Andrew Wrenn. Born in 1970 in Berlin, West Germany, on a British army base where both his parents worked for the military. Moved back with his family to the north of England, aged three. A strong, calm appearance with a soothing voice. Feels at home in the northern countries. Partner of Francesca Giusti, father of three children, and yoga man through and through.
Andrew, let's start with yoga. What were your first experiences of practising yoga?
Well…the first time I went to a yoga class was somewhere in my late twenties, to accompany my sister, who was ill at that time. Someone had said that yoga would be good for her. So I went with her just a couple of times. Being young, I was a little apprehensive...not letting myself go in the practice in the beginning. Also, I was pretty stiff at that time. I used to lift weights and had a physical job so I was not able to do most of the poses. But yeah, that was my first taste of yoga. And although I didn't continue the lessons then, I guess a seed was installed somewhere…that there was something deeper behind it.
I read somewhere that you studied biology?
Yes, for a while. I started off studying environmental science. I guess as a young teenager I wanted to save the world. But I didn't feel completely settled. It was all about what went wrong, about catastrophes...it had this negative outlook. And there comes a time when you accept that the world is not an ideal place. So, yeah, I transferred to do pure biology. Which was all right…until I started to work in a laboratory. After three days I left. It wasn't for me.
You didn't like the work?
It had great prospects, study-wise, but it didn't feel right. You know, I always did different physical jobs also, during my study. My father became a builder after the military, so ever since I’ve been able to push a wheelbarrow...I've been pushing wheelbarrows! I always liked it, working outside. It felt like a crime to spend time all day inside a laboratory. So I quit and became self-employed. I always loved nature and plants, so I bought a piece of land on which I created and shaped an organic garden. It was a sanctuary for me. I spent a lot of time there, gardening, making little fires and sitting down to contemplate. I used to take people up there, and they were very enthusiastic about what I did. So little by little I started to do things for others. So eventually this became my job, creating and tending gardens.
Sounds like that made you happy...
In fact, I experienced some of the most spiritual moments I've had in my life while gardening, before practising any yoga. And I can recognise these moments now from different meditational states. I loved the work. Spending all day raking leaves, while every now and then the wind would blow them away, and you just start again…you experience the depth of simply being, the connectedness of everything.
We are always looking for purpose. But when your pile of leaves is blown away and you have to start again, you realise there is no purpose. You are just there, doing what you are doing. This has taught me to see beauty—even when you’re not comfortable. Imagine a day in February, working outside…your feet are cold and rain is going down the back of your jacket…and suddenly you see this spider web, glistening and perfect, just hanging there…I remember many moments like that while gardening, becoming aware of pure beauty.
So...how did yoga come into your life again?
Well, many things had happened by then. My sister, who was three years younger than me, had been ill for some time. She had cancer and finally died. Being there during that whole process was…that had a huge impact on my life. I think it made me an angry person in many ways, with a lot of resentment, especially spiritually…what was the point, you know? But it was also one of the reasons I started to look for a deeper meaning of life, I guess. When I turned thirty my health was deteriorating. I've had asthma for a long time and it got worse. I went to the doctor and he doubled my medication, telling me sorry, there was nothing else he could do. That's when I knew I had to make a profound change.
What did you do?
I never picked up the prescription but went straight to the library across the street. I went to the health section and picked up a book. A book on breathing. It was written by a yoga teacher, simple stuff, breathing exercises. I started doing them and felt the benefits within a couple of weeks. Enough to keep me going. It took away the anxiety of not being able to breathe, so that was a huge change already.
It took away the anxiety of not being able to breathe, so that was a huge change already.
You did that all by yourself?
Yeah...when I finished the book I went back to the library and found another one in the sales: Light on Yoga, by Iyengar. I still have it! Because I was self-employed, and having the children as well, I could choose moments to practise. So when the babies were asleep for an hour, I'd do the asanas. I practised in my underwear, in the hallway…I didn't even have a mat!
So when the babies were asleep for an hour, I'd do the asanas. I practiced in my underwear, in the hallway…I didn't even have a mat!
During my lunch I would read the first part of the book, about the philosophy, I was hungry for that too, not only for doing the physical practice. I wasn't brought up religious, but I always thought there was more to life. And I always liked the discipline, maybe because of my upbringing…I practised every day, for two years, from the same book.
You didn't think of taking any lessons?
No, it was just that for me. Just my own thing, my passion. But finally, at the end of the book, it was mentioned that you should find a teacher. So I did and tried different classes, different teachers. And because I was used to practising alone, I felt quite nervous in the beginning…but it was all right, and gradually I started to feel at home in the yoga world, with the incense, the whole atmosphere. I loved every bit of it. I went through more and more changes, like becoming vegetarian, and it all felt very natural. And I was really keen on learning!
So when did you start teaching yourself?
Well, somebody said to me I should do the teacher training. But that didn't appeal to me at first. I didn't see myself in front of a group of people at all! Then my teacher, a woman, she put me on the list for a foundation course, so I went. As it turned out, I was the only fellow in a class of twenty…me, coming from a male-dominated builders world! But it was very good, I really liked it. And I remember doing my first class, I covered for somebody and it was one of the most nerve-wracking things I've ever done. I thought it was just a normal class, you know, but the only people present were three teachers and the best student…it was a nightmare…but, yeah…in a few weeks I started to do more and more classes.
So you must have done something good!
Yeah, yeah….after a while I was able to make the cross-over to teaching yoga instead of doing the landscaping. I still loved that, but yoga was more important to me now. It was a way of life, and I loved it. Not in the least because I was without medication at that point. That was so liberating, such a change in my life!
Wow, I can imagine. How did your teaching develop after that?
I went to workshops in different countries, including in India, met many different teachers. And I learned from all of them. I was never attracted to a particular style of yoga; it was more about the spark the teacher would give. And I guess I was always hungry for more, to really get to the heart of what yoga means, physically and spiritually. When I look back I think I was disregarding myself sometimes. I used to put my body through very challenging things. That's different now…
What do you want to bring across in your classes now?
It is more and more about sharing love to me, that sparkle. Once you love yourself—and that's a fairly recent thing, you know—I came to recognise that underneath emotions like anger and impatience there is a connectedness with everything, an underlying love if you want. In my interpretation, it's all about recognising this. To sit still and feel this constant that is always there. I'm not that thought, not that resentment that sometimes comes up about things that happened in the past.
To sit still and feel this constant that is always there. I'm not that thought, not that resentment that sometimes comes up about things that happened in the past.
And this I want to share with people, becoming aware of this constant background. There is this beautiful line from Keats saying: "Beauty is truth, truth is beauty. That's all we need to know." And that's it. Recognising this.
Why teach for Ekhart Yoga?
Of course it's a great podium to reach people! And I like the idea of all these international teachers under the umbrella of yoga. Not just teachers, but teachers with integrity, all contributing in their own inspired and true way. I love being a part of that.
Last question, Andrew: How do you see yourself in ten years?
In ten years’ time…I'd like to think that I could be so at ease with myself that I could be anywhere. Live somewhere simple, just enjoying the richness of life, the essence. There's a word in yoga, "Santosha," meaning contentment. I hope to experience Santosha. It's not where I am or even who I am with. Just to experience that grace, that contentment…I couldn't ask for anything else, could I?