Kilted Yoga star Fin­lay Wil­son

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CONTENTS -

YOU may not re­mem­ber Fin­lay Wil­son’s face straight away, but you might recog­nise his bare back­side. Ear­lier this year, the Scottish yoga teacher posted a video on YouTube which showed him and a friend do­ing yoga in kilts, com­plete with a cheeky fi­nal shot of Fin­lay prov­ing that he favours the no-un­der­wear rule. Within an hour, the video had a mil­lion views. Within two hours, two mil­lion, and to date it has been watched 56 mil­lion times. Sud­denly, Fin­lay, a 30-year-old yoga teacher from Dundee, was prop­erly famous.

To­day, his fame con­tin­ues to grow – there’s a new book, Kilted Yoga, about to be pub­lished, he’s in daily de­mand for self­ies, and he has a loyal fol­low­ing on so­cial me­dia. Most days, on Twit­ter or Face­book, you can see Fin­lay, in his mus­ke­teer mous­tache and multi-coloured leg­gings, strik­ing a yoga pose, some­times with his res­cue dog Amaloh by his side, some­times with his part­ner Alan, who’s also a yoga teacher. The pic­tures, like the YouTube video, sug­gest a young guy who’s phys­i­cally fit and emo­tion­ally fit too: sorted, serene.

Ex­cept that it’s ac­tu­ally more com­pli­cated than that. On the whole, Fin­lay is in a pretty happy state just now, run­ning his yoga busi­ness from a con­verted church in Dundee, and con­tin­u­ing to lap up the warmth and af­fec­tion that’s come his way since the Kilted Yoga video (as well as the naked

Ba­si­cally, if I didn’t throw up in the night, it wasn’t a suc­cess­ful day. Most days be­tween the ages of 18 and 19, I would eas­ily get through a litre of vodka be­fore lunch – I was mis­er­able

sex­ual at­trac­tion, mainly from straight women). He also es­chews the usual po-faced ap­proach to yoga and treats it with a sense of hu­mour – that was the whole point of the video, he says: just as every­one was start­ing to take it se­ri­ously, he flashed his bum. His mes­sage was: chill out, be happy, but have a laugh as well.

But, as any­one who knows Fin­lay will tell you, his own hap­pi­ness – found through yoga – has not come that eas­ily. At his stu­dio, he shows me the War­rior 2 pose: front leg at 90 de­grees, back leg straight, arms out like a hu­man let­ter T. This is the ex­er­cise he uses to get back to nor­mal af­ter a stress­ful day, held for eight to 10 breaths, but in to­tal he does 90 min­utes of yoga ev­ery day, on top of the classes he teaches. He does that much be­cause he needs to. Yoga has worked for him, it’s mended him, and brought him hap­pi­ness, although the hap­pi­ness has only come af­ter a lot of sad­ness.

Fin­lay’s prob­lems – a strug­gle with low self-es­teem, al­co­holism, de­pres­sion as well as sex abuse – go back to a place that al­most every­one who’s gay will recog­nise: strug­gling to come to terms with it. Fin­lay grew up in the 90s in La­nark and says that in many ways it was a pretty un­com­fort­able place for a gay per­son to be; not only did he live in a small ru­ral com­mu­nity, his fam­ily were Chris­tians and Fin­lay was among the most re­li­gious of them all. What bet­ter place is there to hide than in a church? “It was: ‘look at me, good Chris­tian boy’,” says Fin­lay.

He also had nu­mer­ous painful ex­pe­ri­ences pre­tend­ing to be straight. “I didn’t come out un­til I was 19 and even then I al­most felt co­erced to do so,” he says. “I’d been with my part­ner for two years by that point, but en­tirely in se­cret and when that ended, I couldn’t re­ally speak to any­one and I tried to kill my­self. My brain was out of whack, I was strug­gling at univer­sity. I was still clos­eted, I was ly­ing to all my friends ex­cept for this one guy and I could only be my­self for short pe­ri­ods and then go back to pre­tend­ing. I was go­ing out on dates with women, try­ing to main­tain this fa­cade.”

As Fin­lay now knows – he be­lieves emo­tions are stored in the mus­cles – the con­se­quences of re­press­ing his sex­u­al­ity were grim. Fin­lay has a 28 inch waist, but

when he was 19 years old, it was 38in. He was eat­ing rub­bish, and drink­ing him­self to paral­y­sis ev­ery day. “Ba­si­cally, if I didn’t throw up in the night, it wasn’t a suc­cess­ful day,” he says. “Most days be­tween the ages of 18 and 19, I would eas­ily get through a litre of vodka be­fore lunch – I was mis­er­able.”

