There's something about a man who knows his positions—yoga positions that is.
On any given day you can catch Derrick “DJ" Townsel bending and contorting his well-chiseled frame into seemingly impossible twists, backbends, and handstands that will make you want to be front and center at one of his yoga classes.
The man is flexible, and we're here for it.
As a former NFL wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, the self-proclaimed “Rasta Yogi" (inspired by his West Indian ancestry) is no stranger to hard work. Coming from a family of athletes, DJ was well-versed in physical fitness, but it wasn't until he decided to take up yoga towards the end of his football career as a means to help with preventing injuries that he started to embrace the overall health benefits—physically, mentally, and spiritually—of the age-old practice.
He initially began studying in the comforts of his home, watching online sessions and educating himself on the history of yoga, and even partnering up with a fellow yogi who would introduce him to AcroYoga—a two-person practice combining yoga and acrobatics. Before long he fell in love with yoga and out of love with the game, and in 2014 traded the football field for the mat as a certified yoga instructor.
Now the 28-year-old is traveling the country teaching and inspiring both women and men through his passion rooted in peace and positivity. xoNecole caught up with the free agent to talk more about AcroYoga, his personal growth since starting the practice, and how it's benefiting him in and outside of the bedroom.
Tune in, you might just learn something!
Growing up in Miami, were you surrounded by athletes or did anyone if your family make a focus around mental/physical/spiritual health?
I come from an athletic background. A lot of people in my family played college sports so I've always been athletic. But as far as health and fitness, I started to get really involved in the healthy side of fitness about four years ago when I became a personal trainer after just seeing how it can affect you for the better; it's just something that I got really involved in and kind of gravitated towards, so I chose that as a career.
I got into yoga around the end of my football career because I was trying to make sure that I left football without any injuries ,so I just chose yoga as a way to try to prevent those injuries. And then I fell in love with the spiritual side of it and just kept going.
Now right now you're working as a free agent still?
I guess you can say I'm retired without the publicity (laughs). Technically I'm still a free agent, but I don't have any desire to play anymore; I just fell out of love with the game. I thought football was my passion but I found it elsewhere through football. Blessing in disguise.
So what exactly is AcroYoga is and how do you train for it?
The best way to say it without confusing anybody is partner aerial yoga. You can add things to it if you want and make it as fun as possible, but it's just like something that I wanted to try and my partner got me into it. We practice everyday for up to eight hours sometimes, just playing around and learning new things. The thing is, it's like sharing energy with somebody else. That's what we really found the passion in.
So, are you coming up with your own moves or is it like yoga where you have certain names and positions?
It's getting kind of big now to where there's certain names for poses, but we pretty much take poses that we've seen before and just make our own sequences. Just like yoga there's already poses made and named, but you can pretty much make it your own any way you want, so we do that.
You mention that you practice eight hours a day, what else do you do to train your body from that?
I still work out, but yoga pretty much gets me in shape for acro because it's kind of hard to do if you have tight hamstrings and tight hip flexors, so yoga pretty much gets you ready for the acro because it's hell to try to do a yoga pose with somebody on top of you or in the other person's case doing it on top of somebody's feet.
So how did you find your partner?
She actually found me through Instagram; she was following me and I invited my followers in Orlando to come and do a yoga class with me at the studio, and she came out and we started doing Acro[Yoga] that day and never stopped. That was actually two years ago..
Physical and mental health also play a big role in yoga, how have you grown in both of those areas, and what are some ways that you nourish your mind and body?
Brushing things off, that's the biggest thing. If something ever happened to me I'd be so attached to it and stressing about it and anxious, but now I'm just real go with the flow. I just take everything as they come. I try to make sure that my day isn't filled with being stressed or anxious because if you're stressed, you're living in the past. If you're anxious, you're living in the future. So now I just make sure that I'm at peace at all times.
Are you really particular about what you eat?
I'm not as strict on my diet. I try not to put a whole bunch of fast food in my body, but I try to make sure that I'm not counting calories or macros and all that other stuff. I'm not doing all of that. I still eat what I want, but I try to make sure that I'm watching it and make sure that I eat too much fatty foods or anything like that. I have some days when I get off track.
Are there certain books that you're reading as well?
Right now I'm reading two books: The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield and Revolution by Russell Brand.
Were you big on reading before yoga?
I was, but not the genre that I read now. I'm into the more spiritual and energy driven literature. Learning more about myself, learning more about people. That's pretty much what I'm trying to get more into now.
