Photos: Erik Isakson
Eoin Finn is probably not the first guy to get a great idea while lying in a hammock. But he may be the only one whose great idea was that more people ought to lie in hammocks. Not that Finn himself gets many such opportunities: At 44, this yogi is Canada’s hardest-working relaxation advocate.
Over the last decade, Finn has instructed hundreds of yoga teachers and trainers. His seven platinum-selling DVDs and free podcasts (with titles like “Tragically Hips” and “Yoga for Short Attention Spans”) have reached thousands more. Blissology, the company he founded in 2000, does brisk business in books, T-shirts, necklaces and yoga gear. He has taught NHL players and Olympic athletes. He tours constantly, and his classes—held from Halifax to Bali—are packed, despite minimal advertising. His fans even have a name: the Bliss Army. Finn has also stirred controversy thanks to an unconventional approach: the belief one can be utterly devoted to yoga, but still laugh about it.
Last August, at the Wanderlust yoga convention in Whistler, B.C., Finn introduced a variation on a technique called pranayama, in which students breathe in good intentions and exhale “what no longer serves you.” Finn told his class to sprinkle their good intentions onto imaginary paper, roll up an “intention joint,” then smoke it. To Finn, the lesson seemed unmistakable: everything we need comes from within, so drugs aren’t required. But when a photo of the exercise was later posted to the blog It’s All Yoga, Baby, it drew sharp criticism. “This is the dumbest thing I have seen in awhile,” fumed one commentator. “Are there people out there who are actually trying to make yoga a laughingstock?”
Yes—and no. “Yoga is serious business,” says Finn, who is a fierce believer in maintaining tradition. He contends, however, that the millennia-old practice, once premised on spiritual self-mastery, has been hijacked by obsessives striving for the perfect pose. Finn wants to jolt students out of that hard-core
stance. “One of yoga’s goals is to detach you from daily life. Humour can shatter attachment.”
“Yoga can often feel like boot camp,” agrees Deanna Spadafora, a manager at a yoga studio who was there that day. “Eoin told us to throw away our mats—to swim like fish, wriggle like snakes, do karate and surfing moves. It’s high energy and almost silly at times. There’s a real freedom and lightness to him.”
Finding unconventional and sometimes irreverent ways to tap into what Finn calls “yoga’s message of love, kindness and awe” is an idea he picked up from the late American scholar Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth. Campbell—who famously told his audiences, “Follow your bliss”—believed that mystical experiences were still possible, but we needed to reintroduce them to the modern era. “The old models aren’t working,” Finn says. “I’m trying to find something that speaks to people.”