Matt Gill. Born 1978. Yoga and mindfulness teacher from South London.
When and how did you start yoga?
I started yoga in my 20s - my first class was on a holiday to Goa. I’d been threatening to give it a go for years but had never actually made it to class and being in India seemed like the perfect opportunity. That first class was a pretty full on experience (see below!).
What style of yoga do you practice?
I practice (and teach) a dynamic but slow-flowing style of yoga that builds strength and mobility by exploring movements through controlled range of motion. I also like to incorporate elements from other movement disciplines that I enjoy such as callisthenics, qigong and capoeira.
How has it changed your life?
When I started practising yoga I was a stressed out advertising executive - now I get to spend my life passing on the practices of yoga and mindfulness to others so it’s been quite a dramatic shift.
What is your most memorable yoga moment?
It has to be that first class in India. It was a completely mind blowing experience for someone who didn’t really know what yoga was about. It was taught by a Swami and he began with some chanting and intense breath kriyas before moving into the postures. It was one of the most uncomfortable and challenging experiences of my life - at the time I was so stiff and inflexible that I could barely reach my shins and the teacher didn’t seem inclined to modify the postures to accommodate the fact I was as supple as a plank. But somehow I made it to the end of class and as I lay back for savasana I clearly remember the most incredible sensation pulsating throughout my entire body - a sense of feeling fully alive and completely energised. I was hooked from that moment.
What makes a great yoga teacher?
A great yoga teacher needs to be a committed student first and foremost and immerse themself in the practice. I believe they should have an inquisitive and explorative approach to yoga and be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things, rather being overly dogmatic.
They also need to remember why students are there in the first place - to practice yoga, not to make the teacher feel good...so the teacher really has to put their students’ needs before their own and teach with kindness, patience and compassion.
What is your favourite pose and why?
This changes so often. I’ve always been a great lover of hand balances and handstand has to be high up on the list - there’s so much in that pose...balance, proprioception, strength and a pretty much constant process of refinement and adjustment. But I’m also very partial to a deep squat...and a reclining twist. So many to choose from!
What do you do when not doing yoga?
When I’m not practising yoga and meditation for myself I’m generally either teaching or managing all the other stuff that comes with being a yoga teacher - writing blog posts, sending emails or ploughing through a ton of admin (the glamour!).
When work is done I’ll be hanging out with my family...and if I get some downtime (an increasing rarity!) I like to spend it reading or watching movies.
What are you listening to?
I love a good podcast...I’ve just starting listening to the 30 For 30 podcast series about Bikram Choudhury and I’m hooked already.
What are you reading?
I’ve been enjoying ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’. It’s a brilliantly entertaining reflection on life that manages to skillfully weave Buddhist teachings with amusing anecdotes and a lot of swearing. I’m also picking my way through the 2nd edition of Peter Blackaby’s ‘Intelligent Yoga’ - he’s got a very unique and (as the title suggests) intelligent approach to the practice and I’d highly recommend his book.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I always wanted to be a musician but I lacked the talent. I did play bass guitar in a punk / heavy metal band when I was a kid but it was just a hobby really.
If you could be any animal in the world, what would you choose?
I’d be some sort of monkey or ape - swinging through the trees and enjoying the freedom and play of movement.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
I’ll say Jason Statham. My friends would say James Nesbitt.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Again there are a few to choose from! I love dark orange chocolate, appreciate the odd cold beer and enjoy sci-fi and fantasy films. As long as it’s all done in moderation, it’s all good.
When are you happiest?
I’m happiest when I’m spending time with my family. It’s such an incredible joy and privilege to watch my daughter grow and develop as a person...she’s such a character, so much fun.
What is your greatest fear?
Without doubt that something awful happens to my family. But I try not to dwell on or worry about things that haven’t happened (though in fairness I don’t always succeed). A real benefit of yoga and mindfulness practice is that it can help you to recognise when those types of unhelpful thought patterns arise...and once you’ve recognised them you also tend to weaken the power they have over you.
Where would you go if you could time travel?
I’d go back to ancient Rome - I’ve always found it a really fascinating period of history. It was such an advanced civilization in so many ways, rich in learning and philosophy...but it could also be very brutal and harsh.
Why should people do yoga?
Aside from the many physical benefits, it can help you to live with more freedom and ultimately to find greater contentment in life. Who wouldn’t want that?
Tell us something we don’t know.
Oscar the Grouch was originally orange.