As for his fam­ily, Fin­lay felt he couldn’t con­fide in them, es­pe­cially his twin brother Alas­tair, who at this point was even more re­li­gious than Fin­lay and had be­come in­volved with an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian group. At one point, Alas­tair took a heap of Fin­lay’s books, in­clud­ing his Harry Pot­ters, and burned them in the back gar­den be­cause he be­lieved them to be Satanic. His brother was the last per­son Fin­lay could talk to.

Fi­nally, at the end of Fin­lay’s first year at St Andrews Univer­sity, where he was study­ing for a de­gree in en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies, things came to a head. He’d gone home to La­nark for the sum­mer and his mum sat him down and told him she was con­cerned about him: he was pale, he looked ill and she was wor­ried he might be dy­ing. “My mum had got it into her head that I was dy­ing, so when I said ‘no, I’m gay’, she was so re­lieved.” He can see the funny side of that: oh thank God, you’re gay. Is that all?

The con­fes­sion to his mum was also the start of change for Fin­lay – he started cy­cling ev­ery day, he started eat­ing bet­ter – although it was by no means the end of his prob­lems, even af­ter he started yoga. It was a physio who first suggested he take up yoga af­ter he had op­er­a­tions on his legs to re­move bone spurs; the op­er­a­tions left him on crutches, but he liked the sound of yoga so he limped his way into his first class and got go­ing. Then he did more. And more.

Look­ing back now, Fin­lay says those first few weeks and months of yoga were hugely ben­e­fi­cial for him, and you can see the long-term ef­fects in his book, which is il­lus­trated with pic­tures of him strik­ing poses in some of the most pic­turesque parts of Scot­land. The book is es­sen­tially about how good yoga can be for you and is de­signed so that begin­ners can use it to get started. But it has taken Fin­lay a long time to get to this point where he’s be­come a kind of mus­cled, met­ro­sex­ual, Scottish, ginger am­bas­sador for yoga. First, he had to ex­pe­ri­ence bad yoga.

“From the start, yoga was hugely trans­for­ma­tive for me, but this en­tity was still ex­ist­ing in the back­ground,” he says, “and it twisted my yoga prac­tice into some­thing else so yoga wasn’t all good. I was prid­ing my­self at how un­emo­tional I got to the point I was blank. I was go­ing through the phys­i­cal mo­tions but prid­ing my­self on how lit­tle I could feel. I also re­mem­ber strug­gling to get into a po­si­tion and the teacher came over and said ‘you’re too fat to get that, here’s what you need to do. This is a cleans­ing tech­nique – stick down your fin­gers down your throat and vomit into a bucket’. So I be­came bu­limic. I was emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble and look­ing for guid­ance and this is the thing: this idea of guru worship. If you’re a teacher, you have to be care­ful what you say, be­cause peo­ple are lis­ten­ing.”

So that’s what hap­pened: Fin­lay seemed to be in reach of a so­lu­tion to his emo­tional prob­lems, but in­stead he ended up in an­other de­struc­tive pe­riod: ob­ses­sive, bu­limic and emo­tion­ally numb. For­tu­nately, his ex-hus­band told him his be­hav­iour was, in his words, bat-shit crazy and the next step was to try an­other type of yoga, taught by the Amer­i­can Ana For­rest. Fin­lay knows he has spent a lot of time look­ing for answers in lots of dif­fer­ent places – the church, bot­tles of vodka, bu­limia – and there was a dan­ger yoga was end­ing up the same way: an ob­ses­sion rather than a cure – be­fore it started to work for him.

“The yoga I’d done be­fore was ‘count up to five breaths and then get the hell out of there’. This was: slow down, what does that mus­cle feel like, is there any emo­tion com­ing up for you? At the end of the class, I started these gut-wrench­ing sobs that had ob­vi­ously been in there for a long time and I started an emo­tional un­rav­el­ling. The minute that class fin­ished, I signed up to do four weeks with Ana in Cape Town, went there and she changed ev­ery­thing for me. I was able to find what was valu­able to me, how I

wanted to live my life, the things I’d been do­ing to tor­ture my­self. It was on that train­ing that I ad­mit­ted to my­self that I had an eat­ing dis­or­der.”

