In honor of International Yoga Day, we interviewed Spiritual Gangster founders Ian Lopatin and Vanessa Lee to learn more about our origins and how yoga played an integral part in the beginnings of the brand. Read on for how Spiritual Gangster became what it is today.
Take us back to the roots of the brand. What was the spark that inspired you to start Spiritual Gangster?
Ian: We used to own yoga studios called At One Yoga in Arizona and taught yoga all over the world. I would teach yoga and play hip hop, rap music — Puffy, Biggie, Nelly, 50 Cent and add in Bob Marley, Michael Jackson . . anything with a great beat. After one of our classes, a friend said, “You’re like a gangster...a SPIRITUAL gangster." We loved that line so much we started making t-shirts to sell in our yoga studios. Vanessa ran our stores and also had a background as a retail buyer, so we began selling them in other yoga studios and stores. We ended up selling our yoga business to Lifetime Fitness and began focusing on Spiritual Gangster and growing the movement and the brand. We wanted to spread the wisdom we learned studying yoga, spirituality, and wellness with a larger community. We are one of the original wellness / athleisure fashion brands.
Vanessa: We were around some of the greatest yoga and spiritual teachers in the world — Dharma Mittra, Shiva Rea, Wayne Dyer, Bryan Kest and many more. The knowledge they had was incredible, and I thought it would be amazing to share some of what we were learning with the world through our new brand. One example of a mantra I loved was a Sanskrit mantra that translated to “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.“ It changed my world forever and set the tone for what Spiritual Gangster would later become.
What does it mean to be a “Spiritual Gangster”?
Ian: To be part of a movement of positivity. To manifest, to be in the portal, to be happy and spread good vibes and be joyful. To be grateful, to give back and make a difference. It means to be tuned into nature and your environment, and to spread positive vibrations. We are the source of everything in our lives and we should take complete responsibility. Finding your bliss, living your best life. Learning and growing. We are in an expanding universe, and as Spiritual Gangsters, it’s all about learning the lessons and improving in all areas of life. We are constantly raising our vibrations and leveling up. It is also about having fun and enjoying all that we are doing.
Vanessa: Yes agree. To be a Spiritual Gangster can be so many different things to different people (which is what I love about it). But for me, it all comes down to positivity, wellness, and true kindness — high vibration living. I think people now more than ever are wanting to experience and learn what spirituality means for them, and that’s such a personal and beautiful thing. At the same time, we are starting to recognize that we are all connected, we are one. We see Spiritual Gangster as a community of people looking to raise their vibration and to raise the vibration of the world around them.
Spiritual Gangster has such a beautiful mission to inspire positivity, generosity, kindness, and connectedness. What are some simple ways we can inspire people to do the same?
Ian: We are all about community. Doing simple things like being kind, helping others and smiling. We believe in being generous and sharing. We love to teach — whether it’s spiritual practices, sharing insights, books, helping others learn and grow and assisting our community in waking up and becoming wiser, healthier and happier. We are partners with Feeding America and we contribute time and participate in local food banks, in addition to donating a meal for every product sold online. We like to lead by example and inspire others to be more generous with their resources. We are all connected.
Vanessa: I hope that we are inspiring people by sharing these important messages and that they will gravitate towards the ones that are meaningful to them. We hope to encourage people to give back to their communities in whatever ways they can — whether it be something as simple as a smile or asking someone how they are, or through programs like the ones we are involved with at SG such as Feeding America or #HashtagLunchbag. A big part of our belief system is that whatever you want to grow in your own life, you need to share it with others first.
How do you incorporate yoga principles in your everyday life?
Ian: Yoga has taught us about connection. We have been really inspired by Sadhguru’s practices and his inner engineering, as well as many other incredible teachers. I meditate and do breathing exercises and yoga postures every day. Yoga has opened me up and I’ve become healthier and more flexible, and it has led me to many other practices that have become part of my daily routine — cold plunges, tai chi, many pranayama and other breathing exercises and journaling goals and gratitudes.
Vanessa: I still practice yoga almost every day, but the principles of ashtanga yoga (the Yamas and Niyamas) are a huge foundation of my life. I believe in karma, in choosing happiness and in manifesting a life you love — so mindfulness, meditation, and staying present are all critical to me. Also, I know that at any time of day I can come back to my breath and center myself, just as we learn to do in yoga class. Yoga on the mat is really just practice for everything we experience off the mat — how do I respond to difficult things, how can I stay calm when something is challenging, how can I find joy in something I find difficult — all of this is what I practice when I practice yoga.
What is your current favorite mantra?
Ian: How you do anything is how you do everything.
Vanessa: Currently my mantra is simply “thank you.” Living in a state of gratitude all day, at every moment. I wake up with this mantra in my mind and go to bed repeating it every day. Also, if any anxiety or stress arises in my day, it helps me to immediately shift my perspective to one of gratitude and it changes the tone of whatever I’m experiencing. Another one I love is “Everything is gonna be alright” (in Bob Marley’s voice of course).