“My ability to choose and live this life in all its glory, all its beauty. That’s my sacred.”
Stefan’s journey is one of incredible integrity, with twists and turns through the maze of his mind right to the other side, where he now shares his story with honesty, humour and grace. He has opened the conversation around drugs and addiction, proving that owning our shadows is the only real way to tame them. His journey through the darkness has cultivated a passion for mindfulness which he now shares in his role as a beautifully inspiring yoga teacher and musician.
Stefan’s early exposure to the world of health and wellbeing began when he went to a yoga class with his mum, aged 16.
“I remember walking in there and feeling the sacredness of the space.” Stefan recalls. “The dude had his incense holder, which was falling to pieces like he'd had it for 20 years. He could put his legs behind his head. I loved that everybody was quiet. Everybody took their shoes off. When I walked into that room, it was like nothing else mattered.”
Stefan began the so-called ‘alternative’ practice of yoga to help cope with the anxiety he was experiencing in his adolescence.
“I was told I'm supposed to take medication to fix the imbalance in my head.” He explains. “But I wasn’t willing to do that. I continued to see a psychologist and I remember her saying yoga was a great alternative for coping with anxiety. I remember the term alternative, and how it made me so annoyed. These mindfulness tools should be the mainstream! I think the word alternative has a lack energy to it, where it might work but it probably won't.
“I think the way we look at mental health is ridiculous.” Stefan tells me. “We could all have a lot more power within ourselves if we changed our perspective around the struggles we face. It might sound bizarre but my drug use was my own weird way of trying to find wellness within myself.” He continues. “I was quite fit and healthy, I ate well. The reason I include drug use in my wellness story is because I was using drugs to try and get out of my mind. I would smoke meth and read Eckhart Tolle.
“I enjoyed going to yoga.” Stefan says. “But one day I fell asleep in Savasana. I’d had a big weekend and I started snoring, and even though I know now that nobody would have been angry about it, my 16 year old mind and body started freaking out. I thought they all hated me and I stopped going.”
After a tumultuous start to his twenties, Stefan moved to Melbourne to play in a band and continued to deepen in his journey of self-discovery, though not by traditional means.
“I started listening to podcasts, doing meditation courses, and practicing yoga again. I went to the sensory deprivation tanks. Stopped smoking meth as often.”
We discuss the relationship between drugs and mindfulness
“I think this is where the use of drugs becomes interesting.” Stefan says. “Once I started utilising mindfulness tools to get into that no-mind space, I would smoke weed and meditate, see what worked then start doing it sober. The less drugs I took, the more I would look for peace within all these other modalities.
“I won’t lie, I was a fucking menace.” Stefan admits, referring to his past. “But I would also do yoga postures in my bed whilst laying awake high, because I remembered that safe space. I would burn incense because the smell of it made me feel safe. There's an aspect of surrender that had to come with the amount of times I fucked up or took too much of something and had to ride it out. I think that sort of challenge teaches you a lot about surrender.
Stefan stepped into a new role when he began teaching Pilates. He describes getting thrown into the deep end of the wellness industry when just three months later he was asked to manage the studio.
“I felt extremely under qualified.” Stefan admits. “I’d never managed anything before in my life. But it made me realise how much I had actually shown up for myself over the years. I’d been relentlessly looking for peace and trying to find whatever my best state was. From a social standpoint it probably looked like I’d been burning my life to the ground. But I’d been trying really, really hard to figure myself out.”
Something that deeply inspires Stefan in his teaching is noticing how much guilt, shame and fear people coming to the studios feel within themselves.
“It’s not a competition.” Stefan jokes. “But I’ve probably fucked up so many more times than they have. It makes me realise that nobody should feel ashamed. There's a hell of a lot of people pretending everything's okay. A lot of people being the love and light. But there's a hell of a lot of darkness out there too - when we own it, it becomes a really beautiful part of the journey.
“I want the people who come to my classes to realise they’re not failures because they don’t know how to meditate for more than three seconds. Or because they don’t know the Sanskrit word for a shape. It doesn’t matter. I honestly believe the true practice in this world is devotion to self. We just need to get to know ourselves better, then we can work out what we need. It’s about understanding what your body's trying to tell you.”
Is the relationship we have with ourselves directly proportional to the amount of havoc a substance can wreck in our lives?
“The topic of drugs is so emotionally charged because the way people use them can ruin lives, no question.” Stefan explains. “It makes it really hard to have these conversations. I think drugs are unique in that it seems justified for people to blame the things around them, because nobody knows how to deal with it. My perspective is that we need to give people their power back. That means we can't blame the substance, we can't blame a life situation. We can't blame our friends or the string of bad events that led us to take them. We have to take accountability. But to give people their power back, we need to be able to have objective conversations about drugs.”
We deepen into the conversation around personal authority. The voice of wisdom that speaks from within.
“We hear a lot of ‘you need to do this or that’ but it’s not about that. We don’t have to do anything.’ Stefan says. “If there was ever one thing I wanted anybody to know about themselves, it's that we all have the power to do and change whatever the fuck we want to. Life can be as simple as a yes or no answer. If we have that luxury, we don’t have to think so logically about everything.”
We speak about intuition, a river of knowing which runs deeper than logical thought.
“There’s a feeling deep in our gut - not the anxiousness above it - but a feeling deep down that says yes or no. If we just listen to that, it tells us everything we need to know, eliminating bullshit boundaries around, ‘Oh I’ll just smoke a joint once a week.’
