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Being confined is nothing new for Nick Brewer. He spent six years in an Argentinian prison, four of those in isolation for twenty hours a day. Yoga found Nick in prison and he went on to combine it with Pilates, basic gymnastics and other forms to create his own school of Primal Movement.
Now Nick is sharing Primal Movement sessions free online from his home in Ibiza with thousands of followers worldwide via Instagram Live.
Before Nick and I spoke on WhatsApp, I watched the episode of the long-running National Geographic documentary series Banged Up Abroad that tells his incredible story.
Nick, originally from Essex, went from being a member of the UK ski team with a future ahead of him that potentially included the Olympics to becoming, as he puts it, ‘a full-blown smuggling gangster’ raking in millions of dollars dealing cocaine in Scarface quantities.
A plain-speaking guy, not ashamed of his past, Nick told me ‘I was in the arse end of the world, in a third world prison and I had no idea what yoga was. My mind was on Mars. When yoga came into my life it was a gift.’
Over thousands of hours spent in his prison cell, Nick used yoga books and his intuition to put together everything he was learning about yoga schools such as Hatha, Iyengar and Ashtanga to understand body movement.
As well as providing the catalyst to enable Nick to go deep into learning how his body worked, yoga set him free even before he was released back into the world.
‘For two years, I’d known freedom was a state of mind,’ he explains. ‘The doors inside me had opened up and I’d become a free being, albeit in a confined space. All the meditations and asanas I’d done had such a profound impact on my life that I’d basically shed my old self.’
Sitting on the Jumbo jet catapulting him back into the world, Nick knew right away that if yoga and movement could have such a profound effect on his life, he had only one desire.
‘I wanted to integrate those practices into as many people’s lives as I possibly could. I didn’t know how or where, and I had no money. I’d gone into prison with $10 million in strongboxes and now I had literally just $100 dollars in my back pocket.’
Nick began teaching yoga in London in 2010, starting with one client. A year later he was doing an average of 25 sessions a week. He was so successful that he created his own studio in a West London pub called The Chilled Eskimo where he used to party in his previous life.
For the next six years, Nick was highly in demand for classes and privates.
In 2016, one of Nick’s yoga clients, ‘a supercool guy who was almost like a mentor to me’ offered him a job in Ibiza as a consultant buying properties and investing money on the island.’
Six years of getting up at dawn and traipsing around London on his scooter had left Nick burned out. He was 46.
Although Nick had changed his life dramatically once again, yoga and movement hadn’t left him. Every single day he’d wake up and do his practice and meditation before work.
As he began to make friends in Ibiza, people started coming to Nick’s house to train with him. ‘I’d wake up in the morning to do my own practice on the terrace and there’d be half a dozen people saying “Hey, let’s train”. I thought, great.’
One morning 20 people were waiting for Nick. The penny dropped. ‘I was like, I get it. Movement and integrating it into people’s lives is still there, it’s never going to leave me. It’s my karma, my way in life.’
Nick’s mentor understood. His contract was terminated.
By that time, he’d found an old warehouse in Ibiza that he and a friend were in the process of converting into a movement studio. This became Project Ibiza, where Nick usually teaches.
When you experience one of Nick’s online classes, you’ll see that it’s not like anything else you’ve ever done before. How did Nick arrive at Primal Movement?
‘I come from a sporting background because I was a professional skier until I broke my back in two places, which is why I was dropped from the UK team. So, even before yoga found me in prison, I had a vast knowledge of training and putting movements together.’
Once Nick was out of prison, he built on his knowledge. He did three different teacher trainings, stayed for months at a time at ashrams around the world and studied Pilates, gymnastics, handstand and Cirque training.
‘I’ve worked with osteopaths, chiropractors and physiotherapists and done a lot of study of functional patterns. I know my way around a body now because I’ve had to heal my own,’ Nick says. ‘Primal Movement is the outcome of 30 years of moving and studying.’
What about the spiritual, conscious side of things?
‘When my skiing career had been snatched away from me after nine years of dedicating my teenage years to it, I hit the f*ck-it switch. I broke my back again doing motocross. Then I got into skydiving and freefalling and broke my legs and shoulders. I kept breaking myself. I came to terms with my self-destructiveness and anger in prison.’
And how does Nick feel about prison now?
‘There’s no shame in going to prison. It should be looked at as an opportunity for massive inner growth. I know why I ended up there and I deserved it. I needed a shock to my system and a violent, third world prison was the only place that was going to teach me that lesson. In prison, I was able to forgive and learn to love myself. That was when my internal landscape shifted and life, all of a sudden, became very beautiful again. We have to learn to love ourselves.’
I asked Nick if he thought the fact that his School of Primal Movement had evolved out of lessons learned in prison made it resonate with people locked down all over the world.
“Quarantine has empowered me. Now’s the time to get Primal Movement out there and help people. Everyone’s thinking about freedom. The timing is amazing.”
‘Everyone’s in some form of isolation now. Isolation is something you punish people with. It creates fear and raises cortisol levels that compromise the immune system. People might also be fearful because they’re not working, there’s no money coming in. I don’t entirely agree with quarantine because I don’t think it’s healthy. My classes offer people a way to get out of their heads, release some dopamine and serotonin and feel good. Their minds are climbing the walls and they’re learning that movement classes are what I’d call a get out jail free card.’
The response to Nick’s classes is remarkable. Why did he decide to go online?
‘A few days into the quarantine here in Ibiza, people were asking me if I could do a class online. I put a post on Instagram saying I was going to do a live functional mobility class on Instagram Live. I thought, I know how to train in confined spaces. I was in a prison cell for six years!’
Now Nick offers live classes at 10 am central European time seven days a week. At least 100 people take the class and a couple of hundred do it round the world throughout the day. Nick is getting messages from as far away as Detroit, New Zealand and South America. ‘It’s absolutely amazing,’ he says.
Classes are free because, for Nick, the thought of charging someone for an hour of his time online is absurd. He doesn’t even want donations. ‘The least I can do is give an hour of my time to anyone who wants to take my class online and get out of prison. I think this resonates with people.’
Now that Nick’s online classes have proved so successful, will he continue with them once the crisis is over and Project Ibiza opens again?
‘Absolutely. My way of thinking has completely changed now that I can reach out not just to 30 people at the studio but to thousands around the world. I’m also doing research with some app developers to explore the possibility of putting all my physical content on an app and giving it away for free.’
With that we chat a little longer about yoga and freedom until I hear someone call out to Nick. He laughs. ‘The lady who just went past recognised me from my online classes,’ he says. He sounds a little surprised.
Follow Nick on Instagram @nickonhands.
Watch Banged Up Abroad here.
Written by David Holzer, a Mallorca-based author, journalist and blogger.