It is said that eyes are the windows of the soul, and the first thing I notice about Daniel Aaron are sparkling blue eyes that radiate calmness, compassion and knowingness. As the creator of Radiantly Alive, he aims to uplift our world through unique and powerfully transformative yoga experiences. But if you are picturing a white robed, long haired guru in sandalwood beads speaking in mantras, think again. Daniel is very much a modern day yogi (he prefers “human potential guide”) who also happens to make awesome raw chocolate, delves in astrology, runs yoga teacher training programs, and facilitates raw food chef courses. He has been keeping it real in Bali for the past five years with a teaching style and philosophy that is personable, relatable and hands on. This month sees the launch of his Radiantly Alive studio in Ubud.
In a moment of serendipity our meeting coincides with Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud’s annual holistic extravaganza that gathers presenters and participants from around the world in a 5-day celebration of yoga, music, dance. The lush tropical gardens of the Purnati Arts Centre have been transformed into a hive of holistic activity. Amazing feats of balance are taking place in the acro yoga workshop, pure crystal sound resonates from the crystal bowl healing workshop, and down on the lawn people are practicing ‘Hoopnotica’ – the graceful art of hula hooping. I catch Daniel giving a talk in one of the pavilions. His subject is the benefits of a raw food diet, and he describes “Fresh coconuts, tropical fruits, organic salads and raw chocolate as the ideal nourishment for vibrant living.” He is warm and likeable with a tendency to say “y’all” a lot, in a way that is both embracing and endearing; he also has a natural gift for story telling which has the audience hanging on every word. “I have been playing around with stuff to feel better for a long time,” he tells us, tracing the origins of his transformation back 20 years. “I had a standard American sad diet with meat every meal…. I was fat, depressed, and that was on a good day…… I started to think, this isn’t right, what can I do differently ?” Lightness dawned while writing a paper at college about the cruel practice of scientific experiments on animals, this led him into the world of vegetarianism, which became an ethical life choice. He likens this time to a crack in a windshield, which spread slowly but surely in a myriad of spiritual and health-driven directions as he journeyed across the globe, learning from dozens of teachers along the way, living his life luminously, consciously, with full purpose.
His talk over, we head out into the mid day sun in search of fresh drinking coconuts, and wind up immersed in lively conversation as we sink into two squishy white bean bags under the shade of a palm tree. Daniel tells me that intuition led him to Bali – after years of travelling he had reached a crossroad, it was time to be in one place and a friend suggested Ubud. “I love the diversity of people, the fecundity of the land, the creativity that it inspires…. and I love coconuts,” he says. I ask if there was a cataclysmic moment that brought yoga into his life. He responds that a few years down the transformation road, a friend invited him to fire walk. Part of the preparation was a yoga class, “I always thought yoga was for pansies,” he says “so I was surprised to find that I liked it.” He describes Yoga as Alchemy, “You have to put in enough of a challenge and level of difficulty for it to work.” He has a reputation for inspiring people to go beyond what they thought was possible, and tells me that as a teacher he is motivated by “Making people feel more alive, more vibrant, encouraging them to discover, how good can it get?” Feeling good is obviously something that we all aspire to and this leads logically to our next subject. Chocolate! Not mass produced confectionary high in sugar and milk, but the pure, gooey, raw kind, which he makes himself, and has a multitude of health benefits. This is a whole story in itself, suffice to say that when I ask if he has any chocolate with him, he smiles, digs into his bag and produces a container with some of his latest creations. I choose a dainty truffle infused with a hint of cardamom. It’s delicious, so good in fact that I could happily eat the whole lot, but that would be rather cheeky, so I restrain myself and move onto the subject of astrology. “I got into this because I realised it was so powerful in helping me see into myself, the more I learned, the more natural it became to work with other people in it.”
There seems to be a lot of stuff going on in his life and I ask if he has one main focus. “My main passion is helping us all reach into our potential – how happy, alive, healthy, fun, delighted can we be? So all of these things that I am into contribute to that, as the way we do one thing is the way we do everything. We need a multi pronged approach that incorporates all parts of our lives. I love that reaching our potential is impossible, and yet the more we play toward it, the happier we are.”
The photographer arrives and we wander about the festival looking for the right backdrop; a west African dance workshop is underway and the tribal rhythms of the djembe create a lively soundtrack. While interviews can provide a glimpse into someone’s personality, real insight often comes in the unguarded moments when you are just hanging out, and Daniel is super chilled and easy going as we shoot in a number of locations. An initial shyness with the camera surprises me – or perhaps its not shyness, but rather a refreshing sense of humility – an increasing rarity these days when well known yogis are easily engulfed in a cult of celebrity. A sense of playfulness is revealed when he offers to climb into a tree and sit in lotus pose, it doesn’t look so comfortable, but he is committed to the shot and sees it though. I ask him to describe himself in three words and he comes up with “Inspiring” (yes, he has certainly inspired me,) “Quirky” (well, he is sitting in a tree,) and “Discerning” (obvious in his life choices.) I have just one last question; what makes you happy? “Deep honesty, intimacy, being of genuine service, seeing people transform, my daughter, nature, belly laughs, quality, artistry…..”
A few days later I am doing some background research to fill in the gaps and discover that Daniel is also a writer. His thoughts, favourite poems, and inspirational quotes can be found scattered about his blog and websites, I even spot some raw food recipes – including a rather divine looking chocolate smoothie. And then I stumble upon this little gem that just says it all. “Our life is our project. It’s completely what we create. We can make it an exceptional canvas of dreams and inspirations. Everything that passes through us is a brushstroke: each thought, bite of food, every interaction, how we spend our time, where we live. Life is as vibrant, alive, juicy and beautiful as we choose.”