Lesley-Ann Brandt Photo by Leslie Alejandro.

Off the set, on the Mat with Lesley-Ann Brandt

Rising star Lesley-Ann Brandt plays a demon on Netflix’s Lucifer. In real life, she’s more of an angel – a committed activist, yogini, vegan, mother, and ambassador for Earthchild Project, a group teaching health and wellness and lifestyle skills to under-resourced children in her homeland of South Africa.

Born in apartheid Cape Town – “the original deep south”, as she’s called it – Lesley-Ann endured segregation and systemic racism before emigrating at the age of 17. Following her creative passions to Los Angeles, she appeared on the Starz Spartacus series, Chuck, CSI:NY, Gotham, and Single Ladies before gaining international fandom (and 1.8 million IG followers) on Lucifer , one of Netflix’s most streamed series. Los Angeles also brought her a spiritual awakening when she discovered yoga through her teacher, Joe K, co-founder of Urban 728 Yoga.

After completing a 21-day yoga challenge, I wanted to find out how yogic practice has awoken her to a new way of relating to herself, her career and relationships, and expanded her sense of service to humanity.

Parashakti: How have truly listened to the call of your soul? To that inner teacher, your inner higher power guidance that is running the show?

Lesley-Ann: I was born and raised in South Africa. I was born in ‘81 and into apartheid, a very tumultuous time in my country’s history. What I saw and dealt with a lot as a child was segregation. I had to grow up really quickly, instead of having these things explained to me. The South African way is very much just to keep going, keep pushing, just get things done, often not dealing with issues or, listening to our bodies or our minds or our soul, even when what we really should do is sit with it and sort of listen. It was outside of South Africa and outside of my normal cultural upbringing that I discovered yoga, and really built a sense of prioritizing of what was really, truly, genuinely important.

What I’ve learned from my yoga practice over the last 10 years with Joe is that nourishing your soul and your mind is equally as important as the physical part of taking care of your body and working out. I was the typical gym rat, never taking a moment to breathe. My career, my job, my industry is very busy. It’s very noisy, it’s very self-involved in a lot of ways. Yoga is the opposite of that. When you’re practicing with a room of people, you’re flowing together, you’re growing together, you’re feeding off of each other’s energies. I’m joining a community who already works daily towards uplifting their individual communities. Our space at Urban 728 is so sacred and beautiful and the thing that I take away from there, I apply to my daily life.

Parashakti: Ten years ago you took your first yoga class. Was that a “wake up” call?

Lesley-Ann: I was a typical out-of-work actress trying to make it. It is Hollywood, if that’s all your life is about, it’s a very shallow life. So I was on that hamster wheel and trying to survive and assimilate into a new culture. My parents were in New Zealand and I didn’t have my tribe of people and I was still in the process of building that chosen family, when you move to a new country. I discovered Joe, who was teaching at a yoga studio at the time, literally a block from my apartment. I had done a little bit of Bikram. I wasn’t a fan of that rigid practice generally. Every body is different, [and] I just preferred the messages I was getting from Joe, and I loved how he incorporated what was going on in the world into the classroom, coupled with the music and the breath. It was, I remember distinctly, the one time my mind shut off for an hour, which was such a gift to me at the time. Then I just fell in love with it. I felt lighter. I felt I unpacked a lot of luggage.

Through that, I met friends, and I became part of this community. What was incredibly important was to find connections outside of the business. It’s very easy to continually talk about the business or about shows and TV and film. Here I was connecting with people who had nothing to do with Hollywood. We were talking about life and we were connecting on so many other levels and deeper levels, which was really beautiful. And then I’ve never been able to not do yoga. Regardless of where I am working, the first thing on my list is to find the closest yoga school? What are the reviews and who are the teachers? I need to find my homing beacon, my reset button.

Lesley-Ann Brandt at Urban 728 Yoga

Parashakti: In your 21-day challenge at Urban 728 was there a challenge you brought to your mat, or an a-ha moment that you’re comfortable sharing?

