"I have made a career out of my shame and rage. I'm using it for good now," says yoga instructor Will Blunderfield, whose debut CD, Hallelujah, is being released on Nettwerk Records' affiliate Nutone Music in July.
In a city where it's common to encounter yogier-than-thou types who view yoga as just another competitive quest for perfection, Blunderfield cuts a unique figure.
"If Johnny Depp and Richard Simmons had a baby, it would be me," laughs yoga instructor and musician Will Blunderfield.
(George Smeltzer photo)
Demanding that his students shake their asanas and embrace themselves regardless of any abuse they may have experienced because of their sexual or gender identity, race or size, Blunderfield forgoes the soft chanting and nature CDs in favour of Pink, Lady Gaga and Jiminy Cricket.
"If Johnny Depp and Richard Simmons had a baby, it would be me," laughs the homoflexible Blunderfield, decked out in his usual bandana and sporting a generous application of black eyeliner.
His fan base is growing. From the alcoholic who started attending AA meetings to the woman who left an abusive relationship after taking classes with Blunderfield, his students tell him his message packs a positive punch.
A dad brought his recently out teen son to a class and gave Blunderfield a heads up beforehand that he thought the experience would be good for his son. Afterwards, "the kid said, 'Thanks man, that was awesome.' I've gotten a few comments from parents that this is good for kids... It does feel good to hear that," he says.
While he admits his brand of yoga "isn't the most pleasing style to traditional yogis," he insists it serves a purpose nonetheless. "I know that what I'm doing is helping a lot of people, so I'm just going to keep listening to my heart."
Blunderfield's self-awareness didn't come easy. "I didn't really have any role models when I was in high school, and it was really difficult for me. I didn't have a practice like yoga to ground me in the knowledge that there's nothing wrong with me."
Blunderfield recalls wearing makeup and platform boots to a school talent show he was writing about for the yearbook. "I remember the guy who was coordinating the event saying, 'You better watch your back.' That was sort of a running theme throughout high school. It was hard. I was bullied; not as bad as another kid in my grade who was more out there. I tried to be out there and then I'd get attacked and I'd sort of shrink."
Blunderfield discovered empowerment through yoga in New York, after a teacher at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy told his class to take a class to improve their performance.
"If you're going to be a singer, confidence is such a huge thing," Blunderfield explains. "When we practise the postures with a tall spine and a calm breath, testosterone goes up and stress hormones go down. So you start to feel more confident just through your body language and your posture."
He has even been back to West Vancouver High School, where he was once bullied, to teach yoga. "I think we can use yoga to help forward a society that is more equal, where people aren't judging each other. I like the philosophy that we're all equal in yoga, moving as one in a group."
Yoga also opened new musical possibilities to Blunderfield. Hallelujah fuses pop with Sanskrit chanting, or Kirtan. He approached Nettwerk CEO Terry McBride, who is also CEO of YYoga where Blunderfield teaches, to listen to his demo.
Blunderfield's unique sound was initially a tough sell to Nutone, a label dedicated to traditional yoga and meditation music. However, "they were willing to take a chance on me because they saw that people were enjoying it -- it was uplifting."
Kirtan music, says Blunderfield, is meant to elevate the listener out of shame, insecurity and fear, with the ultimate goal of spreading love. This is a message he now weaves through all of his work.
"I teach what I need. When you come to my class, you'll see someone healing himself. When you listen to my album, it's somebody trying to heal himself. I believe that when you heal yourself, that energy is available to everyone around you," he says.