Our next guest is a game changer in the yoga industry. Mark Robberds has been studying yoga since 1997. He is a Certified Ashtanga Yoga teacher (one of the few Certified by K. Pattabhi Jois) and is currently studying Yoga philosophy. In 2004 Mark realised that in this lifetime he wanted to wake up to his true purpose. A part of that journey has been to travel the world, and to go deeper into his own love of yoga, surfing, teaching and music, and in doing so, find the thread that connects them all.
He has been teaching workshops, retreats and has been working as a guest teacher internationally since 2005. Mark wishes to share the teachings of yoga in a way that inspires people to develop a passion and love for the practice. He incorporates the philosophy of yoga into his talks, music and devotional songs, so that the deeper aspects of the yoga tradition can connect people and bring them closer together.
I asked Mark to share some insight into yoga and the masculine. With times changing, the ‘men can’t do yoga’ stereotype is being put to bed. Mark shares with us how yoga has changed his life, hasn’t compromised his machoness and has kept him the best he’s ever felt...
Interview with Mark Robberds
There are still misconceptions men have on yoga including 'it's not a good enough workout', 'I'm not flexible enough' or 'yoga is too woo-woo'. What have you learnt in your years as a teacher about the relationship between yoga and the masculine?
Well, those misconceptions are still there, but at least perceptions have changed a lot since I first started back in '97. I remember conversations with surfers in Bali, when they’d ask, “What do you do?” I would reply, “I’m a yoga teacher’. The most common response to that was, “Oh, my mum does yoga”, or “My girlfriend does yoga”. They weren’t saying it in a derogatory way, but it was the general perception, or misconception as you say.
The ‘it’s not a good enough workout’ argument may be true in certain types of yoga, but styles like Ashtanga, Bikram, and the modern vinyasa styles of today can definitely be an important, and integral part of both a cardio-vascular fitness and strength, conditioning, flexibility and mobility program. Over the years I’ve seen that what a lot of physiotherapists prescribe their patients are many of the postures that you’ll find in a yoga class. Also, these days, there is a big cross-over between what is happening in the fitness and calisthenics cultures, with yoga. People are taking inspiration from other disciplines and using it to make it more challenging. In short, Yoga has evolved from what my mum used to practice in the suburban church halls of the 80’s.
There’s a cartoon where Robin is saying,”I’m not flexible enough’, and Batman is slapping him across the face and saying, “You idiot! That’s why you do Yoga!” But, I can see why it can be unappealing for guys to come to yoga class, because stretching your muscles is uncomfortable in the beginning and doesn’t give you the same rush that working out does. Also, for guys who are used to being good at sports, cross-fit, martial-arts etc, to come to a yoga class and to feel like a complete beginner and the ‘worst’ in the class, can be intimidating. My experience has been that there’s a certain threshold of guys needed in the class, which then attracts more guys to join. For example if the class is 70-80% women, then guys get put off. But if the ratio is 60-40 then more and more guys start coming. I don’t think there’s any real formula for figuring it out though – it’s really an individual thing; some guys are into it and some aren’t.
Essentially Yoga is part of a spiritual tradition of India that goes back thousands of years. So that ‘woo-woo’ is in some ways unavoidable to a certain degree. I don’t think that’s a problem as long as it’s authentic – even I find it too ‘woo-woo’ if spirituality is sprouted in a cliché way. If you keep it real then even the most macho of men will be able to relate to it.
Many men see emotional vulnerability as a threat, how has meditation transformed the way you deal with stress and cope with emotions?
One of my teachers likes to say that the way Yoga works is by putting yourself in an artificially induced stressful situation and learning to relax and remain comfortable, so that when you go out into your real life and you are stuck in a traffic jam, or under stress at the office, or dealing with relationship problems, you are able to call on that training of your body and mind, and remain calm.
For me, these practices are like tools that I keep in my toolbox for everyday life, that I can take out and use to deal with different situations in my life. One of the most powerful of those tools is the ability to observe my mind and emotions, and gain perspective on situations; to understand what it is that really makes me tick, and what pushes my buttons. Over the years I’ve learnt how to respond to situations rather than be reactive to things.
Another important element is that these practices stimulate a part of the brain that lessens the ego-identification. When this happens a great sense of calm and oneness with life floods the awareness, and this affects the way you participate in life. With regular practice this state becomes more familiar and you want to remain there. I realised that the worry, stress and anxiety of different emotional and mental states are not the way I want to live my life, so I practice everyday to reconnect with that feeling, which then has developed within me ,the skills needed to deal with the inevitable stresses of modern living.
How has yoga and meditation improved other aspects of your life including love, work, lifestyle and health?
Yoga is more than just what I do on my mat or meditation cushion. It has become a way of life. I consider everything I do as part of my practice. My life has become orientated around my practice and implementing the Yogic principles of living into my life. All my relationships with friends and family, my partner, with students, and with the people I meet in daily interactions are all part of living according to the principles of Yoga – honesty, goodwill, kindness, respect and positivity.
Diet has become paramount to achieving maximum energy and vitality, as are good sleeping patterns. The development of self-awareness has allowed me to assess my behaviour in relation to these principles, so that I no longer blame other people for the way I feel. This has been one of the most important tools for building a long lasting intimate relationship with my girlfriend. I’ve been fortunate that teaching Yoga is my work, and that I don’t consider it work, because I love it so much. I feel better at 41 than I ever have in my life, and this is due to nearly 20 years dedicated to the yogic lifestyle.
Follow Mark on Instagram @markrobberds