Abria Joseph: Pranaforce Yoga, Sound Healer & Ted Talker

PRAVAYAMA’s first male Yogi File is someone next-level inspiring.

I met Abria at Wanderlust when his velvety voice guided a meditation over magical handpan sounds. At the end, he casually unravelled his man bun and busted out hair flicking skills like I’d never seen before.

I stumbled up to him, drunk on the lingering vibrations and told him how wonderful I felt. Everyone felt it. Abria has an enchanting presence, a raw authenticity and to top it off, he can make anyone cry-laugh.

The High School football captain-turned yogipreneur tells PRAVAYAMA why Pranaforce is the realisation of all his dreams, and how he helps others Remove Negative Self Talk and Dream It Real (the subjects of his Tedx Talks).

Here, we learn how Abria integrates his powerful, no-bullshit approach to yoga into a no-bullshit approach to life, and why a recent major injury has brought even greater self-love and humility.

Boy Yoga (Before It Was Cool)

It was 1996 and I was 16 and captain of the football team. I was dating a girl whose parents owned a Bikram yoga studio. Her parents kept telling me it would be good for my body and my sports.

At the time, I knew Bikram yoga was primarily a stretching and fitness modality but I didn’t realise it was heated or vigorous, I didn’t realise how challenging it was. I didn’t tell my team mates as I was so insecure about what they might think of me.

I kept it quiet for 3-4 months. They looked at me as the leader, I didn’t want them to lose trust. After the summer of practising yoga they were all asking where I had been, I wasn’t making all the training, I didn’t know how to explain it to them – the difference in my physical body and mental state. 

The Value of Bikram

People ask “what style do you teach?” or “what do you like the most?” Bikram was my foundation practice – it was my introduction to yoga, but it was also my foot in the door internationally as there are Bikram studios all over the world.

My retreats are primarily vinyasa yoga teacher trainings. But now I use a therapeutic, Bikram/vinyasa sequencing – I love that vinyasa can get really playful and diversify. But it’s important to give a good command and connect straight away – I take that from the Bikram methodology. For instance, warrior 3 is not easy to hold, but if you give people the right cues it helps them work more vigorously.

Teaching Yoga Powerfully

The way it’s broken own – the structure is so important: the dharma talk, the story, the strengthening, balancing, stretching.

I share the philosophy once I have given students enough physical challenge and cues. It’s about how are you creating space for people to connect with what they’ve just done?

I taught a class once, an emotionally heavy one – I was calling out a lot of things, like what’s important in their lives (so when they leave it’s not just a great class). I don’t want to be known for a really nice flow – I want people to go do something with it.

Someone was really emotional in one of my classes and I was getting all these eyes, like ‘maybe Abria you should get in there’. Afterwards I listened to 5 minutes of her talk. All people want is to be heard. I wanted her to know I’m there to listen, but holding hands is not helpful. 

The energy I put out – I can give it away but no one can take it. I have to be genuinely wanting to meet half way with that energy. People need to know that as much as I might be giving, they also have to be giving to themselves.

Some teachers might not do that and just wait at the desk for compliments, but I’m not really cool with that, I’d rather give feedback that will help them.

Creating Pranaforce For Others

What I needed to figure out was how to create a lifestyle – based on what I was practising – that really resonated: teaching yoga, travel and playing music. I wanted to create a platform for myself, a self-study around those three things. It needed to be about wellness and adventure, but it needed to be a way I could pass it on.

All this yoga – how do we apply this beyond the mat? It’s about how can I apply this practice of yoga that’s several thousand years old, into an authentic practice of living now? 

Pranaforce has become about teaching people they can do it, that they can Dream It Real. How do they find what their gifts are? How can they live their dreams? I think this is what most people are seeking.

“It all comes to a head when people are a bit scared to succeed, it’s that fear of coming into power – why is it scary? Because you are now responsible for that shit. You can’t just cruise in complacency.”

Finding Our Passion & Dreaming It Real

In 2014 I did a Ted Talk in Holland called Dream It Real. It’s about how do we find something we are passionate about? I start with, “What’s the most important thing in your life?” 

What would you do whether you got paid for it or not? It could be gardening or walking dogs  – people say they don’t have a dream, but hey, you just said you love being around kids, playing music…

Sometimes making money doesn’t always match with that, but if we can brainstorm I bet there’s a way to monetise it. If that means people are like, “I can’t do it because I already tried to do that” – I ask, “Have you exhausted every resource?” But they haven’t put it out on Facebook, talked to their parents – everything within their means – people are scared to go the extra steps. I think the majority of the fear is actually fucking living it.

If they want to live their dream, they have to go all the way, it’s not just writing stuff down.

It all comes to a head when people are a bit scared to succeed, it’s that fear of coming into power – why is it scary? Because you are now responsible for that shit. What it means is you can’t just cruise in complacency.

On Authenticity

People hear me speak, they say ‘you really know what you’re talking about’. I do. I could make stuff up as I go, but I feel being peaceful is opposite to fear.

A big thing for me is figuring how to live yoga when I do media and marketing stuff, when I’m grocery shopping or driving down the road. What I’m working on is the practice when no one is watching me.

Words are important, I learned how to speak through the handpan. I don’t play songs, I go by feel, what emotionally stirs me, all the different styles of yoga and handpan styles, people resonate with a certain style of yoga and certain scale of handpan.

I know who knows their shit when they teach and who thinks they’re badass off the mat or off the mic, but I want to be conscious of judging too, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to work with a person. I know that myself, I’m a hybrid of how I’ve been raised and my yoga journey.

Removing Negative Self Talk

When negative stuff comes up – I ask, am I hurting myself or another person? Is this thought benefitting me? Is this necessary for me and this other person at the moment? It could be necessary if it helps me get it off my heart or helps them be more aware. Often these things happen when there’s other people involved, around confrontation. Am I really going into a space where I care more about what other people around me think about me?

It’s about how do I stay grounded and take care of myself.  

On Judgement

I get that happen all the time, noticing I’m totally judging the shit out of people. I’m like, “Wow, that was a huge judgement, I don’t know who they are.” They are a person like anyone else who has moments of enlightenment, it’s pure judgement, but I’m catching myself – I’m actually judging myself, which is why I ask myself each time, “Is this necessary? Am I hurting myself or others?”

Humility After Injury

I just taught a 10 day vinyasa immersion in Italy and on the fourth day – you know those times in life when you have no choice but to drop in to reality? I was going into a Bikram pose, I was being super mindful, I wasn’t in motion like other injuries.

But everything we haven’t cleared comes back – all the emotional stuff and our exes etc. I couldn’t walk, I thought maybe this is something I can straighten out. But all of a sudden all the negative stories started coming up, I didn’t know what state my knee was in.

It was a medial meniscus bucket handle tear. For over a month I had to limp around, the inflammation was super high. But I got the surgery and now I am going full commitment to eating vegan, giving the space to reduce even more inflammation. 

Right now with my injury I’m so hyper aware and I’m so sensitive, what I’m finding is the importance of harmony in all this. If I can’t make stuff happen, I don’t have time to hold on to the idea. But I have this whole new respect for being humble and I now forgive myself and don’t judge myself and others so much. Being humble will allow me to heal better.

It will take more energy to get upset or to try win people with my idea – thats’s my ego saying “don’t let them make you wrong”. But my big thing is being humble. Slowing down and stopping doing too much, slow down, forgive and be humble.

Images: Patrick O’Connor