I Interview My Yoga Teacher Alexandra Aitken

From the Daily Telegraph of London Oct. 5, 2006: "Alexandra Aitken used to be known for being the daughter of a disgraced minister, partying, posh boys and polo matches. But that’s all changed. Now, she tells Emily Bearn, she’s hard at work making films."

I know Ally best as my yoga teacher who prescribed the "wahe guru" meditation that’s changing my life. (Ally’s MySpace)

We began our chat Friday afternoon with lunch at the hovel. I prepared a tasty salad and offered a fresh package of pumpkin seeds to pour on top.

Luke: "Alexandra, when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

Ally: "I went through many professions. First of all, I wanted to be a nun. I was head sacrosant at Canterbury Cathedral."

Luke: "Head what?"

Ally: "The person who carries the cross around with the archbishop."

Luke: "How do you spell it?"

Ally: "I don’t know. I’m dyslexic."

"I think it’s because they wanted people to go to church and so they picked me because I was kinda popular and I guess I was that way inclined.

"Then I wanted to be a vet, and then I wanted to be a physicist. At age 15. I really got into the esoterics of how the universe was structured.

"And then I ended up going to art college. Many many changes and exploratory missions into professions. It was very interesting."

Luke: "Where are you in the birth order?"

Ally: "I’m the eldest."

Luke: "You’re not supposed to be a rebel and teaching yoga in Los Angeles."

Ally: "No."

Luke: "The youngest is supposed to be the rebel."

"You went to public schools?"

Ally: "Yes."

Luke: "Where were you in the group?"

Ally: "I was entirely a loner but people liked me. I was a likable maverick."

Luke: "Were you a teacher’s pet?"

Ally: "Not at all. Teachers liked me but they couldn’t work me out. They didn’t quite know what to do with me. I tended to think independently, out of the box. I’d ask questions that didn’t fit within the curriculum or within the boundaries ot the subject they were teaching. And that can be confusing. At the same time, school was a challenge to me because I didn’t know how to stay within the boundaries of what I was supposed to deliver. Society can be hard for people because the models set in place, most people don’t fit into those models. Often there isn’t room to fit in individuals. I think there needs to be more of a widening perspective to accept where somebody is and how their mind works rather than put that individual into a certain type of model."

Luke: "If your classmates were to vote for you in high school [to predict your future], what would they?"

Ally: "Most likely that anything could happen."

Luke: Which art college?

Ally: "I went to Chelsea School of Art in London and then I went into stone carving, a lost art taught by only two people who know what they are doing. I found one at the University of Kent and the other at City and Guilds of London Art College. If the yoga doesn’t work out I can repair cathedrals or use my welding skills to put cars together.

"I started doing these performance pieces with my sculptures. So, it started involving like perishable goods and people. Then I decided to get into film. Then a friend of mine [Mike Figgis?] said, ‘Do you want to be in my film?’ I said I guess so. It would be interesting. I determined I was the maker of fine filmmaking art. I had no intention of being an actress. Then the film did really well. It won a prize at a couple of film festivals. Then I got an agent and then I just started working as an actress."

Luke: "How old were you when this began?"

Ally: "Maybe 20. Yes. That was fun."

"The first real job I got was with Ian McEwan. Enduring Love (2004). Directed by Roger Michel. I went along to the audition and he said, ‘Do you have anything on tape that I could see?’ And I just bluffed it. I was like, ‘Well, yes, but you just can’t see it right now.’ I got the part."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about the acting life?"

Ally: "I love people. I like watching people. I like interacting people. In the past, I didn’t like going on auditions. I didn’t like queing up and waiting my turn and having to audition, but now when I audition, I find it fascinating and fun when I look at it through that lens. I like looking at how people interact. Every moment is an opportunity to enjoy somebody and learn more about how someone works. Now I have a really good time."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about your childhood?"

