The incredible Mr Michael Eley is a yoga teacher, vinyasa and hot yoga enthusiast and once even competed in a Yoga Asana Championship. Before becoming a Yoga teacher, Michael lived and worked in China, but he met his wife at a yoga teacher training in Las Vegas… since then he has not looked back. We first met Michael in London when he very kindly agreed to be our fit model and test out our men’s yoga clothes.
When did your yoga journey begin, and has it got anything to do with China? What were you doing there? And Las Vegas doesn’t sound very “yoga”
I started practising yoga in 2001 when I was 22. It’s been the one thing that I’ve done most consistently throughout my whole life. Right now I practise everyday, and although I haven’t always done it that regularly, it’s always been a part of my life since I first started. Before I became a yoga teacher I was working in China. I lived there for four years, and eventually ran the export department of a big Chinese furniture factory - it was definitely an eye-opening experience. I even managed to practice yoga when I was there - mainly when I went to Hong Kong - yoga hadn’t taken off there at that time. Now it’s massive - lots of studios have opened, and yoga is everywhere, presumably with Chinese characteristics.
When I left China I went on a snowboarding holiday because I hadn’t had a holiday for a really long time, and broke both my ankles. You could think that was really bad luck - and it wasn’t great I can tell you! - but it was the catalyst that prompted me to go on a yoga teacher training (once my ankles were better!). It was Bikram yoga, and it happened to be in Las Vegas (go figure), and it was where I happened to meet the person who would become my wife. So maybe it wasn’t bad luck at all...
You once took part in a yoga asana competition, with this in mind do you see yoga as a sport and what would you say to the purists that feel that yoga is an individual, reflective practice and in its nature is non-competitive?
Yoga means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. A lot of what is interesting about yoga can seem contradictory or paradoxical. If you see yoga as having a “goal” for the individual or the self, it definitely cannot be of a competitive nature - that seems obvious. It’s like saying that you could have a meditation competition - it doesn't make sense. But if you look at the surface, at the asanas and their physical expression and the necessary focus and concentration required to execute them, it is perfectly possible to say that part of yoga can be considered a “sport”. If this aspect helps to get more people interested in yoga, it will inevitably lead them to the philosophy behind it, and that can only be a good thing. The problem is if the “sport” part predominates, and the physical expression is the only thing that people are interested in. That’s why it’s important to have a good teacher who can explain how the two things interact. I think it’s very hard to practice yoga for any length of time and only be interested in the surface: the rest of it becomes far more engaging.
You teach different types of yoga, what are the most popular types of yoga for men, and can you tell us why you think this is and what you feel are the main benefits for men?
It’s hard to say which yoga is most popular for men. I teach hot yoga - Bikram and Fierce Grace - and there are usually quite a lot of men in the classes. I think the challenge of the heat is appealing to men - another element that can be taken on and overcome (if you want to know about overcoming the cold, look up Wim Hof, who doesn’t call himself a yogi, but definitely is one!), and it provides a unique way of focusing the mind - but also the heat makes some of the movement more comfortable, especially if you’re tight, and men tend to be less flexible than women. I also teach a lot of vinyasa yoga, and that’s popular with men too - there’s a big strength element to the practice which can include lots of arm balances and handstands - and men usually take to that more easily than the flexibility stuff.
What do you think will help to motivate more men to get on the mat?
Understanding that the long term benefits will greatly outweigh however silly or uncomfortable you might feel when you first start practising. But that’s the hard part - men don’t really like being bad at things, and usually when they start practising, they’re pretty bad at yoga. I was lucky because I didn’t mind. I just did it anyway. It’s good that more and more male sports celebrities are practising yoga because it helps reduce the myth that only women practice yoga, and it’s a myth that is substantiated only by a small aspect of our current culture. And it’s not just sportsmen, Goldie is doing great things to spread the word about yoga in places where it wouldn’t normally reach. Men need yoga just as much as women, and not just the physical aspect, although that’s what they’ll find most appealing to start with - how it helps and improves all the rest of the training they might be doing, speeding up recovery, increasing focus, mobility and so on.
Can you tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
If I told you then it wouldn’t be something that not many people know - you’d all know it too! Is that a cop out? Ok - how about I can speak Chinese. But you probably guessed that already… Ok - how about I once used to work on a badger farm in Wales. No, I made that one up.
And finally, please can you share your favourite quote or words of wisdom with us.
I don’t really have a favourite, but I like this quote by Zhuangzi, a Chinese daoist philosopher from the 4th Century BC. It might or might not be an accurate translation of the original - I’d have to look at it to let you know!
“In a river mist, if another boat knocks against yours, you might yell at the other fellow to stay clear. But if you notice then, that it's an empty boat, adrift with nobody aboard, you stop yelling. When you discover that all the others are drifting boats, there's no one to yell at. And when you find out you are an empty boat, there's no one to yell.”
We would like to thank Kristina Kashtanova & Niki Bruckner for the images used in this article