Yoga, com­bined with med­i­ta­tion and writ­ing about his emo­tions in a jour­nal, also started to help Fin­lay deal with an­other trauma, although it is by no means sorted yet. He tells me that it was while train­ing with Ana For­rest that he started to ad­dress the sex­ual abuse he suf­fered as a child, which he says was per­pe­trated by some­one out­side the fam­ily.

“The night­mares start at four,” he says. “I have mem­o­ries be­fore then, but there was clear point where I re­mem­ber go­ing away for the week­end and from that point on, the night­mares start.”

Has he ap­proached the po­lice? “I don’t know what point there would be in get­ting the po­lice in­volved at this point, but one of the things I’ve looked at is how this stuff gets passed down. I want to have chil­dren at some point so my aim is to process this out and be done with it. I went to see a ther­a­pist be­cause there were mem­o­ries lit­er­ally locked away.”

A lot of the story from then on you al­ready know: Fin­lay honed his skills as a yoga teacher, de­cided to do the YouTube video with a friend, be­came a vi­ral event and got a book deal, which proves what good-look­ing men in kilts bar­ing their bums can achieve. This is the in­ter­net, though, so even though the re­ac­tion on­line was, and is, over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive, there is the neg­a­tive too – ev­ery week Fin­lay has to delete hate­ful and ho­mo­pho­bic posts, and, sadly, the hate came even closer to home when some­one left a let­ter at his door threat­en­ing him and his dog. A cou­ple of weeks ago, his part­ner Alan also had his car tyres slashed. What have the po­lice done about it? As far as Fin­lay is con­cerned, noth­ing.

“The po­lice were meant to send some­one round to get my fin­ger­prints, to rule me out of hav­ing han­dled the let­ter – it never hap­pened. I then get a call say­ing we’re go­ing to send some­body round, and they never did. They were then meant to send a fol­low-up and they didn’t. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional put pres­sure on them, as did Stonewall, and the po­lice phoned and said we un­der­stand you’re up­set with us, and they still didn’t send some­one round. When it came to the tyres get­ting slashed, I didn’t tell them, there was no point.

“They dropped the ball – they know they did and the ridicu­lous thing is this hap­pened on Hate Crime Week for Scottish Po­lice. When peo­ple say it’s mov­ing for­ward, it’s not. Hate crime has gone up in the last three years. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily that the re­port­ing is go­ing up, it’s that the at­mos­phere for gay peo­ple is get­ting worse, Scot­land, UK, world­wide.”

Po­lice Scot­land said they could con­firm in­ves­ti­gat­ing a hate crime re­ported by a 30-year-old man from Dundee. They said the en­quiry re­mained on­go­ing and they were fol­low­ing pos­i­tive lines of en­quiry. They also said the com­plainer had been fully up­dated on progress.

Fin­lay does em­pha­sise that, on the whole, he feels pretty safe, although he has fit­ted a cage on his let­ter box so no one can put cho­co­late through and poison his dog; an of­fi­cer also told him not to wear ear phones in the cor­ri­dor so he can hear peo­ple ap­proach­ing from be­hind. “So many straight peo­ple have said to me: this doesn’t still hap­pen and I’ve said: it does, you just don’t lis­ten.”

The good news, though, is that the hate is mas­sively out­weighed by the love and Fin­lay says the aftermath of the YouTube video has been ex­hil­a­rat­ing. He’s also in a new happy re­la­tion­ship, and has causes to fight: he does free classes for victims of do­mes­tic abuse and chil­dren with dis­abil­i­ties, he is work­ing with Aber­tay Univer­sity to pro­mote the ben­e­fits of yoga to men­tal health work­ers and he hopes his new book will en­cour­age more of us to try yoga.

As for Fin­lay him­self, he still has lows, but they are nowhere near as low as they were. “I used to walk down the street and see some­one look at me and a voice would kick in say­ing ‘you’re a worth­less pieces of shit’. Now I think: what you look­ing at?”

Kilted Yoga is pub­lished by Yel­low Kite on Oc­to­ber 19. For more in­for­ma­tion about Fin­lay Wil­son’s yoga cen­tre, see yoga.heartspace­

Pho­to­graph: Si­mon Bux­ton

Wil­son says yoga was hugely trans­for­ma­tive for him

Pho­to­graph: Gor­don Ter­ris

Wil­son pho­tographed in Dundee City cen­tre

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