Ally: "I love that I got to experience a lot and travel a lot. I’m very happy that my father is very well read, so just sitting in the same room as my parents I got a fantastic education. That’s the best thing that happened. Actually, everything that happened in my childhood was a total blessing. Anything that might not look like I liked it was a total blessing. My father went to prison. I was not happy about that when it happened."

Luke: "How old were you then?"

Ally: "Eighteen. It was actually the best thing that ever happened because if you don’t go through a few ups and downs in life, you don’t learn anything or you don’t really become anything."

Luke: "So did it change the way people treated you?"

Ally: "Yes, it changes the way people treated me. I suddenly became more recognizable. ‘Oh, look, there’s the girl whose father went to prison.’"

Here are some excerpts from the Wikipedia entry on Ally’s dad Jonathan Aitken:

He was elected as MP for Thanet East in the 1974 General Election; from 1983 he sat for South Thanet. A notably handsome man, he managed to offend Margaret Thatcher by ending a relationship with her daughter, Carol Thatcher, and suggesting that Thatcher "probably thinks Sinai is the plural of Sinus" to an Egyptian newspaper. He stayed on the backbenches throughout Thatcher’s premiership and engaged in a number of activities, including participation in the re-launch of TV-am (where he was involved in an incident in which broadcaster Anna Ford threw her wine at him to express her outrage at both his behaviour and the unwelcome consequent transformation of the TV station). He was eventually offered membership of the Hurlingham Club when he became Minister of State for Defence Procurement under John Major in 1992.

…On 10 April, 1995, The Guardian carried a front-page report on Aitken’s dealings with leading Saudis. The story was the result of a long investigation carried out by journalists from the newspaper and from Granada TV‘s World In Action programme. By 5 o’clock that evening, Aitken had called a press conference at the Conservative Party offices in Smith Square, London, denouncing the reports and demanding that the World In Action programme, due to be screened three hours later, withdraw them.

During this press conference, Aitken made his notorious speech:

"If it falls to me to start a fight to cut out the cancer of bent and twisted journalism in our country with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight. The fight against falsehood and those who peddle it. My fight begins today. Thank you and good afternoon."[2]

…During his stay in prison, Aitken rediscovered the Bible, learned Greek, and became a student of Christian theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. This part of his life is covered in two autobiographical works called Pride and Perjury and Porridge and Passion. He married his second wife, Elizabeth Harris, in June 2003.

He gave a talk called "I Want to Break Free" at Holy Trinity, Brompton in January 2006 where Nicky Gumbel described him as a "great friend"[2]. On Sunday 13th July 2008 he gave a sermon at Kings Church International[3] entitled ‘Finding God in the Depths’ where the Senior Pastor Wes Richards introduced his coming as a great privilege and described Aitken as a friend to both himself and the church.

Ally: "Otherwise, it didn’t change. I’m not sure. I don’t think I was looking for the difference in how people were treating me."

Luke: "You’re famous in England. You’re not known in America."

Ally laughs: "I didn’t know you knew that."

Luke: "What do you love and hate about fame? You can go to one country and you’re famous and you can go to Los Angeles and you’re not. So what’s it like?"

Ally: "It’s not really that different. Like, I guess I’ve always been kinda lucky where people have been really nice to me a lot, so in many ways I feel like I’m always treated like I’m famous anyway. So I don’t think there’s anything that’s changed that much. Maybe you’re not turning up to something and there isn’t a bank of photographers. A lot of feeling, a lot of feeling good about yourself…

"In America, I’ve noticed that if I turn up to an event and you feel good about yourself, that’s infectious. Very often people will go, ‘Who is that?’ And it’s really only because you’re feeling happy or feeling more solid within yourself, which makes you very magnetic. That’s worth knowing. I’ve played with it quite a lot from a yogic or energetic perspective. If you walk into a place where there are photographers and I’m not feeling good, I’m not feeling good about myself and I’m not feeling good about the people I’m with, I’m not thinking I’m so lucky to be here, I’m just blessed, this is a lucky brilliant fantastic day, then nothing really happens. If I’m thinking it’s Wednesday, I love Wednesdays, the sun’s shining, I love the dress I’m wearing, I love the five people I’m with, I’m really excited about seeing this film, the premiere that I’m at, then the spotlights turns on you. And that’s interesting, playing with that, being able to have gears. As a wanna be physicist and yogi, you can change gears and see what happens. Try it out in your own environment and see what happens to you when you decide to feel great and help other people feel great. You’ll have a much nicer experience."

