Studying Yoga in South Africa

I’m often asked about yoga and its influence on me. It’s a story that means a lot to me. 

I was twenty years old, working and living in London. I wouldn’t say I was lost (but I was), and I wouldn’t necessarily say I was sad either (but I wasn’t terribly happy). I took a trip to South Africa to visit my brother who lived there. He had this really groovy salon in Johannesburg called Crimpers, where people would wait hours for him to give them the “London Look,” as they called it, which mainly consisted of a shag. He was really good at them. 

Yogiraj Mani Finger’s yoga column in a Johannesburg paper

Yogiraj Mani Finger’s yoga column in a Johannesburg paper

On my first Saturday in South Africa, my brother took me to a house and led me upstairs, where a man and a woman were sitting and looking at us quite incredulously. I think they thought my brother had run away from some exciting place and didn’t have a family, and there I was, looking pretty clean cut. It turns out that the man sitting on the bed in the lotus position was Mani Finger, a famous South African yogi. Mani had gone to America a number of years earlier and had an awakening with Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi. Mani was so affected by Yogananda that he gave up his business to concentrate on becoming a yoga master. 

Mani’s son Alan was there as well, and since I had a headache he took me to get some kind of juice. When we got back to the house, I had a sort of hyperventilation attack – I don’t know how to describe it, but I think it was very significant for me in my life. Mani and Alan didn’t seem too alarmed, and they sent me home with some charcoal-looking powder that their witch doctor had ground up (yes, they really had a witch doctor) that conked me out for the night. After that, I spent the rest of my trip hanging out with Alan, going to yoga classes with Mani, and reading Autobiography of a Yogi. The first hundred pages went way over my head. Then suddenly a light went on in my mind, and I thought, “Oh my god, this makes more sense than anything I’ve ever read.” I subsequently read it quite a few times. It taught me how to navigate life. 

Michael with Alan Finger in New Mexico, and Alan’s yoga studio in LA.

Michael with Alan Finger in New Mexico, and Alan’s yoga studio in LA.

Back in London, about a year after my trip, I decided I needed to go back to South Africa and study yoga for five years. Being from London, being a bit snooty, I wasn’t going to work for just anybody, so I thought I’d open a salon in Johannesburg. I did that with my brother, that’s why it’s called Bumble and bumble. The bumbles didn’t get on so well and we split up. He went off to open another salon in Cape Town. 

The yoga that I studied in South Africa wasn’t physically strenuous, it was more about holding poses for long periods of time. There weren’t so many poses in a class. But boy did I feel amazing afterwards. I say it was like getting high for someone who’s never been high. I’ve told many people that if you want to change your life, go to yoga seven days a week for a month. You will be a different person. It’s a distillation of what Mani Finger taught me. I’d go to him with a problem and he’d tell me that if I changed my energy, the problem would change. The problem is coming from where you see it, it’s all a projection. He didn’t want to talk about emotions and feelings, not because he wasn’t kind, but because he wanted your perception to shift so that you could realize that you were not attached to whatever problem you were having.

The five years I spent in South Africa made me into the best version of myself that there was. I tried my hardest and definitely, the single most important thing that I embraced there was yoga. I used everything that I learned in yoga to create and run Bumble and bumble, and to turn it into a success. In fact I was such an advocate for it that when we opened the House of Bumble on 13th street, I would have a yoga teacher come and teach, four nights a week at 6pm, and everybody could join the class if they wanted to, it was free. I think that Estée Lauder, when they bought Bumble, were horrified that I would spend money on things like that. But I think that the best possible use of money is to take care of the people who work for you, and create a culture of calmness and powerful thinking that revolves around reflection rather than reaction. 

Yoga changed me dramatically, it helped me navigate through business, and I don’t know what I would have done without it. We’ll talk another time about meditation – even better. 

Yogiraj Mani Finger

Yogiraj Mani Finger

Michael cutting Mani’s hair

Michael cutting Mani’s hair

Michael with Mani and Alan

Michael with Mani and Alan

The Beginning of Bumble – Salon Debbian

I’m often asked how I came to be in America. Honestly, I’m not terribly impressed by myself, but when I think about myself as a 15 year old boy starting work in the intimidating atmosphere and ambience of René of Mayfair, I don’t even have words. I don’t even know how I got to the subway station. And a lot of people think I’m from South Africa, because I lived there for five years, but it was more of a passing stop – a very pivotal stop that affected my whole life. Bumble and bumble in South Africa was essentially a test run before I came to America.

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