Derek was larger than life. He was the sort of person who walked into a crowded room and everyone there would turn to notice and gravitate towards him. Of course he understood this. He held court like any royalty or rockstar. Unabashed and loving the attention like a child. He would have everyone joining him, laughing and recounting all his many adventures.Derek had this marvellous ability to make everyone feel involved. He did not leave anyone out. All the outsiders, those shy people, freaks, he would draw into his bright light. I was one of them. Terribly shy and full of insecurity. Derek taught me so much. Everything about Ashtanga Yoga. How not to take yourself too seriously and the power of forgiving. People used to make a joke about us being “little Dereks!” I did not feel annoyed at this jibe, in fact I felt proud and special. I remember memorising the whole of Derek’s taped audio of his lead class word for word, even his jokes during class. I really wanted to be him! In the end he helped me be more of myself. A huge gift.
Derek was a taskmaster in the class. A mixture of inspiration, cajoling and humour got us through hot and intense yoga. I have never worked so hard and laughed so much in a practice since those electrifying practices with him. Derek was a firm believer in the yoga without the thrills. It was all very practical with him. He once stated that he didn’t believe in all the ‘mumble jumble’ but in reality he really did live the Nyamas and Yammas of the yoga. His way was simple. Just Do it! Derek could get anyone doing yoga. All walks of life, age, body type. It was as if you were entitled and expected, owed it to Derek. He was infectious. You wanted to please him. I saw this many times. He willed people to do the yoga. Even people who would never try yoga EVER. They did it for him.
Derek had a hard work ethic. He did not suffer layabouts well. He wanted you to give your best. Always wanted to see you working hard. This was true outside of class too. No skiving! Most of the things or “jobs” he wanted you to do while tending to the upkeep of the yoga Centre in Crete required huge effort, nerve, and considerable danger to life. I remember a little job he had me do on a high cliff side throwing a years supply of empty glass bottles off the top of the cliff into the sea. His idea by example was just to pick up the whole box and chuck it out into the sea. Dangerous but oh so fun! It had to be large, hair brained and Superman dangerous.
In fact Derek was one of the most accident prone people I have ever met. He once fell out of a tree and impaled himself on a branch, or the time he blew himself up with a camper stove and ended up in hospital with 3rd degree burns. He spent the time in headstand with the TV upside down so he could watch the World Cup in his room. The doctors were impressed with the speed he recovered with very little scarring. All these reckless things he did were recounted in his great story telling. Laughing at the hardships and pain; a trademark of Derek.
His stories where epic and funny. Like the time he was doing yoga nude in an Indian guest house with a hot water kettle gong full blast to heat the room even more, making the wall paper come loose from the wall from the head and peel down over him as an unsuspecting tea wallah came into the room with a big shock. In true fashion, Derek did not flinch. He carried on like it was normal, wallpaper falling over him and a haze of steam all starkers!
Derek was also notoriously late for most engagements. I once waited for him with a group of students for over an hour and a half to do yoga. When he arrived like a rockstar no one had left or was annoyed. Only happy. I remember asking Derek if I could begin teach yoga. It was important for me to get his blessing. It was a golden Goan Bagga beach day and I remember it like it was yesterday. Derek just grunted a begrudged “yes.” That was the most important day of my life. Derek was my teacher and that yes sent me on my way.
Derek gave me a future, a lifestyle, a yoga family, a belonging. He took a shy, reclusive boy and turned him into a man. He gave me confidence and the great great ability to forgive. He taught me so much. The Shala yoga centre in London is dedicated to Derek.
I am sorry not to be with you in this celebration. I am with my father in Paris after he has had a shoulder replacement surgery. My heart is with you.
Namaste and Aloha