This Is How a Gay Yoga Master is Making the World Better

Written by | Fitness, Wellness

Yoga Master Anton Brandt

Anton Brandt courtesy The Sacred Fig

Anton Brandt isn’t simply teaching yoga. He’s deeply invested in how to better embody its lessons – like LGBTQ inclusivity.

Those Who Can Do

Anyone who believes the phrase, “Those who can’t do, teach”, has clearly never met Anton Brandt. His preternatural ability to jump into gravity defying handstands or intertwine body parts (“binding” in yoga parlance) attests otherwise. Positions that would evoke fear or discomfort in most people are places of repose for the veteran yogi, who — after years of participating in others’ training programs decided to found The Sacred Fig — a roving school for international yoga students and certified teachers.

Tall and lean, Brandt has one of those bodies that appears to bend into any shape with relative ease. His calm vocal tone and clear eyes impart an energetic wisdom that extend well beyond his years. After a short amount of time in his presence, it appears Brandt was almost pre-ordained to become an instructor. Long before Brandt set foot into a studio (or even knew what yoga was) he was drawn to key elements of the practice. And though the outcome in retrospect seems inevitable, his destiny had to find him first.

“During college, I’d smoke a joint, then go up to my dorm room, lay on my back and put my legs on the wall in what I now know is plow pose,” Brandt confides with a smile in his voice. “I would use that technique to draw inward, and did so for years before I learned that other people did the exact same thing – only they paid to do so in a class setting.”

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“What I Had Been Seeking All Along”

Years after graduation and several spliffs later (but who’s counting?), Brandt found himself hiking at Joshua Tree in his home state of California. During this same camping trip, a friend suggested the two start their day off with a DIY yoga session. “We pulled out our sleeping mats and went through some poses,” he recalls. “I remember doing a Warrior 2 and realizing that was a huge access point for me – when I got into my breath and body, I knew it was what I had been seeking all along.”

From that moment on, Brandt couldn’t get enough. His passion for yoga led him to an ashram in India where he completed his first 200-hour yoga teacher training certification. Upon receiving his initial certificate, he immediately signed up for a second 200-hour course. “The day I finished that, I sat in Vipassana – a silent form of meditation – for 10 days,” he shares. “I completed months of teacher training before going straight into that. And then I never really came home.”

After embarking on a third training program in Bali, Brandt landed in New York City. There he taught at studios like Equinox and Sky Ting. Eventually his ambitions would put him back on the road. “I never wanted to become a full-time studio instructor. I knew my dharma was to facilitate trainings,” he says with certainty. “My ultimate goal was to build a community so I could organize and lead more intensive training programs.” And he did just that.

Anton Brandt Leads a Class

Anton Brandt Speaks During a Session – Photo courtesy The Sacred Fig

Off the Beaten Path

As we catch up with Brandt, he’s just finished leading yet another 200-hour teacher training session. This one was in Coastal Alentejo, a city off the beaten path in Portugal, where he resides part time.

“I’ve always wanted to create the extraordinary, to give my students adventures and experiences that they’d never be able to find on their own,” he allows. “My farm in Portugal sits on the untouched Atlantic Coast. Here you can walk for miles along the beach without seeing another person — and that’s a good thing.”

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Bringing students to less trammeled regions of Bali, India, Italy and Portugal are signatures of The Sacred Fig model. The Sacred Fig has churned out more than 1,000 teachers since the company’s inception some five years ago. The 200-hour and 75-hour advanced trainings are fully immersive, starting with meditations every morning followed by rigorous asana and class lectures. All are delivered in intimate remote settings with the world’s leading voices in yoga instruction at the fore. Brandt’s handpicked destinations each possess unique qualities that complement his end goal of providing a sense of transformation within students. That means not only a physical transformation, as they deepen their practice and nosh on plant-based diets, but in their minds and spirits as they enter nature and disconnect from common distractions like technology (Remember: no cell phones in public spaces before asana!).

Brandt Sets Out a Meal During Training

Brandt Sets Out a Meal During Training – Photo courtesy The Sacred Fig

Fostering Inclusivity

Also key to the Sacred Fig’s ethos is inclusivity. “I’m such a huge fan of inclusivity in yoga classes and studios. [Classes] should be as accessible for my mother as they are for my nephew,” he says. “There must be room for everyone, because we all need these tools.  They are a practice in embodiment.” When prospective students fill out their applications to participate in a teacher training, they’re then asked to provide their preferred pronouns. Brandt no longer assigns roommates based on gender, either. “As a faculty, we’ve cut out phrases like ‘you guys’,” he adds. “It’s just one way we are collectively working toward becoming a more conscious organization.”

Being part of the LGBTQ community himself, Brandt feels it’s his responsibility to uphold his core values both inside the shala and out. “I love being the leader of a strong community, and also being gay,” says Brandt. “I’m thrilled that I can be open with my sexuality and also serve as a role model for people who may want to become leaders in their own communities, whether those be in wellness or any other work they do. Growing up, I didn’t have gay mentors or role models; I had to find that for myself.” Now Brandt is giving students what he never had. And he’s spreading those positive messages from one continent to another.

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An Unending Journey

In the same way someone’s yoga journey is considered unending, so too is the trajectory for The Sacred Fig. Soon, Brandt and his partner (yoga instructor Tony Lupinacci) will open a Wellness Retreat Center in Puglia, located along the southern tip of Italy’s “boot”.

The wellness center will serve as a new location for Brandt to demonstrate that he has the capacity to “do” as much as he does to “teach.” The site will also join the growing list of places he reverently refers to as “home”.

“That’s the joy of having a practice,” he says matter-of-factly. “When I’m eating, speaking and moving with intention; when I’m surrounded by others who are also doing the work — I’m living into my dharma. I’m at home.”

You can learn more about Anton Brandt and The Sacred Fig philosophy at thesacredfig.com.

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Last modified: October 3, 2019