Born in Belgium, raised in Luxembourg, Gregoire Thiry, 32, describes himself as an educator. There’s much more to him than that. Greg (as he is known) is also a musician with a terrific singing voice, as well as a teacher of yoga, mindfulness, movement and science. And he has an extraordinary thirst for knowledge.
“I educate myself and share what inspires me. Maybe a book I’ve read. I love to share what inspires me,” said Greg who, along with his wife Dawn Geer, teaches at Manzanita school and leads Kundalini yoga classes in and around Topanga.
French is Greg’s first language. He is also fluent in English, German and Luxembourgish—which is a kind of French/German hybrid. Greg’s education and his desire to learn new things took him around the world from Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France to South Africa before settling in bohemian Topanga.
Greg funded his travels and education working primarily as a waiter in high school and college, and odd jobs as they came up—like at a recycling center and an indoor play structure in Luxembourg. He also received a scholarship funded by the Luxembourg government. “It was barely enough,” he said. “But enough.”
Sitting on a school bench in the south of France, Greg wondered why he was there. His dream to be a marine biologist hadn’t materialized. He says French academia made it inaccessible to him.
“I was just trying to absorb knowledge and regurgitate it,” said Greg. “My critical thinking was not really asked for. And I felt lonesome. So in the beginning of the third year, I started looking for opportunities internationally. Everywhere but the United States, because as Europeans we have very strong opinions about what America or the United States is supposed to be. It was the worst place to go, all the clichés.”
After months of looking everywhere from Thailand to Africa, an opportunity came up as an intern at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. That was nine years ago.
“I took the big blue bus from LAX to Hollywood and spent ten and a half months as an intern. I learned so much. I worked with incredible people who helped me and gave me an opportunity to shine.
“I arrived in the US believing I was useless. It was the way I was taught. The experience taught me humility and my preconceived ideas about America were shattered. I got to discover a side of the Santa Monica Mountains few people ever experience. I thought everyone lived in places like Topanga. I lived in a dorm in Diamond X Ranch, Calabasas, right next to King Gillette ranch where we teach yoga now.”
After nine months as an intern, Greg decided he wanted to explore Southern California for a few years. While he was traveling through Europe, he used a site called CouchSurfing. “You travel, meet locals and they show you around. I went to Long Beach, Santa Barbara, and I tried Topanga. Dawn Geer, my dearest, was one of the people I contacted on the site.”
Dawn didn’t answer Greg’s request immediately.
“I had to check him out first,” said Dawn, “look at his reviews to see he was a normal, decent human being. He was. We met up at Water Lily Cafe in Pine Tree Circle and went for a hike. Then another hike to the labyrinth on Tuna. We got along right away.”
Neither of them were looking for romance, but there was a connection and their friendship blossomed into something deeper.
The couple traveled together: six months in California, then Belize and Guatemala road trips. At the end of his internship, Greg had to return to France to continue his studies. Dawn wanted to take a course, Teaching English as a Foreign Language, and they found one in Montpellier, southern France.
Greg said, “It felt good. It felt right. Our relationship was a gradual progression. I speak for myself, but the love for traveling awakened a deep love for Dawn.”
They had a lot in common, the same values and interests, and they discovered Kundalini yoga together. Dawn had been doing a little yoga before that. It resonated with them both. But yoga was hard for Greg at first.
“I didn’t grow up in a spiritual household, so it always sounded a little cheesy to me,” said Greg. “I was always driving my parents crazy, drumming with forks on a table, so they gave me a djembe drum when I was twelve.”
“Music has always been part of my life. Both my parents were interested in world music, blues, rock, pop. The music we heard as a family was very diverse. Music was a mode of communication. Once I started traveling, I could communicate with people without speaking their language.”
There’s chanting in Kundalini yoga, which is how Greg discovered he had a good singing voice. He said, “Kundalini puts you in places of discomfort and stretches your mind and body.”
Greg is an avid collector and player of unusual musical instruments. Both Greg and Dawn create musical soundscapes after their weekly yoga classes (hosted by different neighbors in Topanga). If time allows, Greg sings one of his own gentle compositions while the yogis are in shavasana (corpse) position.
While completing his masters in South Africa, Greg discovered kids’ yoga there. “I got to see a side of Cape Town that shattered my heart and shaped my world. We met a dear teacher who was involved in teaching yoga to young children in townships. Instead of putting the children in detention, they were given yoga classes. So smart. We were a support, not trained as teachers then. Thirty to forty-five kids in a huge circle. Teachers would bring in food to share. Seeing these young children aged between five and fourteen create their own bubble of safety, getting a sense of peace and chanting these mantras, and seeing the effect on their faces — their whole expressions changed. I thought ‘this is a really important practice.’ It works. That’s where we learned yoga teacher-training for children. That led us back here, to teach what we learned out there.”
Greg began teaching yoga to children in the Palisades and Santa Monica. Now they teach at Manzanita school five days a week. As partners, Dawn & Grégoire also run the After-School Program “OAK TREE Club” there. Greg also teaches yoga part-time to children as young as three at Topanga’s Love School.
Before introducing the students to yoga, Greg taught science and music at Topanga Mountain School. “That launched me in my career as an educator and I’m very grateful for that.”
Dawn Geer was born and raised in Topanga, and is part of the renowned Geer family. Her grandfather was Will Geer and her father is Thaddeus Geer. She says Topanga is a good place to bring up children.
“I had the best childhood here,” Dawn said. “Education is good. If people want to go the mainstream way there’s Topanga Elementary. There’s a big home-school community here and then there are (private) schools like the Topanga Mountain School and Manzanita which offer a more child-centered philosophy based on mentorship. It’s about creating a tribe and bonds of trust. Knowing that you will be supported no matter what.”
The couple also teach yoga regularly at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, usually the last Saturday of the month. The class is sponsored by the Western National Parks Association and draws people from the broader LA area. There can be up to 150 in the class. “Yoga on the Mountain” is held outdoors under sycamore trees.
It took Greg about eighteen months to feel fully at home in Topanga. He said, “It took me time to root down spiritually, emotionally and physically because I came from traveling and being curious. Once I settled down, I started listening to the land. I didn’t know land could speak. The more I was cultivating this relationship, rooting down and investing energy in our home, the more I got a sense of home. The last time I went back to Europe, I had the ultimate confirmation that home was Topanga. This is where I want to be. This is where I see myself longer-term. I am nourished by my environment, my relationship to Dawn and this beautiful community.”
The couple forget the date they got married, but they celebrate the day they first met at Topanga’s Water Lily Cafe: January 11, 2015.
For more information and to contact Greg and Dawn visit www.yogaofelements.com or direct message them on Instagram @yogaofelements.