In honor of National Yoga Month, we're sitting down with some of the Valley's favorite instructors to find out how they first got involved in yoga, how it changed their life, and why they believe everybody should incorporate yoga in their lives.
Our first instructor is Anton Mackey, whom you might have taken a class from at Life Power Yoga, True Hot Yoga, Urban Yoga, The Madison Improvement Club, or the now-defunct At One Yoga. He's been teaching for four years, and his mind-body awareness and connection, helped by his background in fitness and degree in kinesiology, has garnered him many fans in the yogi world, especially here in Phoenix.
Tell us about how you first got into yoga. I was looking for an outlet to reduce stress and help me sleep better, and a friend of mine at the time, her name was Tessa, she worked at the [now closed] yoga studio At One Yoga, and she was like, you should totally try it, you'd be really into it, and I took one class -- on August 12th, 2008 -- I took Johanna Epps' class and I was hooked. I went from going twice a week, to four times a week, to eight times a week.
How did that lead you down the path of going to teacher training? One of the owners of the yoga studio [At One Yoga], Vanessa Lee, approached me in one of the yoga classes, saw me practicing, and told me "you need to do our teacher training program," so then I did the teacher training program at At One with Alex [Austin], John [Salisbury], and Jenn [Chiarelli], and then I instantly got classes and started teaching. And it's been four years since June.
How has yoga affected your life? I've always been searching -- I've always been somebody who's searching for something, whether in spirituality or a new hobby, or a new activity, and yoga is what I was searching for. It changed my life completely, gave me a different perspective. So much more becoming introspective, and that's when the work started to happen.
What was going through yoga teacher training like? It was amazing, because the group I did it [with] was a really awesome group, there were a lot of young people. It's just life-changing because you're really diving deeper into the practice, on all levels. And basically just making a bigger commitment to it, and when you do it that often, you just become almost addicted to it, you know. You have a pretty significant fan base, what do you think contributed to that? I think just personality, the way I'm able to carry a class, and then my overall knowledge coming from a fitness background. I've been in that arena, you know, leading group fitness, or leading exercises and guiding people, it was my background anyway, so I had a little advantage with that.
There seems to be a sort of celebrity-status with some instructors in the yoga world, why do you think that is?
I think it's because the people who are doing yoga are the people who are looking for more in their lives, and they see the yoga teacher as someone who can help guide them on that path. So you end up picking. You know throughout your life you have different groups of friends, you have different influences, and yoga teachers, I'd like to believe, are more of a positive influence on your life. Overall, from fitness, to health, to spiritual thinking. So the teacher becomes, you know, people look up to that person because they're helping them on a deeper level. And then as far as the practice is concerned, it's a very physical practice, so you're really learning to become in touch with your body, and who you entrust with your body is important, and you have to feel comfortable with that person. The student puts a lot of trust in the teacher in that type of space.
Are there any teachers you feel that way about, whom you entrust? I have a lot of my local teachers, but John Salisbury in particular I look up to and is one of my real teachers, and obviously Alex [Austin] and Jenn [Chiarelli] were along my path. There's a lot of other teachers, but there's teachers across the nation that I'm a really big fan of, in L.A., teachers out here, there's a couple-like Harmony [Fulton], she, I believe, helps us become the most introspective; her classes are the most introspective of all the teachers that I've experienced, at least in Arizona, so when I go to her class I'm really open to what she's teaching on more of a spiritual level than anything.
You recently hosted a yoga retreat in Belize. What led you to hosting retreats? I was interested in retreats for several years, and about three years ago Desiree Lapre approached me and said "I wanna do a yoga retreat in Costa Rica," and I said okay, let's do it, and we killed it. And we realized we were a really good team, and it's fun to join with another teacher, and we just keep doing that year after year, and now we're actually creating what we call JetSet Yogis, and we're going to use our retreats as a way, wherever we go, to give back to that community that we go to.
