Only Love Is Real: An Interview with MC YOGI
“Imagine hundreds of thousands of people chanting 'ONLY LOVE IS REAL,’” invites MC YOGI on the Kickstarter video for his latest album (which goes by the same name). I pause and reflect, and almost instantly feel a sense of the power an affirmation like this could have.
“Imagine hundreds of thousands of people chanting 'ONLY LOVE IS REAL.'”
Since the release of his first album, “Elephant Power," in 2002, MC YOGI has been known throughout the yoga world not only for his riveting beats, creative, hopeful, poignant lyrics, and energetic and engaging performances, but also for radically shifting our cultural perception about what "yoga music" can be.
Recently I contacted this inspiring artist to discuss everything, from the dynamics of his craft and the impact it’s having on the world, to real-life superheroes and purposeful living. When he’s not on stage, performing at venues such as Wanderlust, Bhakti Fest, and Festival of Colors, you can find him and his wife, Amanda, teaching asana at Yoga Toes Studio in Northern California.
Your music is known for its uplifting, creative synthesis of yoga and hip hop. Could you describe the impact these two philosophies have on one another and how they serve humanity?
Yoga and hip hop serve to bring people together in a peaceful way, at least that was the initial intention behind both cultures. I think yoga has the power to help hip hop stay connected to its soul, the roots of community and creative expression. And hip hop has the power to help modern yoga pass the teachings down the line. After all, yoga is an oral tradition, and there’s nothing better than poetry, rhyme, and rhythm to help carry the teachings down the line.
You and your wife, Amanda, have both studied with Shri Pattabhi Jois. What has been the greatest teaching you’ve received from the Ashtanga lineage thus far?
Stay the course, but be willing to adapt. Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga was exactly what I needed as a teenager. As I grow older, I still practice asana, pranayama, mudra, and bandhas, but now I find myself leaning more toward the meditative practices. When I first came to yoga, fresh from a group home for at-risk youth, I wanted to learn physical tricks that challenged me, so I could show off. Now I’m more interested in learning about the subtle workings of the inner mind and the deeper Self. To me that is much more sustainable and satisfying.
You once said, “If you have a refined ear you can hear the teachings coming from all directions.” How would you describe intuition, and does it come naturally to you?
I think it comes naturally to all of us, but not everybody is willing to be sensitive enough to tune in and receive it. As an artist, a poet, and a yogi, my ability to listen determines how available I am to receive newly inspired lyrics, song ideas, and insights. Listening makes all the difference in the world.
I think it comes naturally to all of us, but not everybody is willing to be sensitive enough to tune in and receive it.
I have a little saying similar to "mind over matter." For me it's "rhyme over chatter." Yoga helps me to tune in and become more aware of what I’m creating inside my own head—what kind of song am I singing to myself and how does it affect my mood? All of us are constantly composing lines in our mind. At some point I decided to turn those lines into rhymes, connecting all my thoughts like dots, creating constellations and mental maps which lead me back to the present moment, which is Divine.
Originally, you dreamed of becoming a comic book artist, but instead became MC YOGI. How do we know once we’ve arrived at our life’s purpose? Would you describe music as yours?
Yeah, for sure, music is definitely a part of my life's purpose. I think a good way to know your life’s purpose, or your sva dharma, is to ask yourself a few simple questions: “Do I love doing this? Would I do it even if I wasn't getting paid? Does it benefit more than just myself? Does it draw me deeper into the space of my own love, inspiration, and bliss?” If so, take it as far as it can go. Pull back the bow, aim the arrow high, and let it fly!
Sometimes you describe yogis as “superheroes.” What are the characteristics of a superhero and how can we channel this energy into our lives?
A superhero is generally a complex person who discovers that, through their own suffering, they’ve gained some kind of special, unique power or skill. The superhero turns that power toward service and helping others to alleviate suffering.
[Being both a] yogi and a superhero comes from dedication to something bigger than your own limited personality, and making sacrifices in order to create something that is truly great and uplifting. To me that is both yogic and heroic.
When your performances come to a close and you’re walking off stage, what do you hope you’ve left people with? What’s your message?
My hope when you come to an MC YOGI show is that you will experience a feeling of inner freedom. Breaking out of the mental cage. Joy, happiness, and permission to peacefully rage! My message is simple, really. Love is the key. Love is the answer and the power that heals. Only love is real. Only love is real. Only love is real.
Which artists are you listening to these days? From your perspective, what particular quality often makes one musician stand out from another?
Right now I’m really loving the latest Trevor Hall record and the acoustic EP by Matisyahu. For me a great musician is someone who can balance making music that they themselves love, and [being] able to creatively bend enough toward current trends to make it accessible for a larger audience. Bob Marley was great at that. I think if you really want to stand out in the music world, you have to truly stand for something. Not something manufactured that people are telling you you should represent, but something that moves inside the deepest part of your heart. Bands like the The Beatles and the Beastie Boys really paved the way with their musical experimentation. They definitely stand out for me. They showed that you can make spiritual music that is also pop music.
You’ve talked about your journey to yoga at length in previous interviews. You mentioned your struggles with substance abuse as a teen, numerous near death experiences, and grief. Could you offer advice for anyone struggling with these same issues?
Develop a personal practice, whether it’s a mantra practice, asana, meditation, reading sacred poetry, or all of the above. Just start, and release the outcome. Building a temple takes time, brick by brick, breath by breath. As my friend Krishna Das likes to say, “gradually but inevitably,” if you practice and point yourself in the right direction, you will ultimately find yourself in a space of great peace, love, and an endless feeling of deep power, presence, and light.
Finally, what’s next for you? What are your future goals and aspirations?
I [just] launch[ed] a Kickstarter campaign in November to support the release of my newest album, “ONLY LOVE IS REAL.” The album features some amazing artists like Matisyahu and Trevor Hall, and it’s going to be awesome!
Kathryn is an associate editor at Yoga International. She found her way to yoga one starry night in Portugal at Monte Sahaja (the ashram of advaita master Mooji). Now she lives at the Himalayan Institute, where she continues her studies. She views yoga primarily as a healing practice that can re-awaken a sense of wonder, purpose, and (to quote one of her teachers, Rolf Sovik) "relentless optimism."