LETS BE HONEST Duncan Peak is kind of a big deal. If you haven’t practiced at one of his Power Living studios, you’ve likely encountered him in the social media realm or heard his name uttered in a yoga class. But he’s not just a yoga-lebrity. He’s got a great story too. One that’s hard to condense because not only is it a story of finding the true meaning of yoga and receiving yogic benefits, but it’s a story of unparalleled business success in the yoga industry due to the development and growth of Power Living. Duncan has become an unintentional icon in the yoga world, inspiring thousands of students to delve deeper into both their physical and spiritual practice.
Duncan lives in Byron Bay and spends his days surfing, socialising, yoga-ing and running a successful business. And he’s nice! I’ve been working in the yoga world for a while now, and I’ve only ever heard great things about this guy. Now, I understand why. There’s something about his ability to be present that makes you feel like you matter. I chatted with Duncan about where he came from, his passion for all things yoga, and how he feels about the ever-changing industry.
Duncan, or Dunx as he’s affectionately known, started his yoga journey at 15 when he moved into his best friend’s house. He fondly remembers his friend’s dad – “a pretty eccentric fella” – who would chant and meditate regularly, as well as practice various styles of yoga. Dunx delved into the spiritual practice with his friend and father and fell in love with the deep peace he experienced, which was something he says that “really helped me with the anger I had as a rebellious teenager”. Two years later, Dunx learned to put those teachings into practice when his friend devastatingly passed away in a car accident. Dunx says, “The meditations and yogic/Buddhist philosophies we were taught by his father became very important to me, and they were a way of dealing with the grief and unfairness I felt towards the loss of my best friend and the cruelty of the world.” Dunx says his physical practice didn’t begin until years later after an injury in the army motivated him to try Hatha Vinyasa.
Beginning in his late teens, Dunx served as an officer in the army for six years. Because of the contrast between the two disciplines, he is often questioned as to why he joined the army. “They seem polar opposites,” he says. “In its volition it is, but the discipline for practicing yoga and being in the army are very similar … I joined the army because I was a very troubled teenager. Even though I had already been introduced to yoga, I was a confused young man who lacked direction.” And although Dunx’s reasons for joining were in reaction to his distress, he acknowledges the importance of this time of his life. “My whole life changed. I had ambitions and felt for the first time in my life that I could make something of myself.” At 24, Duncan sustained a life- threatening illness – a ruptured ulcer that occurred during an army exercise which had been designed to assess his leadership skills under high levels of stress. As a result, he was medically discharged from the army and went on to work as a business consultant. He remembers this time fondly as he was able to explore the leadership qualities that continue to come so naturally to him. However, by the time he had turned 26, Duncan decided to follow his heart and set off on a two-year travelling stint through South America, Europe, and India. It was during this time that he was able to reconnect with his true self – the young boy who had discovered yoga all those years ago.
I’m curious about how one of Australia’s largest and most successful yoga businesses came to be. Dunx tells me he was working through the Ashtanga series quite seriously at the time, and when friends showed interest in why he was so strong, flexible and clear, he started giving them tips and private l essons. Eventually he hired a surf lifesaving club, and every Saturday morning his friends would come along with their donation, which Dunx passed on to charity. He says, “After that I started teaching at the only ‘power yoga’ studio in Sydney and helped to run it.”
In 2004, Duncan started running Power Flow which quickly became the busiest studio in Australia. Soon after, Dunx purchased the business and renamed it Power Living. He was teaching up to 18 classes a week while also working as a full-time business consultant. “I slept on the floor of the studio many a night, waiting to get up to teach the next morning before having to go to work. I felt plugged in, directed, a force was working through me and nothing was going to stop me teaching regardless of how hard I had to work. I wanted to share yoga’s joy with everyone,” he says. Since then, Power Living has thrived. It has nine owners and studios, employs 130 yoga teachers and has graduated more than 1000 teachers from its trainings. Dunx tells me, “The evolution of the studios was really an organic process, as junior teachers of mine wanted to make careers out of yoga and the industry allowed this to happen.”
Dunx has seen great transformation in the yoga industry since he began practicing. He says, “I think the longer you’re in the yoga bubble, the harder it is to let it naturally morph into something bigger. Sometimes I get lost in how it was and should be rather than how it is. So, I try to just observe impartially and see the positives of the industry growing. There are now many festivals, yogi celebrities, diluted yet popular practices, and so much competition driven by people with only business goals. It’s now mainstream … yoga is to fitness as organic is to food. My attitude to it is to let it evolve but stay true to what I feel is a sincere practice in a modern world.” How does Dunx stay grounded and authentic in the modern world of yoga fame? “I didn’t really have a vision to be ‘Mr Power Living’. It just happened because I wanted to teach transformational yoga because of the way it had really helped me. People who lose themselves in the yoga celebrity world are either very young or have lost touch with their practice. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I know this from experience. There have been times when I lost my practice and got lost in fame, fortune and the seductive comfort of success. But my practice motivation was always to be at inner peace, so I always come back to that. When it comes down to it, we (the Power Living crew) realise our success is a divine essence working through us, not just us, as individuals, being amazing.” Dunx says it’s not always easy feeling the expectations of the yoga world upon you. “I struggled with myself for years as the stereotype of what a yogi should be was thrust upon me. Now I just accept who I am and that’s it.”
What advice would Dunx give to his beginner yogi self? “Do it all again the same way. Yoga comes from your heart. Be yourself, honour tradition, and create from that. There is so much wisdom to learn. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You need no-one’s permission to be who you truly are, but remember everybody else shares that potential too.”