Lesley-Ann: Yeah. I am your typical A type. I want to do everything yesterday, keep pushing, keep pushing, keep working through. I’m a working mother so I’m always being torn in 40 million directions. And there were days in this challenge when I cried, to be honest, because I was exhausted from work and I had my mother hat on. And there were days when I couldn’t make it to Urban so I practiced in my trailer on set and lit candles and played music and meditated. I think [I recognized] it’s it’s okay to not do it all in a day. You know, it doesn’t make you a bad mother. It doesn’t make you a bad wife. It doesn’t make you a bad person. So I distinctly remember having a moment in my trailer on set and my candles are lit and tears are just streaming down my face cause I was being kind to myself, for the first time in a long time. I gave myself a big hug and it was really special. I talked to my husband about it afterwards. It was very profound for me in that moment.

Lesley-Ann Brandt and Yoga Teacher Joe K

Parashakti: What have the deeper practices of yoga brought you and what you’re doing for the world with it. What is your soul now looking into wanting to create on a bigger level for humanity, for yourself, for your family, for your son?

Lesley-Ann:The first word that comes to mind is this philosophy we have in South Africa called Ubuntu, which roughly translated means humanity towards others. And it means that I cannot prosper unless everyone does. I just did this reading of a children’s book recently for the Calm App benefiting Red, which is an organization that provides lifesaving AIDS medication to people. And in the book there’s a story about this man coming to a village and having a bag of candy and saying, “The first person to race up to the tree will get the entire bag of candy.” So he says this to a bunch of kids and then to his surprise, all the kids join hands and they all run to the tree together. And the man goes, “Why did you do that?” And they said, “Well, how can one of us enjoy candy when everyone else is unhappy?” And I think the greater lesson for me is carrying that philosophy here. We are all are one. We are all one giant bowl of energy.

Lesley-Ann Brandt at Earthchild Project

Parashakti: That’s so, so beautiful. As you’re doing the Earthchild Project, what do you see in terms of being able to expand your vision?

Lesley-Ann: It is tough when I go home. In Los Angeles here we have, sadly a huge homeless community and we see it when we go down to Skid Row, but in South Africa it’s the small kids living on the streets or kids who are begging. And that’s always difficult when I go back.?I just was so humbled, because through the gift of yoga and meditation, [the Earthchild Project] teaches these kids who are living in and amongst crazy violence and poverty, and parents who are dealing with substance abuse, dealing with things that children should not ever in their lives ever have to go through.

And I just was so inspired by the teachers at the Earthchild project because they have dedicated themselves to gifting these children with a philosophy of humanity and kindness, and teaching them how to respect their bodies and the environment. Unless we all prosper as humanity, none of us will really truly be free to express and live our fullest lives. I just didn’t see how you see suffering around you and then go about your life as though it’s okay. These kids are so special. I spoke with the director [Janna Kretzmar] the other day and they just can’t believe that people in America care about them.

Learn more about Lesley-Ann Brandt and her work, follow her on IG at @lesleyannbrandt.

Learn more about Earthchild Project

Earthchild Project is a nonprofit operating in eight schools in two townships in Cape Town, supplementing school curriculum with free yoga, meditation, organic gardening, and environmental education. Their mission is to create meaningful and sustainable change by providing practical skills in how to live a holistic, balanced lifestyle with a focus on self-awareness, health and the environment.

“On behalf of the Urban 728 Yoga we would like to thank and appreciate everyone that connected with us during the 21-day challenge. We believe in the opportunity to wake up and create awareness on and off our mat through the practice of yoga. Our community expands across the world and our contributions are inspired directly through our instructors, staff and students. It has been a beautiful adventure while raising awareness with Lesley Ann Brandt to shine a light on Earth Child Project during our daily practice challenge. We look forward to building and visiting the safe space yoga studios in South Africa that will support our earth children for many years to come.” Joe K, Urban 728 Yoga.