When most Westerners think of yoga they envision a hot, sweaty room filled with people contorted into crazy postures. For many, it is a way to keep our bodies toned and supple, a stress reliever, or just the latest workout craze. Only the true yogi knows that yoga stretches far beyond the physical. It is a perfect union between our bodies, minds, and spirits—it is a way of life, a way of honoring and giving back to our selves and to others. While he may be a Western by birth, Derik Mills understands this. And he’s looking for converts.
Growing up with a mother who worked as a high school language teacher (she taught German and Spanish at his high school) and a father who was a professor of Psychology, Derik was lucky—his whole family had their summers off! While school days were spent in northern New Jersey, most summers were spent with Derik’s maternal grandparents in Germany. The lifestyles he became familiar with were in stark contrast with one another, and from an early age Derik saw that there are different ways to live, different cultures, and different perspectives in our world.
As he grew older, Derik took on his father’s fascination with the human condition. What is our purpose? Why do we behave the way we do? Are there essential qualities or threads that bind all humans together, no matter our beliefs or lifestyle? All these questions and more rolled around in Derik’s mind. His father gave him a book on the human brain and it so spoke to him that he decided to major in chemistry, not really knowing what he wanted to do with it but just knowing he wanted to KNOW more, to understand more about life. In 1996, while still a college student, Derik took a class that blew his mind wide open. The course examined the Bhagavad Gita and other ancient texts that many people consider religious scriptures. Through his studies Derik came to discover these texts were actually less about religious dogma and more about the process of life. From this beginning, Derik’s study of yoga was now underway.
Derik spent his early twenties feeling a bit lost. His friends were all getting jobs or PhDs, settling down into what was deemed “normal” and expected of them. Derik just couldn’t bring himself to join the club. The “supposed to” activities just didn’t seem right for him at the time, there was so much out there he wanted to experience. After working in Germany for a short time he bought himself an around-the-world ticket and went exploring. As he traveled the world he saw so many powerful things that moved him. He witnessed suffering, injustice, and corruption; he also encountered goodness, kindness, and merriment. It all impressed upon him a very deep sense of an underlying humanity we all seem to have, a silvery thread of beautiful intent that connected everyone he came into contact with and made him see that we are all one, no matter who we are or where we live. His experiences had a profound effect on him; he knew this understanding of connection was important. What to with it all, however, eluded him.
“As a traveler, he had the opportunity to learn about the human condition and tune into more of his intellectual and spiritual side. As a businessman, he was satisfying… components of himself that had come from growing up surrounded by commerce [and] wealth.”
Still in his wandering phase, Derik met an Australian girl in India and wound up moving to Sydney with her. He went back to school to earn a masters degree in neuropsychology, still intrigued by the human condition. Derik spent his time studying, surfing, attending class, and hanging out with his new girlfriend and her family. Over time he got to know her father, a successful property developer in Sydney. The man was an inspiration in the way that he brought together various people from different backgrounds to make large projects happen, and used his business acumen to also provide for social development, incorporating things like parks, theaters, and other places of social connection into his designs.
One day, after returning to Australia from a business trip to Italy, he showed Derik this unique-looking collapsible plastic crate he’d found overseas and told him that if Derik researched it and found that the product did not already exist in Australia, he’d let Derik use his secretary, company, and all his connections to bring it into the country and they’d split the profits 50-50. So Derik did! And, he wound up paying for much of his degree with the profits from the new venture. The experience showed Derik that business was much more interesting than he’d credited it to be and midway through his studies he switched into a business master’s program. Finally, he was on a track. But he still didn’t know where it would lead.
Just as he was finishing up his master’s degree in Sydney, a modeling agent approached Derik as he was coming out of the water after a surf session. Derik didn’t pay any attention to the “you should be a model” attention; after all he was in the middle of finals and had several good business opportunities waiting in the wings. A few days later, however, he ran into the scout again. This time, Derik thought a little harder. If it didn’t take any real effort on his part, if all he had to do was stand in front of a camera and would make some money doing it, why not? He agreed.
His first gig was on the Australian cover of GQ magazine. A few weeks later he was given a direct booking in Germany for $15,000. From there he was set up with an agency in New York and began modeling all over the world. For two and a half years he modeled, first working for the Ford agency and later IMG. At work he was exposed to an amazing underworld full of creative gypsies and talented photographers, art directors, and stylists. In his downtime he perused the shelves in Barnes & Noble bookstores, reading and thinking up business ventures. Then, on a job in Japan, he met important business contacts, people who discussed with him a need for suppliers for parts and services for semiconductor manufacturing systems in Asia. It was another opportunity to really, seriously start putting the pieces together.
By late 2001, Derik found himself living and working in New York City. Modeling was coming to a close and he was working on starting up DMH International, his supply company for parts and services for semiconductor manufacturing systems in Japan and Korea. Although he was successfully merging into the business world, he was still feeling kind of lost. As a wandering traveler, he had the opportunity to learn about the human condition and tune into more of his intellectual and spiritual side. As a businessman, he was satisfying other aspects of himself, components that had come from growing up surrounded by the commerce, wealth, and bustle of New York City. He was in desperate need of some sort of unity, a connection between his two halves.