Where are you going next? We're kind of brainstorming. She's getting married next year, so that takes a big trip time. She's getting married in Thailand, I believe, so that was going to be our original next place to go, Thailand or Bali, but because they're getting married there... we've talked about the possibility of doing it in Greece.
Why do you think so many people love yoga retreats even though they can be pricey?Because we're all looking to get away sometime. Can you think of a better way to spend money: travel and yoga together, on a beach, in a tropical location? Like I can't think of anything better. If you love yoga, and you like to travel, I mean, what better combination can you find than beach, yoga, and getaway. It's the perfect combination and it's what people want. They want to get away, to clear to minds, and what better way to clear your mind than with yoga practice?
Do you believe everybody should practice? In some way. Now, because there's eight limbs of yoga, [and] the more traditional style of yoga is Ashtanga, there's different types of yoga that isn't just about the physical, whether it's the breath, or just being mindful and present or the philosophical parts to yoga. I absolutely believe that everyone should and could incorporate some aspect of yoga into their life, into their spiritual practice or their religious beliefs.
What's your reply when people say yoga is too expensive? I don't believe yoga is expensive, I think that's actually bullshit. Most yoga studios are anywhere from $110 to $150 unlimited a month, and if you go to yoga three times a week, which is a really nice, consistent practice, which everyone enjoys doing yoga and if you enjoy doing it you'll want to do it three times a week, you're looking at just slightly over $10 a yoga class, and I believe they're worth easily more than that.
What's your opinion on the naysayers, usually men, who regard yoga as just stretching? Completely insecurity and fear-based. 100 percent. I will say that to every man that says that, cause that's the truth, coming from a man knowing the situation is based on security and fear. Fear of not being good, insecurity about what you'll look like in front of women. Fear and insecurity are what hold us back from anything in life. There's two types of men that are resistant to yoga. The one who's madly insecure but plays it off as being over-confident-I know that guy really well-and then there's the guy who's highly competitive, and now is a time in his life when he's not going to win.
Do you have any advice for people interested in trying yoga but are intimidated? First and foremost, to let go of your ego, cause that will help you try and step into a yoga studio, and then second, go online. There's lots of sources online where you can find classes to learn some of the more basic poses. If you know someone who's asking you to go to yoga, have them show you some stuff first. And just go into it with a beginner's mind-you are going to suck. Like pretty much, you're going to be not good at it. And just be okay with not being good at it the first time.
Who are your spiritual leaders or teachers? First, my wife Dusti. She really is probably one of my best teachers in all of life. And Elisa Romeo, she's really spiritually intuitive, and she's a really big influential teacher. And Geshe Michael Roach, he achieved master status in Buddhism, however he's kind of looked at like a radical. He was asked to disrobe because he got married, and had a spiritual partner, and taught Buddhism to corporate world, that kind of rubbed people the wrong way, but he's definitely one of our spiritual leaders. He's awesome.
How'd you meet him? Through Ian and Vanessa, the old owners of At One, I was asked to teach a yoga class for him and his group, and I was just blown away by these people and the amount of gratitude and love that I felt in that space. And Geshe Michael was really fond of my teaching and kept asking me back, and then we started studying with him, and we studied Buddhism pretty heavily for two years I would say, and then it got a little automatic for us, and we kept spreading our studies to other places and learning different things.
What is your favorite inspirational book? Anatomy of Spirit by Caroline Myss, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer and The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama.
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What are some of your goals going forward regarding yoga? In my own spiritual practice, my own spiritual growth, that's my main goal, is be more introspected. I would like to create a yoga for a cause, an organization that brings people together through yoga to raise money for a cause, which is what I do already, but these are things that I'm working toward, spreading more yoga for cause events to bring people of means together with charities in need, and then to eventually go mainstream as far as being involved with internet yoga sites and big national yoga festivals.
What's your favorite yoga pose? Handstand, wide-legged forward fold, and triangle.
You can find out more information on Anton's upcoming workshops, events, as well as class schedules on his website.