens at the snap of a finger for me, everything takes its sweet little time. It´s been a very gradual shift - which has probably been more mental - but the physical part of the practice is intriguing too, because it has so many layers. You´re experiencing your day to-day life through your physical body and that’s such a gift. It´s something so many people neglect. But it really is an experience that only you can have. It’s a nice thing to own.
FS: Are you experiencing at all that there ae some things you could do back then that you can´t do anymore?
PB: No, not at all. I can do much more now than I could previously. If was still playing basketball, I would have noticed now that I could run slower and jump less high. But I decided to switch long ago to yoga, where I am progressively getting better and better. It´s hard in that way to feel that I´m getting older at all. The only thing that helps me understand the passage of time is the fact that I have a kid. Sh ´s growing, that must mean that I´m getting older too.
Find Patrick on Instagram: @patrickbeach
Check out his studio and online platform: https://www.communeyoga.com/