“We can’t rely on substances to escape the discomfort of being alone. It won’t work. But sometimes it’s a yes from your body, the authority of your higher self and it doesn’t have to be a big deal. We get so caught up in different ways of doing things, but there is constant change. The other constant is your authority to respond in a way that’s truthful to you. However you describe it, whether it's your highest self, your soul, your intuition, whatever it is, that never changes, that's always your truth.”
The great love of Stefan’s life is music.
“I've been a musician my whole life.” Stefan tells me. “I started playing piano when I was 6. Though things escalated quite terribly through my teenage years, I kept playing music and I kept writing lyrics.
“I wrote songs constantly and rhymed words as much as I could. Within the stumble and flow of a rhyme, you can say so much more than what those words imply. Between every word is a whole other story. Once you start writing, it's like a trance.”
He was ready to release an album when the world went into lockdown. During those months Stefan did his yoga teaching training and describes the disorientating experience of wondering whether music was his path after all.
“I questioned whether music was healthy for me.” Stefan says. “I was really enjoying being in this other space so I put everything on hold. I realised how much I identified myself with music, being in a band, taking drugs. When we came out of lockdown I didn't know what to do.”
Stefan began co-hosting the podcast Be More You where people are encouraged to share their stories.
“Be More You felt really good.” Stefan describes. “Then during the Year to Live series I realised… fuck. If I had a year to live I’d be recording right now. That’s what I want to do. So I recorded sixteen songs and I’m playing gigs again. This is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life, I just didn’t realise how terrified I was to do it!”
In the process of sharing his story publicly, as well as releasing an album into the world, Stefan is meeting discomfort and choosing it anyway.
“Speaking out about drug use and performing music is vulnerable.” Stefan says. “I’m doing it because it scares me. I don’t seek out things that make me feel uncomfortable. However, I think it’s a byproduct of searching for that peace within yourself. Stuff will keep on showing up. If you keep stepping through it you get to know yourself better and you get to make real decisions.
“I read a quote by Bernie Clark.” Stefan says, referring to the author of Yinsights. “‘Nobody should be selfish. However, if you're going to be selfish, be selfish in your relentless pursuit of peace.’ The reason I think he's saying that is because you can't help anybody until you’re well in yourself.”
At the start of 2022, Stefan decided to dedicate himself wholeheartedly to music, but not before making a big impact on the Be More You Podcast by speaking honestly around difficult topics like drugs and addiction.
“I think sharing our experiences creates a beautiful, wide open gateway for people to be able to pick out what they need.” Stefan says. “There might be one little thing that really helps somebody understand a situation in their own lives better.”
More often than not, we inspire others by living authentically - not by handing out advice.
“There's no word that I could say to anybody to help them with drug addiction. No word that I could say to make someone a better artist, a better musician, a better yoga student. Living my life to the best of my ability, in my truth, will make a bigger difference than anything I could ever say. I’m showing up for myself every single day. That's what motivates me the most.”
After chatting about Stefan’s passion, purpose and pursuit of peace, the conversation turns to cacao.
“I really like alternative things but I also find humor in the seriousness of them. Even as a yoga teacher, it’s weird to sit in a room chanting ‘Om!’ I think it’s important to acknowledge that, it breaks down barriers a bit.” Stefan grins before adding. “So to be honest I’d always had this perspective that cacao was just chocolate milk. Then Dan started doing the cacao ceremonies and parties and I thought, ‘This guy is a legend.’ I remember listening to Dan talk about Sacred. He was so passionate. I could feel the truth of his words.
“The first time I really understood the sacredness of cacao was one morning where I had to teach a 6am yoga class.” Stefan recalls. “It was an emotionally hectic time and I’d hardly slept. I made myself a big cup of ceremonial cacao and drank it at 5.30 in the morning, drove to yoga and taught the best class of my life. I felt so connected, it was incredible. I spoke so fluently and I knew it was the cacao. That changed my whole perspective on it. I was more connected to myself than I’d ever been before. It was amazing to feel that.”
Lastly we talk about what’s sacred to Stefan, and the meaningful ways he creates safe space for himself and others.
“My rituals all revolve around the things that I'm doing.” Stefan tells me. “When I play music, cacao will come to the studio with me. I'll go in with the palo santo, set the room up and ask for protection. I ask that nothing else will come in and disrupt what I'm trying to do for myself. When I come out to practice yoga, I'll get down on my knees, set an intention. I'll burn my incense and set this space up for me. If I want to just sit and reflect or if I go for a walk, I do the same thing.
“I'm really interested in the concept of a dojo. Every time I come into this room, I light a certain incense, I don’t wear shoes on the rug. I like combining different senses in a ritualistic way to create a safe space. It's the things I'm drawn to intuitively which feel the best for me. Cacao is still quite new to me, but I'm definitely more in my body and more aware of what I'm doing if I work with it in those ways. It's an incredible tool for connection.”
It’s time to ask the all-important question… Stefan, what’s your sacred? What wisdom have you found that you continue to live by?
“The self is sacred.” Stefan answers. “Devotion to self is devotion to understanding and harnessing the power you have within to choose to change. I think everybody's got that. That power doesn’t mean constant peace and happiness, but it helps us understand that we’re able to make it through anything.
“I might get really afraid, but when I connect to this feeling, all those anxious thoughts disappear for me now.” Stefan explains. “I realise, ‘Oh, none of that will happen.’
“So get to know every inch of you. The way every part of your body feels, the way every part of your breath feels, the way you taste your food, how you hear the world around you, everything. Understand that as best as you possibly can. That's the most useful thing that I've found out. My sacred is my self. My sacred is my life. My ability to choose and live this life in all its glory, all its beauty. That’s my sacred.”
Connect with Stefan
Instagram | www.instagram.com/stefanwest_
Written by Laura
Instagram | www.instagram.com/artful_listening