Years after he’d begun studying yogic philosophy Derik finally got acquainted with the physical exercise of yoga. The physical asanas and breathing techniques he learned in classes were calming and centering. Although he was quite distracted at the beginning, the physical practice of yoga became Derik’s reentry into himself. “In the early texts, there is no mention of the exercise version of yoga that we think of today. That came later. The exercise portions were designed to prepare the body to be able to sit for long periods of time. I grew up playing sports my entire life, so I’ve always had a strong physical activity level. Merging the physical with the philosophical is something that I found quite interesting.”
DMH International officially launched in 2003. For the first time Derik was entirely responsible for all aspects of a business. But deep down he had a feeling. Once the fascination with setting up this new venture had worn off Derik realized that all this was a great introduction to creating something of his own, on his own, but the business just wasn’t him. He needed to create something that was fully himself, something that fused all his own beliefs and interests into one, unified whole. He needed yoga. “I didn’t know how to put it into action or exercise, this need. All of these different elements of myself converging together were kind of like light going into a prism and coming out in one beam to result in Yogaglo. Yogaglo came out of that desire to create something that was ME, a true expression of myself.”
One day, while stuck in traffic on the way to a yoga class, Derik had an inspiring thought. What if the yoga studio had a camera in the back of the classroom? Instead of sitting in traffic, getting all stressed out, or staying at home and doing yoga with a non-interactive DVD teacher, what if he could essentially get beamed into a real class with real people while practicing at home? How cool would that be! After looking into the concept and realizing it didn’t exist, Derik set out to create it—Yogaglo (http://www.yogaglo.com/). At first Derik struggled with the idea. He didn’t want to just have an online yoga studio. He wanted Yogaglo to be fully consistent with the essence of yoga and all its aspects. If he couldn’t create something that honored the thousands of years of yoga’s development, it wouldn’t be true to himself. It wouldn’t be something of which he could be proud.
“My girlfriend at the time was ready to commit me to a mental institution! She’d come home from her job as a lawyer and find me in a mountain of books, looking through thousands of years of history, making sure I was aligning myself with the true process of what yoga really is.”
In addition to his philosophical considerations, there were technological complications too. The specialized camera system he needed for the studio didn’t exist on the open market, yet he wound up buying it before it was officially available. People voiced concerns that users wouldn’t want to log on to the web site and see students’ sweaty butts in down dog in front of him (his argument to that: “You are a member of the class, not a viewer. You are supposed to be in position, too, not looking at onscreen butts!”) In addition, the production companies he talked with were used to a post-production process where they could clean things up and present a beautiful, finished product. What he envisioned didn’t allow for that. But Derik wasn’t after the product. He wanted the process.
In the end, his vision has resulted in a portal that does indeed seem to combine all aspects of yoga. He has a studio space in Santa Monica, California, where members can take classes in person. And, there is the web presence, where you can take virtual classes. In addition to the physical offerings, the Yogaglo web site provides free, academically robust lectures and interviews with inspiring people on “Yoga and ____________.” Yogaglo also gives 5% of its profits to nonprofits and hosts parties for different nonprofit organizations at the Santa Monica base. Teachers are paid under a profit-sharing business model so that they may reap financial rewards and be a part of the bigger picture. In all of these ways, Derik hopes to present the true nature of yoga to the world.
“Yoga is essentially an ancient mapping of the human condition. Part of what I’m trying to do is present yoga in a way that doesn’t invoke any prior conditioning in terms of what people might think. I wanted to create a space relatively free of iconography. I wanted to create a vehicle for social change. I wrote a letter to President Obama asking for an interview on yoga and politics. This yoga process is something we all have in common and it’s my mission to share that. If exercise is what it takes to engage in that process, than that’s your individual approach. The idea is that we’re covering the spectrum.”
He may work harder, longer hours these days, but Derik is now happier and more content than ever. People from all over the world send him emails about the Yogaglo web site, telling him how cool it is to feel like you are in a real class or the yogic dots they’ve been able to connect in their own lives thanks to something they learned through Yogaglo. Finally, he has bridged his own gaps and at the same time made an offering to the world in true yogic style.
“So much of this was just built on intuition. My father is big picture thinker and my mother is more survivalist. I’ve had to harness equally both forces and honor my own nature, which is quite compassionate and patient by default. There are a lot of aspects of the yoga process that just are me. I look at myself now, and I’m more like my child self than I’ve been in a long time! There may be a lot of responsibility, but I feel more childlike and playful now than before taking it on. When you are doing something that is thoroughly you, it doesn’t feel like work in the same way. It’s a great process, when you put together things and expressions—it is quite a joy. Participating in something larger than yourself is powerful.”
Thank you Derik , for sharing your Story with us.
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