What has practicing yoga taught you about yourself?
That I'm stronger than I thought, physically mentally and spiritually. That's the main thing. Nothing's ever stronger than your will to fight. Anything I go through I take it back to yoga, I meditate on it, I practice if need be. If there's anything physical I practice, if there's anything spiritual I meditate, if there's anything mental, I meditate.
Did you have any mentors that guided you through it?
One of my mentors is Ravenflower Dugandzic. She was actually my teacher during training, so she helped me out a lot as far as the spiritual side of yoga and the business side.
As far as your dating life, since you work with a lot of women do you ever have any attraction to them or do you try to keep it more professional?
Nah, I got to keep it professional. Whoever I practice with I have a connection with them through yoga, I try not to take it farther than that.
Are you more into the athletic women who are into yoga?
I'm just all about energy. That's what I'm focused on.
Whatever draws your attention!
I'd say open-mindedness. Nobody wants a stick in the mud!
If a girl were to surprise you with a date, what's one of your dating fantasies?
I'm not single [laughs], but food. Anything with food. I'm actually standing in front of a Caribbean place now, so Caribbean, Cuban food, anything with Seafood involved, I'm happy.
Are there any specific lessons that your mom taught you about women?
With any woman you want [them] to be not like your mom, but you always hold them to that standard, so my mom's very strong, very family-driven. That's probably the strongest woman I know, so that's the woman that I hold on a pedestal if I were to compare anybody to her.
I heard that you have a lot of male followers, too, so have you gotten a lot of feedback from them?
Yeah, I've actually seen growth as far as males in my class, and I tell them that yoga is not a feminine practice at all, and that you know there's nothing wrong with finding different ways to be healthy. Everybody is not a gym goer, so you just got to find your niche. If yoga is for you it's for you, if it's not it's not. Many guys think that it's not masculine enough, and I ask them why wouldn't you want to be in a room with 30 women?
So I have to ask. Since you're so flexible does it help in your sexual life, too? I feel like if you market that part, the guys will be more willing to embrace yoga!
I actually did a campaign on Instagram about that and told guys, not even just as far as being flexible, but that there are certain poses that keep certain organs healthy. It helps with fertility, it helps with anybody who's struggling with erectile dysfunction—there's poses that can help stimulate the sexual organs that help that out. You can always use yoga poses in the bed, so who can argue with that?
That's interesting. I know there are certain foods you can eat to help with erectile dysfunction. What's one of the yoga poses that men can do?
There's the bridge pose, which is pretty much a laying down position where you're holding your ankles or put your hands on the ground and just pushing your hips into the air. So that's a good pose to help with reproductive organs and everything.
Did you start growing locs for spiritual reasons as well? I see you identify with the Rasta culture.
I call myself “Rasta Yogi" because my roots are Caribbean, now don't ask me what country because my family has not told me that yet (laughs). So my roots are Caribbean and the first time I went to Jamaica I really connected with everybody there and felt like I was home. Whenever I go to the Caribbean I feel like it's where I'm supposed to be. So the name fits.
I'm just curious because I just started locing my hair like two months ago, so I'm always curious as to what makes people loc their hair because some people do it for spiritual reasons or because they identify with the Rasta culture and the idea of freedom and non-conformism.
It's a mixture of all three. I identify with the culture; I'm very spiritual. It's like literally the roots of who we are.
Are there any particular quotes or words/ideals that you live by?
The biggest quote that my family and I use the most is “define your dash." We actually learned that from my uncle, who tragically passed last November, and that was his mantra. So what he meant by that is just the dash between the day that you're born and the day that you die is what matters the most. We try to make sure that whatever we do we do it with a smile on our face and being as happy as we can.
What do you want your legacy to be? What is your dash?
I want my dash to be somebody who was dedicated on spreading light and love to the world, whether it's through conversation, whether it's through yoga practice, teaching, health and fitness. I just want to make sure that whoever I come in contact with I make feel good about themselves.
In one of your Instagram posts you mention your grandmother coming back to speak to you every once in awhile, how do you feel that she's speaking to you?
Through memories. When I meditate sometimes I see her just sitting there smiling, so I feel like I'm doing her proud. As long as she doesn't show up to my meditation with a frown on her face, I feel like I'm doing okay.
Peep the gallery below for more of our favorite poses from Derrick, aka @Dade2Shelby on Instagram: