Episode 24 – Men Also Do Yoga With Chris Magee
01:16 – Chris’s background: while studying movement, he realised his body was damaged
04:57 – How yoga started and why the practice can be beneficial to us
13:16 – Mindset is the biggest deterrent for men starting out in yoga
19:14 – Each person can do it differently: yoga is not a competitive sport
25:47 – It’s okay to have goals but with yoga, always remember your ‘why’
32:20 – Focus on the movement and don’t try to imitate someone else’s pose
37:58 – Get into the habit of responding with mindfulness instead of reacting
40:55 – Yoga is a practice to enhance your whole life: it is a lifestyle practice
44:53 – Children are little sponges when it comes to movement, language and energy
47:35 – A good starting point for men who have never practiced yoga
53:18 – Key actions: Chris’s recommendations to help bring some yoga into your life
Welcome to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast where you can learn how to improve your diet, lose fat and get fitter in a sustainable and fun way, without spending hours in the gym. Here is your host, Darren Kirby.
Darren: This is Episode 24 of the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. In today’s show, we’re going to be understanding huge benefits yoga can bring to our overall fitness, health, and wellbeing. Joining me on the show today is Chris Magee. before finding yoga, Chris’s background in movement centred around rugby, martial arts and personal training. Chris came to the practice of yoga to help relieve several injuries but ended up coming back for the mental benefits, leaving each session happier and healthier. Chris partners with the London gym chain, Psycle, and is ambassador for Lululemon. Hi, Chris, thanks very much for joining me on the podcast today.
Chris: Thank you very much for having me.
Darren: No worries. Chris, before we kick off into the podcast, can you give us a little bit of background about you and how you got into yoga and became a yoga teacher?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I actually first started practicing yoga when I was studying at drama school. All through my life I had been sort of a sportsman and rugby was my primary sport. I had a lot of injuries off the back of that and whilst I was studying movement as an art form, the movement teacher said to me, ‘Hey, your body is broken; you can’t move around very well. You need to go and do something to help repair the damage that you’ve done.’ So she pointed me in the direction of yoga (and) that’s when I started practicing myself.
Fast forwarding out of that, I ended up working as a personal trainer for many years and it was one of those things that I did to keep myself healthy and balanced. And no matter how much you said to your clients, ‘hey, make sure that you’re stretching, make sure you’re doing yoga, makes sure you’re doing something to rebalance your body,’ nobody ever did. So I thought, well, I’m missing a trick; I should probably just go and get myself qualified in this so that I can then offer that as a service as well. That was my first route into teaching yoga–was for my clients. I had no intention of ever being a yoga teacher, certainly not a full-time yoga teacher doing nothing else. But as time went on, that was the path that I ended up taking.
Darren: Yeah, it’s interesting, Chris. I think your background is very interesting as well because there’s quite a few people that are in the movement, functional movement in yoga space now, who have got histories and backgrounds in rugby and you guys get very beaten up, obviously, doing that sport. But the other key thing that you mention there is around getting people to stretch and move before or after exercise and that’s one of the things that I used to find–I don’t find that anymore–being a huge inconvenience. You kind of have, ‘well, I can’t really see any benefits from it, or I’ve done my workout, I’ve really smashed myself in the gym, I’m just going to carry on.’ But actually, after a period of time, your body then starts to give you the messages that you can’t continue like that, right? Because you just become so immobile, you’re not able to move in the same way that you were even before you started exercise. I’ve learned, through injury like yourself, it’s hugely important and actually can help you perform better in the long run.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. 100%. It’s a shame it normally has to happen that way, but we’re all a little bit hard headed, a little bit stubborn. We tend to have to… especially the first time, we have to learn the hard way. Those things are necessary. A lot of people that I speak to have similar stories where it’s like, oh, yeah, definitely got myself injured doing X, Y, Z sport, activity, weights, etc., and then I ended up doing some yoga and now I feel much better. It’s kind of like, yeah.
Darren: Yeah. And then it actually becomes part of your training program. It’s definitely become part of mine now because I just know and I can feel, particularly around running, I’m just such a better runner because I’m able to move more. My core’s a lot stronger, my hips are a lot looser, and things like that. So yeah, definitely, I’m a big advocate of yoga. I wanted to just go into the practice of yoga, Chris, because not many people, including myself, know about the ancient practice of yoga–its roots, where it all comes from–so, can you give us a bit of insight into that?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. The earliest Yoga is kind of vague in terms of when it’s recorded. Some date it back to about 5,000 years ago, some would potentially date it back to almost as far as 10,000 years. For the ancient yogis, they were very much sort of outsiders on the edge of society. It was like an introspective practice where they would have gone, lived remotely in the mountains and it was actually very much initially a mindset practice. They would have been doing a lot of meditating and a lot of breathwork. Then the purpose of the asana, the posture-based yoga that we probably think of as yoga in its modern form, was all because these guys were getting really stiff and sore when they were sitting and meditating for long periods of time. Then all of the poses were there to let them stretch their body so that they could then return to sit and meditate for longer.
Ultimately, what they then tried to develop, which is why it’s a very mindful practice within the Asana itself is that ultimately you don’t break your state of meditation in order to do the pose; you have a moving meditation, so you’re able to stay in that meditative Zen mindset whilst you’re going through all of the postures. And then that’s when it became an extra connection to breath and everything else.
In the West, there’s an eight-limbed path of yoga which is outlined by one of the ancient yogis called Patanjali and it’s all based around pranayama which is breathwork, energy, a controlled breath extension of your body–asana–and it’s all meditation, sort of like a lot of the limbs together. It’s ultimately like leading you towards a state of enlightenment or higher consciousness.
Darren: Okay. That’s interesting, particularly around the breathwork because, again, when I first started, for me, it was about the movement side of it. But actually, once you start to dial in your breathwork and you start to be a lot more conscious around your breathing, you find that the practice of yoga become much, much easier in terms of getting into the pose and things like that.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. It’s one of those things where you think, ‘oh but I breathe all the time so that bit’s going to be easy.’ Like, inhale and do this and exhale and do this or whatever. It’s never anyone’s first concern when they come to the practice but it’s such a curveball that people get thrown. Where all of a sudden, they’re like, I couldn’t breathe at all, or I felt I was holding my breath for the entire time I was doing all of the things. But I think it’s also one of those comfort level things, so as soon as you start to become a little bit more comfortable with the postures, then you can actually start to take your mind onto your breathing or onto something else, you know?
Darren: Yeah. I found when I first started, it’s a lot easier said than done. To really tune out all of the noise that goes on in your head and to really focus on your breath, is actually not as easy as it sounds when you first start out. It takes a lot of effort, really, to cancel out all of that noise.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely.
Darren: Some of us are familiar with yoga, asana, and the poses, but what other aspects of yoga can be beneficial to us?
Chris: It’s become more popular in recent times as well because of the real boom in mental wellbeing. As I said in that brief history of where it came from, this ancient part of the practice, it’s primarily based around mindset, like mind training and meditation as well. The fact that you’re going to get your physical movement–and within that the physical movement can be lots of different styles of the physical movement so it can deliver a whole range of things.
I teach classes that are incredibly strong and incredibly powerful in terms of body weight moving. So you’re going to be really breaking a sweat, really feeling like you’re developing strength as well as getting into the body of the muscle to work release of tension. Right the way through to classes that are very, very chilled, very relaxed, where it’s going to be all about just finding gentle steady breaths, down-regulation of your nervous system, improving your sleep, removing tension from the body and there’s zero stress that goes into a class like that.
Both of those things are equally valid. The movement itself has lots of different options depending on what it is that you need to get from it on any given day. But yet the other two big practical takeaways, I think, for most people, are mindfulness within their daily lives, or that sort of like Zen meditative state that they’re able to tap into anytime that they need to go there. And the breathwork is a big one, and is in particular a big one I find for sportsmen or other athletes, people of other disciplines.
Like yourself, you said that you felt that you find the yoga practice really helping your running, which I have no doubt is a physical thing in terms of loosening of the hips, the hamstrings, the hip flexors, whatever else it happens to be and the core strength, as you said. But also just your ability to breathe better or like just set up a good rhythm of your breath and then have that rhythm of the breath match, say, the cadence of your run is going to be a huge, huge factor. I think breathing, mindset, and obviously, the benefits of the asana practice in all of its aspects are the big takeaways, I think, for most people.
Darren: Yeah, I think particularly on breathwork. I’ve literally, only in the last couple of weeks, I’ve really been focusing on breathing out during my run. And I found that the impact that it has had on my running has been amazing. The fact that you constantly breathe in and out when you run and you’re not doing it consciously. But when you consciously breathe out during your run, big deep breaths out, I found that I’m able to run faster and longer just because I’m expelling, I’m making a conscious effort of really–from the stomach–expelling that air out. That’s been almost a game changer for me.
But also just breathwork in general. I had Richie Bostock on a few months ago, on the show and it was at that time I started doing breathwork. I will go outside in the morning when I get up, it’s only literally for a few minutes, but I’ll do kind of just breathe in and out quickly or breath in, hold my breath into my stomach for 10 seconds and then breathe out. The mental clarity that that then gives me to start the days, is unbelievable.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely.
Darren: So what would you say are the biggest challenges when it comes to men starting out in yoga? Because there is a general perception and obviously yoga’s become very popular now and there are a lot more men doing it. But there is and there has been in the past, a general perception that yoga is just for ladies and girls, and men don’t really do that stuff. But actually, that’s obviously not the case. So what would you say is the biggest challenge for men when they’re first starting out?
Chris: You touched on it directly there. Mindset really is the big deterrent. For a lot of guys, it’s that sort of preconception that you set up in your head where you say, ‘oh, this is just a bit of stretching, or oh, this is just for women or whatever it happens to be.’ That tends to be the biggest detractor. More often than not, the thing that I hear from people who don’t already have a yoga practice is ‘oh, but I’m not flexible enough to do it.’ That’s like saying that you’re too dirty to take a bath; the flexibility comes from the practice; it’s not a prerequisite that you have to have for the practice.
Ultimately, a lot of the things that we do, we like to be competitive and we like to be successful. And it’s really one of those things that you already know that you have something lacking that the practice is going to highlight. That’s quite a confronting thing for a lot of people. They don’t necessarily like to have what they’re “bad at” pointed out and this is a practice that will do that. So if you struggle to balance on one leg, you’re going to know about it within this 60, 75, 90 minutes, whichever class you happen to be in.
If your left side is weaker than your right side, you’re going to find out about that. If your left shoulder is tighter than your right shoulder, this practice is going to show that to you. So it can be quite confronting and that as a thing, some people just don’t like that. Some people come away from it and they’re like, ‘That was impossible. I couldn’t get any of the things and this was on, and this happened, and I was holding my breath and this and this and this…’ And they’re like, I’ll be back next week. And sometimes people, if they don’t have success straight away, then they don’t want to put the effort in. That’s kind of like one of the biggest drawbacks.
I think something as well, I suppose interesting as well for your listener base, this is a practice for men. Yoga was not practiced by women until the modern era. All yogis were men from five to 10,000 years ago, right the way up until very, very modern times, like the last couple of hundred years. I understand as it’s developed in the West that it’s become, ‘oh, look at all of these girls going and doing yoga and whatever else,’ and it has all of those stereotypes associated with it. Because again, women have a natural tendency towards flexibility that perhaps we don’t have in terms of the freedom in their body, so they might be drawn more towards that as a discipline. But they also have their own deficits: it’s important to recognise that everyone is working on their individual strengths and weaknesses within a session.
So for example, I do a lot of press ups in a class. There will be the movement that’s called the chaturanga. It’s like a 90 degree press up, is the easiest way to describe it for any of your people that haven’t necessarily practiced before. And I’ll put holds in, I’ll put repetitions, I’ll make them come down and come back up to plank again a few times. Again, all of this in connection with breath and still works within the flow and the mindset of the yoga practice. But you find that that is a moment in a class where… Obviously, I’m generalising quite greatly here because I have an awful lot of very strong female students, but that is a moment of challenge primarily for females. Whereas most of the guys that come to class can knock out two or three press ups.
The tempo might be slightly different, the holds might be slightly different, whatever else, but that’s not normally a moment where the chaps will struggle but it is a big moment where the ladies will struggle. Then something like downward facing dog is generally speaking a moment where the ladies are chilling out and having a lovely time. And if anyone had a body like me whenever I first started the practice, downward facing dog was like hell on earth.
I remember one of my first ever yoga teachers, she kept saying, “Just come back to your downward facing dog to rest.” And I was like, what are you talking about? Rest? Like this is awful. Because it’s a big pose because it requires a lot from your body. So what did I have? Again, I’m generalising quite greatly here, but the problem for most guys, is we have tense shoulders, we have tight backs, tight hamstrings. We’re strong but the back line of our body is very “bind.” And when you’re in your downward facing dog, you’ve got your arms up over your head, your biceps are by your ears and hands on the floor, but you’re trying to get your arms into that overhead position. You’re trying to stick your bum up in the air as high as you can, lengthen out through your lower back, and you’re trying to lengthen your legs. So you’re working through the back of your hamstring. It automatically highlights the three places where we are probably the tightest and therefore it becomes like a huge struggle.
So I think you’re always going to have those moments. Everybody’s different as well. I think that’s like the beautiful thing about the practice. The fact that if you go to an “all levels” class, you can see that various different people are taking different options, different variations, different modifications, using the props in different ways. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
When I first started, I came to class and I wanted to win. Straight up, I was like, I am going to win this yoga class, I’m going to smash it today. Whatever she does over there, I’m going to do it and I’m going to do the next version as well. It was that. But that was my whole life up to that point, the only type of training I had ever engaged in was for the purpose of performance, was for the purpose of metrics. It was to be measured, it was to be compared, it was to be pushed and progressed, and it was to be competitive. So it was, like, why else do we play sport? Why else do we care about the numbers of the weights that we lift? Or any of these things.
That was my attitude towards the yoga practice and because of that, I was punishing myself. Every class was awful because I was pushing and pushing and pushing. And by the action of pushing, I never got a chance to relax. So even though I was there to release all of this tension, I didn’t feel like I was making any progress because of that. And that was then like a real crutch that was holding me back–was having that attitude.
Same with shavasana, the lying down bit at the end, for people that don’t practice already. I couldn’t chill out. I was like, I don’t get it. Why do we lie down? Why is everybody just lying down? We could have done five minutes more of like, whatever; why are we just lying down? I couldn’t close my eyes, couldn’t chill out, and didn’t feel like I had any purpose in that moment. Which, again, as people start to practice, I get it. I was that person, I know. But after about six months in, I wasn’t making any progress, my body still felt tight, I still felt like all of the injuries, all of the things, like all of the reasons that I was there, all of the stuff that I was trying to work on, wasn’t getting any better. And I had this make or break moment where I was going to quit. Where I was like, I don’t want to be back, I don’t want to do it again… I’m sorry, is your podcast explicit or not?
Darren: Yeah, a little bit.
Chris: A little bit? I had an F-it moment. Where I said, ‘Right, do you know what? I’m just going to go today and I don’t care if I do all the poses. It doesn’t matter because when I’m pushing myself, I’m not getting any better anyway, so whatever. I’m just going to go and if I have to lie down, I don’t care. I don’t care.’ And I had this shift in my attitude towards the practice. I went that day and it was the first day that I was able to really sort of settle into the breath. By the time we got down shavasana, I fell asleep. It took me over six months and it was the first time I had practiced that I was able to actually relax.
And all of a sudden, the teacher woke me up at the end of shavasana. And I was like, whoa, what? How long was I asleep for? I probably was only asleep for a couple of minutes but I felt great, my body felt good, I felt energised. I was like, oh, wow, my shoulders feel good, my hamstrings feel great. Like, all of the things that I was there for all of a sudden, were feeling the benefit of the practice because I wasn’t in that state of constant tension. Because I wasn’t trying to smash myself; I wasn’t trying to win. And that was a real epiphany for me when it came to practicing. So then that was my new attitude when I went in.
And then fast forward six months down the line, then the difference that I had made in the first six months compared to the difference I made in the second six months was astronomical. The second six months was obviously a huge, huge development of progress in terms of how my body felt physically how it was moving and the capabilities that I had within the practice. Ultimately, that did not come from longevity of practice; that came from shift of mindset. That’s sort of a tangent away from the challenges to what men have when they’re starting out.
Darren: I think that’s very valuable for a number of different reasons, really. One is that I can definitely relate to that and I think it’s… I’m not sure–you might be able to correct me if I’m wrong–but I’m not sure if it’s a male ego thing. Because we go to the gym, we go training, we want to go hard, we want to smash it out, we want to get results. And then we come to yoga, that’s opposite. You have to switch it on its head.
And even now, I still struggle with it. As an example, the downward dog. When I first started, I went to my first class, I’m like, ‘right, I’m going to get my heels straight to the floor.’ No way. Lucky if I can get them 45 degrees! But then as a male, you know, I’m going to force it, I’m going to push it, I’m going to push harder. And as you’ve just said, that has the opposite effect. It’s that slowing down almost to speed up, that old adage.
And I completely agree with you. When I lie down, even now I don’t think I’ve still mastered it. Because when I lie down on the floor, I close my eyes, my mind is racing 100 miles an hour. For me to try and tune that out takes a lot of effort. So yeah, I completely relate to it.
Chris: Yeah, ego was a big thing. For sure, it’s a big thing. It’s got a lot of negative rap, you know, but I think the important thing to remember is that we all have one and it’s not necessarily something that you get rid of. The practice of yoga doesn’t rid you of your ego. I can’t say to you like, oh, yeah, 10 years down the line and I have no ego anymore. I definitely do.
And I think the other thing as well to not blow the line on is, I’m very big on people having goals and having things that they’re working on because I think that it gives you purpose. And I think giving your practice a direction or a purpose is an amazing tool to help you stay focused; to help you stay dedicated, disciplined, committed to whatever it is you’re doing. And that is any discipline. That could be running or it could be lifting weights or it could be martial arts or it could be yoga or whatever. I think having those goals and having that purpose helps to keep you in it because consistency is king in everything, right? And it doesn’t matter what the discipline is, consistency is where you begin to really see benefit. But consistency from the right mindset.
And I think it’s important then to recognise those moments, because what the shift was for me away from the ego–the ego was like colouring my whole class with one big brushstroke. Like it’s all going to be this, like, it’s go time, push. And there are moments where stuff is hard and you have to have that little bit of drive and you need to be like, do you know what? I’m going to push, I’m going to hold this plank for an extra three breaths, or I’m going to try this thing that they’re talking about, even though I might not be able to do it. I’m going to give it a go.
And I think that those moments are necessary, but I think it’s also necessary to be able to have that constant conversation with yourself where you’re like, ‘Hey, why am I doing this right now?’ Because as soon as you then start to understand your why, then you start to add more colours, then you start to add more detail to the layers of your practice and you’re able to say ‘Ah! You know what? Why am I trying to get my heels to the floor? Why am I trying to do that? Oh, because I saw in a yoga post, or like a photo, or I’m looking at the person beside me, and their heels are on the floor. So I think that that’s the way that the pose is meant to look.’ And again, it’s like that shift.
Everybody’s different, right? We know this. There are obviously certain common characteristics that we all share, but you are not the same as the person on the mat beside you. So ultimately, your posture will not look identical to that person’s posture. So trying to put yourself in their pose isn’t super helpful. I don’t actually demonstrate an awful lot when I teach for that reason. I will explain to you verbally, where I want you to be and then I will come and I will help people make corrections into that space. Because ultimately what happens is if I demonstrate it, people just watch and then they try and copy and unfortunately, it’s not a process of osmosis like that. You can’t just see me do it and then automatically do it. It’s also like, the finesse within the posture, even the quicker classes, there’s still a lot of detail that goes on in terms of ‘what am I meant to be feeling?’ And it’s a feeling practice more than anything else. And that’s where you kind of get into all of like the subtle body energetics within yoga.
It’s like, try this. Do you feel this is opening up your hamstrings? If it is, great, stay with that. If it’s not, try this. Try this. It’s like different paths, same destination. Rather than it being like, oh, I have to get my heels to the ground, it’s like, well, if I stop worrying about taking my heels to the ground, but I actually start thinking about engaging my quads, for example, or tilting my pelvis up into the air a little bit more, does that get me more benefit in that moment? Do I actually feel length and release from those things versus the tension that would happen if you’re trying to drive your heels to the ground? I think it’s also a strategy thing. The less you make your decisions from that place of ego, the more detailed you are and then the easier it is for you to pick and choose your battles and develop a strategy within your practice.
Darren: Yeah, I think that’s really interesting that you say that you don’t tend to demonstrate too much at the front of the class. Because, as we’ve already said, everybody’s individually different. And if a guy next door to you on the other mat is putting his heels to the floor and you’re not, it’s almost like a competitive thing that you have to do that. But actually, what you don’t realise is where that person has come from in terms of what they’ve done up until now, which enables them to get their heels to the floor. They could have been practicing for God knows how many years prior to that individual class, right? Like you say, it’s having your why and focusing solely on you, and just really understanding what your body can and can’t do.
One of the other things that I found is that because it is a kind of a slow process in terms of getting yourself into the various different positions and things like that, when you see others absolutely nailing the poses, you’re like, it’s incredible. Like, why can’t I do this? This is ridiculous. I should be able to stretch this. This is such a simple, kind of calm and slow process. Why can’t I get in that position? And it’s, again, just focusing on yourself, isn’t it?
Chris: Yeah, it’s focusing on yourself. And again, it was one of those things for me where I always came at those comparisons from a negative space. And I think it was interesting what you said about, like, you don’t know how long that person has been practicing for. I would add to that and I would say, you don’t know their length of experience, you don’t know their natural tendencies. Some people are genetically predisposed to be faster. Some people are genetically predisposed to be able to be more explosive. Some people are genetically predisposed to be able to be more flexible. There are certain markers that we have which lend themselves in these directions, so you don’t know what skill set they bring in the first place as well.
Which is why it’s also very difficult to say like, if a guy comes to me and says, ‘Hey, I’ve been practicing for a year. What were you like after a year?’ Again, I understand why, because they’re trying to get a point of reference to make sure that they’re along the right track or whatever it happens to be. But ultimately, everyone’s journey is going to be totally different.
Another thing then to say is how many times a week do you practice? How long do you practice for? Because again, if we’re coming back to consistency, it’s like, oh you want to get better at running? How often do you go running? It’s like there’s something to be said in terms of that. Because ultimately there will be those moments where you’re trying your best to stay focused on yourself and whatever, but you’re in a collective. Like you’re in a room full of other people and people are awesome and they do ridiculous and incredible things with their body.
And so instead of negatively critiquing myself and saying, why can I not do that? I was like, wow, I’m going to be able to do that. Or it’s like, I can’t do that yet but that’s possible. I’m watching somebody in the same room as me do that. Someone over there is balancing on their forearms and I was like, that’s crazy. How did you learn? And then it’s like, ‘hi, how did you learn how to do that?’ And then it lured me into being inquisitive. I was fascinated by those things and then I wanted to unpick it a little bit further. And then it was more about a thirst for knowledge and then application of knowledge through the practice, that then makes those things a possibility. Rather than being like, oh, I’m terrible because I can’t do what that person is doing.
I was just more like, these are all sources of inspiration. If someone in this room can do that, then it is absolutely possible that I can do that as well, for 99% of the poses. There are certain ones where you’re just like, hey, that ain’t for me, because of X, Y, Z. It could be something to do with your body architecture, or something to do with your movement history to that date. For example, some of the deep hip opening poses aren’t possible if you have a really deep ball-and-socket joint because everyone’s pelvis is going to be slightly different.
If you’ve got a really deep ball-and-socket joint, some of the things just won’t be there for you. But that’s not to say that there aren’t equally valid other postures in terms of creating the same sensation. So sometimes you have a physical thing like that or, like I said, there’s a boundary that needs to be worked on. Like, I’m not quite strong enough for that yet, or I don’t quite have the flexibility that I need to get to X, Y, Z, whatever it is.
Again, I’ve never injured myself doing yoga but I have heard of people injuring themselves doing yoga. It’s not the yoga that does the injuring; it’s the attitude of pushing yourself to a place of suffering or pushing yourself to a space where something is going to snap. Like forcing your way into a pose because, again, ego–you want to be in the pose, rather than listening to your body and saying, do you know what? I’m good right here. I’m already getting whatever I need to be getting from this space.
Darren: For me as well, it comes back a little bit to responding and not reacting. What I mean by that is exactly the scenario you gave: when you see someone else in a class doing a move that you can’t do, instead of reacting and saying, I can’t do that because of X, Y, Z, how about responding and saying that’s interesting. How can I now get to that point, right? I think it comes back to the whole mindset thing as well, doesn’t it? Habitually, it’s very easy for the human mind to jump into the negative and say, I can’t do that because of this or they’ve been doing it for ages; I just can’t do it. But just having that awareness to reframe it and having that appetite for learning is really key.
Chris: Yeah. Ultimately, mindfulness is the space that we create between stimulus and response. It’s like something is being input and I am able to take a step back and have a moment and then allow that response to happen. And that can be instantaneous, it can be in the moment, but if you’re actually being mindful about your actions, even though they are very fast, it’s still with that awareness. Because, again, people have patterns and habits, right? We are creatures of habit and we thrive off of these things. Sometimes your habits are good and sometimes your habits are bad, but ultimately, when it comes to yoga, you don’t want to work from a place of habit.
What you want is mindfulness in these moments, so I talk a lot in class as well about just be aware of it. Be aware of what you do. And if you do like that variation of that thing that you do, why? Why do you do that? Do you do it because you always do it or do you do it because it serves you in that moment? And just simply something of having that question.
Because, let’s say, someone cuts you off when you’re driving and your typical response would be to flip them off or scream or shout, or whatever it is, right? That’s not to say that that response is not valid. I think this is why sometimes it gets a negative rap because people are self-critical of like, oh, the thing that I already do is bad. Actually, no, do you know what? Maybe that was someone who needed to be shouted at because their behaviour is selfish, or X, Y, Z. But just having that moment to say, ‘am I going to do what I normally do or am I going to do this thing instead?’ Simply by asking the question, you’re in a mindful space and then whichever decision you make from that mindful space is right, because you give yourself the opportunity of choice.
Darren: Definitely. I completely agree with that. Absolutely. That’s something that I’ve been working on outside of yoga as well, is this whole kind of responding and not reacting. Just taking that split second to say, hold on a minute, how am I going to deal with this? What’s going on? How am I going to deal with this? Right, I’m going to do this.
This, for people listening, might sound a bit crazy, but it just enables you to deal with things in a much, much better way and ultimately for you personally, stops you becoming stressed out, irate and all the rest of it. I just think it’s a much better way to deal with certain situations. I know it’s a little bit off tangent for yoga, but I think it’s part of yoga anyway.
Chris: I think it’s actually completely on tangent for yoga because ultimately, yoga is not a practice of poses that you do in a room. Yoga is a practice to enhance your whole life. It is a lifestyle practice that you’re engaging in. For me, I was a massive hothead, like a huge, huge hothead and I had such a bad temper. And all of a sudden, I caught like the sneaky backdoor benefits of yoga. Because again, very similar to yourself, I was there for the physical and then ultimately, I started to kind of recognise the physical and the breathing and like whatever else was going on in the room. But after a little while, I was like, oh wow. And people that had known me for years were like, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s going on?’
I was like, what do you mean? And they were like, you’re just very relaxed, you seem very different, your attitude is different and this and this and this. And I was kind of like, ‘Hmm, is it?’ It’s almost something that I didn’t recognise until it was pointed out to me but it had this huge impact on the way I was living my life day to day. All of a sudden, I was like, wow. I’m less stressed.
When you think about it as something like that, it’s not a washy thing. It’s like, wow, this is a practical tool, something that I can do, something that I can invest my time in that is going to let me live my life in a better healthier way. There was a long time where I did yoga and nothing else. I stopped lifting weights, I stopped playing sport, I stopped doing everything. Because I was able to modify and adapt this physical asana practice in order to make sure that I was getting enough of what I needed for my body. But ultimately, I was like, this thing has the most bang for your buck out of anything else that I do and I can do it every single day because I can go every day.
And one day I can go and I’m feeling fresh and I’m feeling energised and I can really push. I can be like, yeah, like today is the day that I want to work on my strength and I want to challenge my handstands and I want to do all of those things. And if I’m tired, I can go the next day, and I can be like, today is the day where I just get to sit down at child’s pose or I just get to breathe deeply. And both of those practices are valid. I was like, wow, this is a thing that means that no matter what I’m doing in the room, I’m successful. This practice was a success because, coming back to what we said before, I was mindful about what I was doing and it’s that kind of thing. It’s great to hear that you’re having that similar experience as well in terms of yoga off the mat.
Darren: Yeah, and the other thing I want to mention as well is that’s now translated over to my kids. I’m not sure if you’re a parent or not yet, Chris, but when you have stressful situations with your children, just stopping and saying, ‘Right, this is not going well. Let’s just stop a minute. Let’s just reflect on it and then let’s deal with it.’ Instilling that into your kids is so profound because that enables them as they grow up, to be a lot more mindful about their actions, about their responses to things and how they deal with things. And it makes them, in my opinion, a much more balanced individual as they start to grow up.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, children are amazing because they’re little sponges. And we already recognise that they’re little sponges when it comes to movement, because obviously they don’t understand us but they see us moving and walking around and then that’s how they end up starting to crawl and starting to stand and starting to walk and kind of like develop through that.
Then they’re sponges in terms of language. They learn to talk by listening to us talk, so they develop their speech that way. So people are like, oh, please don’t swear at the kids because you say it and they’re going to be saying it all day. Same when it comes to skills. We look at all these amazing sportsmen or these magnificent musicians or whatever it is, who have been like, oh, I was playing the piano from the age of two. And it’s like whilst their brain is so fresh, they absorb all of these things.
I think the thing you were touching on that often gets neglected is they’re sponges in terms of energy as well. So if you are putting out a high frequency, stressed out, erratic energy all the time, then they’re feeding off of that. It’s like when you see a toddler having a tantrum in the shop and a parent is shouting at the toddler, you’re like ‘you are not picking the correct strategy for success in this moment.’ Ultimately, you need to bring yourself right down because then that’s going to be the only thing that brings them back down as well, you know? And you being able to say, I’m putting out this kind of mindful approach or, okay, I sense that we’re going here so I’m making a conscious choice to say I’m not going down the same path that we’re going right now. I’m going to take a U turn and I’m going to bring myself over here, knowing that that little sponge is going to soak up whatever it is that you’re putting out yourself.
Darren: That’s cool. I could talk about this for hours and hours and hours, because I just think it is such a valuable process and a tool to use. But in terms of some of the dads and men that are listening to this that have not even considered doing yoga or have never practiced yoga, what would be some of the things that you would say, Chris, is a good starting point?
Chris: Definitely, if you have the opportunity to go and practice with someone face to face, I would say, it’s going to be super, super beneficial, especially in those early days, because it means that you’re getting some outside feedback. I know that it’s not always accessible and that people will often practice online or will do things that they can kind of get to whilst they’re still in their house which is awesome. I have an app if people want; like, what I’m talking about and if they have any interest in practicing with me, there’s a free version of that which I can send you a link to, so you can link the listeners up with that if they are practicing at home.
But if you have the opportunity to get to a studio or to your gym, like a class in your gym, and practice with someone face to face, it’s going to be like super important to get that early feedback. Because a lot of the time, we think we’re very aware of our body but we’re actually very tuned out and just being able to get back into your body or being able to get an outside source to say like, Hey, I know you think that you’re doing this but you’re not right now. You’re actually doing this, so try this, this and this instead. It’s invaluable, I think in the first month or so of practicing.
Just be aware of what you’re going to, you know. There’s a lot of different names, there’s a lot of different labels that various different studios will have for classes, but 99% of the time, there will always be something that’s called ‘beginners’ or ‘foundations’ or ‘fundamentals’ or whatever it happens to be. Get yourself along to a couple of those sessions. Even if that’s not your vibe, even if you’re like, oh, well, I don’t want to do the basic stuff. We know from everything that we do, you’re not going to load up a squat rack with 140 kg the first day you step into the gym. That’s the easiest way to get yourself injured.
Because again, it’s an ego move, right? Just taking that out of the equation, just saying like, hey, I actually don’t know what I’m doing so I’m just going to go and learn something. That attitude of I’m here to invest in myself, to improve my knowledge base and whatever else it is. So, I would say get down to a few of those sessions if you can first, and then as soon as you feel like, I’ve got a little bit of the lingo down now, I sort of know where my hands and my feet go when I’m doing this, I sort of know what it means when they say, take a vinyasa, and know what’s the difference between an up dog and a down dog. Once you feel like you’re empowered with a little bit of knowledge, then I think it’s a really great space to then step into whatever other type of practice you want.
Darren: Yeah, and I think this comes back to what you said in the beginning around consistency, right? To use your analogy about going into the gym and just putting 140 kg on and doing the squat rack, you wouldn’t do that. You’re not going to get the results immediately. I think everyone lives in this “Amazon” economy right now where you order it today, you want the result tomorrow. It doesn’t work like that. Fitness, nutrition, yoga, whatever we’re talking about, it just doesn’t work like that. You have to be consistent and you have to give it time. As you said, if you force it, it just won’t work. It just won’t happen. That’s so key.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, like, that’s not to say that you won’t get any benefits at early doors. There’s lots of benefits. And I think it comes back again to what goals are people setting for themselves and is your goal realistic? Because, like I could say to you, my goal is to run a marathon, but I’m not going to go and do that tomorrow. Or I’ll be like, ‘Hey, listen. I signed up for a marathon next week so I’m going to start training today.’ You’d be like, ‘Oh, no.’ Not to say that I couldn’t go out and do it but there’s a strong possibility that I’m going to suffer greatly by doing that. Or that I’m going to do myself some serious damage, like I’m going to go out and I’m going to injure myself or something is going to happen because I simply have not prepared or I have not allowed myself to build up to that level of whatever it is.
I think that yoga is the exact same as that. It’s like, hey, have your goal, awesome. What is it? You want to touch your toes? Amazing, great. I’m cool with you having the goal, but let’s not be like, I need to touch my toes by the end of this week or I’m not coming back to practice again. It’s like, where was I at when I started? I was here. Okay, then I went back the next time and I could go a little bit further. Oh, and then I went back that third time but I had done a heavy leg session the day before so actually, my body was tighter. I kind of went back to where I was. Okay, so maybe I need to make sure then that I do this and this versus this and this. It’s an evolution of that, rather than like, here’s my thing, I’m going to put my blinkers on, and I’m going to go at it, you know?
Darren: Exactly. Yeah, that’s really key. So, Chris, before we finish off then today, and to sum up, what were the five key actions you would recommend the listeners can take away today to help them bring some yoga into their lives?
Chris: I would say, mindfulness in action is that real big one that we talked about, just in terms of like yoga off the mat, being able to take a step back, creating that space between stimulus and response. You said react versus respond. Was that your terminology for it? Yeah. I think that that’s perfect in terms of the way that people engage in their daily lives.
Then off the back of that, I think it’s going to sort of allow you to be a little bit more aware of what it is you’re doing in terms of your habits, your patterns. Does this serve a purpose; does it not serve a purpose? And just being a little bit more analytical, having a little bit more of that self-inquiry as to why we do the things that we do or why we think the way that we think. It’s going to hopefully create a real positive shift for people in terms of what they’re doing in their daily lives, but also how they feel and how they think going forward.
Breathwork, we touched on, is another big one. And it’s something that I often will say–it’s the easiest bit of the physical yoga practice that you can drag and drop into any other moment in your day. We sort of already know that already. It’s like, someone sent you an irate email, you type your response, and then it’s like before you hit send, stop, take three deep breaths, read it one more time. That is the pranayama, that is the breathwork in action right there. We all know that that’s a possibility so it’s just being able to then say like, okay, actually I’m going to take that on board. Or like you said, you step outside and you do a couple of breath holds or you take a few deep, deep breaths before you set off on your day or before you head out to whatever it is you’re going to do. It just gives you an opportunity to press that reset button, and you refresh yourself back into the present moment and then operate from that space of presence rather than that kind of autopilot that we sometimes get sucked into.
The physical asana practices is amazing. It’s going to be up there in terms of what people can take into their lives and know that it’s different strokes for different folks. It’s different practices for different bodies, and it’s different practices for different days, depending on your different circumstances. All of the practices are valid; everything is valid so don’t concern yourself if you go and one day you’re able to do 100 chaturangas and a handstand. and the next day you’re not. That’s okay. It’s okay to have a day where you’re working on challenging yourself and testing the limits of what’s possible and it’s okay to have a day where you go, and you’re a little more chilled. Again, it will depend on where it fits into your training regime.
