Modern Yoga with Duncan Peak

Understanding the unconscious thought patterns that run your life

Is pain and tragedy a prerequisite for spiritual progress? Probably not, but there are so many examples of how being pushed to the very edge of what is bearable becomes the trigger for awakening and a great motivator for future practice.

This idea was captured so well in the 2000s and 2010s as Hot Power/Vinyasa Yoga made waves in Australia. We saw the exponential rise of stress, high density living, increasingly fast communication, and the recent invention called “social media” with its built-in competition and ambition. All of these things presented (and still do present) a great opportunity for regular people to explore the self and make real commitments to better themselves through spiritual practice.

I remember in my first year of yoga flicking through a Baron Baptiste book and coming across one of his “excavation questions”. The one that left me speechless was: “where in life are you pushing your luck?”

If you had asked me – a young man embracing risk and hedonism – that question face to face I might have replied “anywhere I f**king want to!” But read quietly, in the context of the spiritual teachings of a yoga book, it hit different. It spoke to my conscience. 

Duncan Peak’s Power Living studios located all around Australia, his teacher training programs, and more recently their online training options, have impacted the lives of thousands of people. Many became yoga teachers, and many more became subtle proponents of yogic wisdom in their families, workplaces, and communities all over the world, regardless of their eventual job title. That’s where the real transformation occurs.

Duncan’s book, Modern Yoga, first published in 2014 and now available in a new edition, is the best example of this format I have seen. Along with the staple Ashtanga-inspired vinyasa flow sequences, this book includes more traditional Indian philosophy than many popular modern texts. It’s clear they have chosen to include exotic and potentially difficult concepts, rather than dumb things down. The approach is generous, erring on the side of more rather than less.

With 20,000 copies sold since release, it is no wonder many people count this book as their go-to guide. I bet we would find a good many dog-eared and juice-stained copies in Australian yoga teachers’ homes. Even the page count and layout reflects this – it is a solid book that covers a lot of ground. Well illustrated and structured, it is a great example of how we can really “have it all”, the physical, the orthodox, as well as the streetwise thought exercises that characterise the movement. 

Quick Q&A with Duncan

Duncan recently spoke to me about the concepts in the book and what it is like re-reading it ten years after it was originally published.

Q: Duncan, thanks for the chance to read your book and have a chat. As the peak body for yoga professionals, it’s crucial that Yoga Australia highlights the effort and achievements of members like you (and your team). The whole profession benefits when passionate people fly the flag of yoga for so long!

A: Thank you for the acknowledgement. It has been an amazing 20 years of running and teaching classes at our studios, i feel very humbled to be involved with Yoga in the times we are in and have been through. 

Q: It’s always great talking to yoga teachers with decades of experience. I’ve noticed that sometimes teachers reach a point where they declare that their old manner of practicing (usually a fairly ferocious one) turned out to be misguided, and that softness is now their focus. What do you think about balancing intensity of practice at various stages of life? Does it inevitably become gentle for everyone?

A: I’m not sure if there’s a one-size-fits-all approach. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tempered my asana practice, yet I also took up Jujitsu four years ago at the age of 45. Surprisingly, I find Jujitsu more intense than any asana practice I’ve done. So reducing the intensity of my asana practice wasn’t solely due to age or stage of life—I genuinely enjoy vigorous activities and will continue as long as I can such as surfing etc. However, after two decades of committed Vinyasa practice, I realized my body craved different movements and my mind different challenges. Being mindful as I move is what I have always enjoyed and Jiu jitsu offers that. 

I think we must just honour our natural urges and fulfill our desires mindfully as we journey through our good and bad karma. Vinyasa movement became less significant for me, while meditation has always remained the cornerstone of my practice. It truly depends on the individual, but ultimately, we must respect our bodies’ abilities to move as time goes on. So yes practices & exercise will become gentler for us all…

Q: In the book you draw attention to the paradox of how easy it is to identify limiting beliefs in others, while it can be profoundly difficult to find them in yourself. The tools you suggest are impressively easy to grasp. You’re a father now and I will bet that family has helped you understand more about yourself! But what advice would you give to people who know they definitely will never have children – how might they obtain similar insight?

A: Being a father has allowed me to recognize more limiting beliefs and vasanas. However, I firmly believe that parenthood is not a prerequisite for this journey. Understanding our patterns and identifying the negative ones that hinder us is something accessible to all individuals. It is, in essence, what a yoga practice entails: unraveling the entanglement of egoic notions that define our identity. Interestingly, not having children may grant one more time to authentically engage in this exploration. Nevertheless, fatherhood remains one of the most profound experiences of my life, and the stage of being a householder is truly beautiful. Yet, whether one has children or not, the inner work is imperative for cultivating a deep sense of fulfillment and a life well-lived.

Q: In the section on positive attitude in your book you share that your tough upbringing has made it hard at times to assume the best of people. How has it been integrating this teaching – are you better at it all these years later?

A: I am less concerned about it now, as my sense of worth does not rely on others. The safety I have sought for many years has been within me as i grew into an adult, making me more adept at handling it. When I teach, I encourage students to practice Mudita, a positive and optimistic outlook on life. This mindset applies even in challenging times and difficult situations. It’s a more peaceful way of being and our consciousness we choose right now, determines our future so why wouldn’t we want to practice Mudita. However It does not mean blindly trusting others or accepting harmful behaviors. Rather, it is an effort to foster positivity in one’s own life and connection to the world. On a practical level, I still encourage people to assume positive intentions while maintaining a realistic understanding of the world we live in. 

Q: Is there an aspect of yoga and spiritual life not covered in the book that you would really like to write about – something you’d still like to voice in this life when the time is right?

A: I’m excited to introduce YogiMind, a course I’ll be launching soon. It revolves around the concept of Purushartha, the four aims of human life, serving as a guide to discover contentment in this world. Personally, it has been a guiding light for me and, to some extent, helped me achieve fulfillment in a life well lived! I strongly believe it can make a difference in the lives of others too. Stay tuned for more updates!

Thanks again mate, we appreciate your energy though the roller-coaster of the last few years. The perseverance of people like you, along with the pioneers in the 1980s and 90s has set the stage for the next phase of yogic proliferation in our evolving society.

CPD Short Course
(Free for Members)

Duncan has been kind enough to create a CPD Short Course free of charge for all Yoga Australia members. It is called Modern Yoga and gives 1 CPD point to any member that completes the course.

Topics include:

  • Maha Vrata (the great vow)
  • Transcending suffering by understanding the kleshas and studying the self
  • Types of Karma we encounter
  • Understanding unconscious thought patterns that can run your life