In conversation with Johnny Vasilj

Once the owner of a booming Sydney plumbing business, Johnny woke up one morning and made a decision to quit.

This was around his 33rd birthday, a year after he’d started practising yoga to help rehabilitate a full knee construction. 

“I heard a guy talking about yoga in a pub. It wasn’t even like I knew what it was – I actually thought he was a bit of a pansy. Something about that conversation stuck with me though and I ended up booking in for Bikram.”

While most tradies understandably find it hard to touch their toes when they first hit the mat, Johnny discovered he was pretty flexible. 

“Within about six months, the teachers were saying I was doing things they couldn’t do. It was nuts. My hobby was bodybuilding. I weighed around 118kg and I’d never done yoga before. It made feel alive though. I wanted more.”

It was this feeling that led to the decision to pause life in the plumbing world. 

“I was getting home late. Life was hectic. I enjoyed what I did but I had this awakening as I lay in bed one Sunday that it wasn’t what I wanted my future to look like. If I was ever going to have a wife and kids, I didn’t want to be a Dad that wasn’t there.”

“I thought I would be a plumber for the rest of my life. Hell I’d done it since I left school. But something in me wondered if I could do something else, and I decided to find out.”

That day Johnny told his team of ten staff that he was closing the business. It took another six months to wrap up client contracts, sell the vans, ute and gear, and then he bought a one way ticket to India.

“My family and mates thought I’d fallen off my richter. They were supportive but confused. My business was successful and it was a bit hard for them to understand that I wanted more. I had signed up for a 200hr YTT in Sydney just to advance my own practice but it led to a change in how I wanted to live.”

“My second 200hr YTT was in Ashtanga in Jaipur. It was tough. I loved it. Then I went to Rishikesh where to be honest, I just smoked hash and missioned around. I realised how much I needed a break. I had to shake off the stress, the 17 years of hard work.”

Following that and another bout of intense rehabilitation from injuries after falling off a motorbike at 100km in India, Johnny signed up for a third 200hr YTT, this time in Cairns with Nicky Knoff.  

“The crash almost killed me. I still remember that feeling of being in the air. That changes you.

“What’s it like training with Nicky? She’s an interesting one. It’s exciting she’s coming to BodyMindLife next month. “She’s hard. She’s not for everyone. Bloody hell, she’s 80 and she’s lived through so much. We’re talking about a woman who knows yoga. Proper yoga. 

“There aren’t many teachers like her left in the world. She trained for 19 years with Iyengar and 16 years with Pattabhi Jois. How is that even possible! She doesn’t compromise. Classes with her aren’t easy but the discipline you experience with her is life-changing. Nicky’s the real deal man.”

Since then, Johnny has completed a fourth 200hr YTT, in Yin with master teacher Jo Phee, and 300hrs as her assistant in trainings with renowned teacher Paul Grilley.

Seven years on from that first Bikram class, Johnny has found himself teaching at BodyMindLife. 

“I haven’t once looked back. Not for one moment. The money is different, obviously, but when you teach yoga you can pick your schedule and life, and I do the odd plumbing job if I need to. 

“Life has changed so much, I’m happy. There’s connection in my life. I’m focused on my classes and students. It’s funny because the best thing that’s happened with me from yoga is how it’s calmed me down – my action, reaction cycle. Road rage isn’t even a thing anymore and that’s what happens when you practice.”

Johnny leads classes across Surry Hills, Bondi Beach, Potts Point and Redfern. Check out his schedule here or follow @talldarkandhandstand. 

Nicky Knoff is leading five workshops at BodyMindLife on 21-22 September, 2019.