My current regime is balanced out. I do things that help work on my aerobic capacity because that’s one of the lacking things in yoga. I do some strength work, I do some pulling strength work specifically because there’s not a lot of pulling in the yoga practice. So I’ll do a lot of ring work or bar work or things like that, so that I’m developing the back line of my body, the posterior chain, a bit more. There’s a way to find the perfect blend.
Obviously, I’m a yoga teacher. So the majority of my yoga practice, that is the majority of my movement per week. You’re a runner, there’s no way that I would say to you, hey, I’m going to need you to stop running and do nothing but yoga because that’s going to improve your running. It’s like, no, I have to find a healthy balance of those two things, so I think that would be the other thing to take away from this. It’s like, hey, don’t assume that this is the only thing that I’m telling you to do. What I’m saying is be smart about how I can integrate this into my life to make it sustainable long-term, and also to help me improve in all of the other areas of the things that I’m already doing physically, or in terms of lifestyle, or whatever else is going on.
That was four or five, but there’s enough in there.
Darren: That’s perfect. I think one of the things that I want to mention is I actually did a video on it this week. And that is when you’re saying about one day you go there and you do one practice, another day you go there and you’ll just relax in an almost meditative practice. We’re not machines and so we can’t continually do the same thing day in day out. It’s just not natural, it’s just not part of who we are as humans. So it’s just understanding that and accepting it.
Because I think all too often we try and force stuff and I’m definitely guilty of that, you know. If I’ve run a 5K and a four-minute per K one day, I want to go and do the same the next day. But the reality is, you can’t necessarily do that, because your body reacts and responds in different ways so it’s really important that you understand that and you know your body. It might seem all a little bit of woo-woo but it’s so important and it’s so beneficial.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely right.
Darren: Before we wrap up then, Chris, is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you feel that I should have asked you which would benefit the listeners?
Chris: No, I think we covered a lot of stuff. If I were to add anything else, I would just say give it a go. There is that real kind of fear factor sometimes that holds us back because we’re worried about looking bad, or we’re worried about not being very good at it, or we’re worried about not being the most flexible person in the room or whatever. I think if you just take that pressure off yourself–that it’s not necessarily about success and failure–and just give it a go.
If you go in with an open mind… Because again, depending on the style of class that you go to, there may be some elements where you’re a bit like, ooh, this is a bit out of my comfort zone. You might end up with a teacher who is a little bit more spiritual or who’s a little bit more focused on the yoga mythology or a little bit more focused on chanting or whatever it is, or a bit more about the Sanskrit language that the pose names come in, or whatever it happens to be. All of those things are very much outside of our modern comfort zone and are all detractors. All things that give you excuses not to go. Ooh, I don’t want to go because they did that. I don’t want to go because it’s like that.
Actually, just give it a go because it’s a ‘take what you want and leave what you don’t.’ That’s certainly my attitude towards teaching it anyway. It’s like, hey, like I’m offering up these things and if you’re just here for a stretch, great. If you’re here for a stretch and maybe a little bit of mindfulness, great. If you’re here for philosophy, great. If you’re here to connect to your body energetically, great. If you’re here to work on your handstand, great. All of the classes have all of these things, but I don’t know what your goals are, so just be open to going and experiencing what it is that you need. Like, ah, this is the bit that I need and I’m okay with not worrying about the chanting or not worrying about the funny language or not worrying about any of that other stuff. Because, yeah, everyone’s going to have their own pathway through it but I think the important thing is to try.
Darren: Yeah, definitely. I definitely agree with that and I think I’d be very surprised if for many guys that go, that it doesn’t feel uncomfortable when they first go. But give it some time and give it some effort. I absolutely guarantee you’ll get so much from it if you just lean into the process and be a little bit consistent with it. Chris, it’s been amazing talking to you today. Thank you very much for your time. How can people connect with you? On what social channels, websites, and on all the rest of it?
Chris: My primary social channel is Instagram. The handle is @mageesy. If anybody wants to connect, please give me a follow there and if you have any questions of course, shoot me a message and I’ll try my best to get back to you all. I’m on Facebook as well. If anybody is a Facebook user, it’s Chris Magee Yoga. If you just search that, then that will come up with my Facebook page. If they are in London at any point of time and they want to come and practice with me in person, I’m the head of yoga at a studio called Psycle which is based in Oxford Circus. The website for them is PsycleLondon.com. Like psychological, funnily enough.
My personal individual website is Mageesy.com, same as the Instagram handle. All of my international workshops and things like that will be on there. The link that I was talking about to the online platform, FIIT, where I teach some classes is in the bio of my Instagram as well, so if people are interested in doing some online practice with me, they can find that there.
And just on the off chance, if anyone is a little further along in their yoga practice and they’re interested in becoming a yoga teacher, I run yoga teacher trainings as well. It’s a great way to develop a personal practice, to get a little deeper into the knowledge of yoga without necessarily having to teach off the end of it. It’s probably a little misconstruing that it’s called a teacher training, because people don’t necessarily always do it to become a teacher. But yeah, like a teacher training. If you’re interested in yoga teacher training, the website for that is EmpoweredYogaSchool.com.
Darren: Perfect. That’s fantastic, Chris. Thanks very much for your time and I’d like to be able to get to one of your classes in the future. It would be awesome to do that. Thanks very much for your time, Chris, and I look forward to catching up with you soon.
Chris: Thanks, Darren.
Darren: Thanks for listening to the Fitter Healthier Dad podcast. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe and I would really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. All the links mentioned in the episode will be in the show notes and a full transcription is over at FitterHealthierDad.com