Luke: "How did you get into yoga?"

Ally: "I tried a few other types of yoga and I thought they were nice but they didn’t do that much for me. And then one day I walked into a yoga class at Goldenbridge and I thought, oh wow, what is this? Kundalini Yoga. This is weird but this is wonderful. I didn’t really know that happened in the class, it was like being zapped by something extraordinary. I needed to know more. So on the way out, I bought a book and I went home and tried meditating. I did a meditation to make one happy forever or a meditation for prosperity, you’ll be so wealthy materially and spiritually. I tried these things out and found out that they worked. The deeper I went, the more it worked for me. I decided that this is the best thing I’ve discovered.

"I came to LA. Yoga teaching was starting last year and I took it. I put my foot on the gas pedal."

Luke: "How long you been into yoga deeply?"

Ally: "A year full on, deeply immersed."

Luke: "it’s really taken over your life?"

Ally: "Entirely. You can deeply restructure your own psyche. You can deeply heal yourself and others in many ways. Yogis in caves. This has been around 5,000 years. Anything tried and tested that long, it’s worth giving a try. It’s not like some belief system. What I like best about this Kundalini Yoga, try it and see."

"My mother’s a mystic but I never engaged with her mysticism that much. It was hers and everyone has to experience it for themselves for it to be valuable."

Luke: "If I were to ask your friends, how has yoga affected you? What would they say?"

Ally: "They’d all say I’ve become a much nicer person. I’ve become happier, lighter. I know these guys who buy their wives Kundalini Yoga passes because they get a woman who comes back who’s a nicer person. They don’t go though."

"If I were a guy, I’d get myself to a yoga class fast for the women."

"I had no intention of becoming a yoga teacher. I took the teacher’s training and had no intention of finishing. I took one weekend and thought it would be an interesting weekend and that would be it. But it would so mind-blowingly extraordinary, I thought I’d take it for another weekend. When you have such an experience with this yoga, you can’t not touch it. You have to share it with somebody."

Luke: "So much of British humor is cutting someone down."

Ally: "Unless you’re British, you’re going to hear it in a different way. A lot of it is not as cutting as it sounds. You know how someone punching you on the arm can be affectionate? It’s affectionare. It sounds belittling, but it’s not. It’s affectionate. I think there are better ways to express yourself affectionately but that is their way. You’ve got to respect the British people’s way of being affectionate."

"If you can make someone laugh a lot, it is forgivable to cut someone down, but you have to make really happy laughter. Otherwise, why would you do that?"

Our conversation moves on.

Ally: "I’ve always had psychic abilities, I just didn’t tell anyone about it. It’s not something you advertise. I was very reluctant to do anything about it for a very long time… I let things slip with friends of mine. I met another psychic who exposed me. She uncovered my disguises and suddenly people came knocking on my door. Then they’d tell a friend and I’d have a queue."

Luke: "What do you do psychicly?"

Ally: "I don’t know. It’s not me. It’s a bigger thing. All I do is pass on the information. I’m a messenger. I hear something and I pass the message on. I see something and I describe the view. When somebody sits down, I don’t know what’s going to happen until they sit down and ask me questions and then I’ll get a vision… Then I pass on this download of information. There’s always a way of delivering something that is useful to the person."

"Everyone has intuitive psychic abilities."

Luke: "How has this economic downturn affected yoga?"

Ally: "I have discovered that during this economic time it is a good business to be a drug dealer or a yoga teacher. People are looking for some kind of relief. They are looking to get out of themselves and yoga provides that."

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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