Kilted Yoga star Finlay Wilson
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.heartspacedundee.co.uk
Wilson says yoga was hugely transformative for him
Wilson photographed in Dundee City centre