Matt is originally from Atlanta and started lifting weights when he was 14 years old after his Uncle John set up a home gym in his basement. Since then he’s been weightlifting and pushing himself in long distance endurance events like ultra-marathon running and swimming. After attending his first yoga retreat with Travis Eliot and Lauren Eckstrom he became a lifetime student of the yoga lifestyle. Some his favorite long distance accomplishments include White River 50-mile Trail Run, 10 Mile Tennessee River Ultra Swim, Delano 12 Hour Run, and the Disney World Olympic + Distance Triathlon.Matt is a celebrity personal trainer with Strongfirst Level 1 & 2 Kettlebell, CrossFit Level 2, 500 Hour RYS Yoga Instructor, and FRC Certified Instructor certifications. He is currently a Tier 3+ Equinox Fitness Personal Trainer in Santa Monica, California.
T.E. Maybe you can just share briefly what kind of training are you doing with your clients?
M.K. Outside of yoga, I kind of try to mix everything up. I’m big into kettlebells, as far as strength training goes. I like kettlebells because a lot of the movements, you have to be flexible for it, so it kind of forces you to get into more flexible types of practices like yoga. And it teaches you about how your body moves, and how maybe you might be tight somewhere, or you might have a restriction somewhere. Also, I use the barbell, dumbbells, just basic training like that. I also do a lot of body weight training. So, I like to think of my weight training as holistic. It’s not just one thing. I try to listen to who I train, what their goals are, and then kind of go from there.
T.E. How does yoga fit into your training?
M.K. Let’s just talk physically, because most people think of yoga as the physical thing first. I’ll start with light warm-up movements with yoga. It might be a couple of sun salutations or even some yin yoga, maybe starting with something gentle like just laying on floor and breathing. I’ll see if I have a shallow breath. Or am I deep breathing? How do I feel? Am I tight in my chest? Can I breathe into my stomach or into my belly? I’ll start with just those kind of things first. Then maybe my hips feel really tight, so it allows me to do some hip work. Whether it’s holding longer poses or doing some kind of flows, that open up a hip, I’ll do that. I also just like it, because it allows me to move a little freer. Sometimes I’m just sitting in child’s pose for five or ten minutes, other times I like a quicker flow of things. Sometimes, I’ll do ten different poses and hold them for three or four minutes yin style. It allows me freedom to move my body, in a lot of different ways, without bearing weight, which is a good thing for me.
T.E. It sounds like you’re using your yoga practice to connect with what you’re feeling. Then you bring that awareness into your stronger forms of training like the kettlebells and all that stuff.
T.E. So you bring a yoga mindset to everything that you do?
M.K. Yeah, because also the other side is, it might be more mental or spiritual. Maybe I do my yoga practice in the morning and it allows me to go, “You know what, I shouldn’t train today. I’m a little worn out mentally, or even physically. But mentally, I’m just not inspired today, but at least I’ve got some movement in with the yoga.” In addition, I got to check in with my breath and open up in a different way, rather than just hitting the weights harder, going harder on the Versa Climber, or hitting the sled outside on the grass.
T.E. I got you. How did you discover yin yoga specifically?
M.K. I discovered yin yoga through The Ultimate Yogi. Also, I took a class with in Santa Monica, and that was my first experience in an actual live class.
T.E. What was your experience like the first time you did the yin yoga practice from Ultimate Yogi? Can you share the good, the bad, the ugly? [laughter]
M.K. I think the first pose I ever did was Low Dragon. That was intense, because I was coming from a vinyasa flow background. I had done ultimate yogi, hot yoga, bikram yoga, all those things. So I knew what those felt like, to get into a pose and be uncomfortable, but not sit and simmer in a pose. So, that first pose got me. I think that’s one of the tougher poses you do in Yin Yoga, that and maybe the Sleeping Swan. So that pose got me. After that, we got into some other postures like Child’s pose, Seated diamond, those kind of things. Those felt really good. It allowed me to feel, “Oh, this is really tough,” but then I got into other poses where you could relax into things more. So, I got both sides, which I love so much about Yin Yoga. You have to deal with what’s going on, on the mat, and really take that three, four, five minutes and deal with it. On the other side, with poses that aren’t as tough, you don’t feel as locked up. Maybe you feel really good in them from start to finish. You get to enjoy that, and go deeper into your breathing. You feel more meditative and you feel like you can just relax. And when you come out of it, you’re in a whole other mind state, and your body feels really relaxed.
T.E. Beautiful. I think there’s a lot of people out there that shy away from doing a yin yoga practice, because you’re not burning calories, and you’re not really creating muscle tone. It’s a whole different experience. What would you say to people that are staying away from yin yoga for these reasons?
M.K. I think it’s a legit concern to feel that way. I would say, give it a chance. Do it a few times. Don’t just base it off of one class. I’ve brought a lot of people to a yin class, or showed them a yin yoga dvd, and they do it. Then they’re like, “yeah, I don’t get it.” I try to explain that it’s about sitting in it, and feeling it, and dealing with that feeling of tightness or restriction. Also, do a few classes first, and then make a judgment off of how you feel then. All that really hardcore training you might be doing, let’s say you do circuit training, or you do heavy weightlifting, or you run four-five times a week, you need to balance that out. So that’s the biggest thing, is that balance. If you’re doing a lot of tough training where you get home at night, and you’re so tired you pass out at night, you’re over exhausting yourself. Yin gives you a chance to hit that reset button and recharge. Then either you go to bed or if you’re doing it earlier in the day, move on with your day, feeling a little more open and less restricted.
T.E. Did you notice any results within your physical exercise that were impacted by your yin practice when you started to do it regularly?
M.K. Yeah, definitely! I’d say the first thing it impacted was my other vinyasa yoga classes. I would be in a class, I’d be like, “man, I’m more open!” I’m more open in Warrior Two or Warrior One. I can do the binding poses a little better, my spine feel open and my hip flexors feel a little more open. Then it would trickle into some other more hardcore stuff, like if I was running, I felt like my hips weren’t locked up as much. Also, in Kettlebell training, where you’re using your hamstrings a lot, I was able to open up all of that.
T.E. Could you say that it allowed you to perform stronger and longer from the results of the yin yoga?
M.K. Yeah. From a mental point of view, it would help because I would feel stronger mentally from just being able to hold a position that I didn’t feel like. I would think, “I got to come out of this pose, but no, stay the course for the extra two, three, four more minutes.” That helped because then I’d go into training, and maybe I would do a set that lasted 30 seconds, or 45 seconds, or even a minute. I would think back to the time that I was holding the pose, “man, I was sitting in that pose last night. I was boiling in that pose, but I made it through.” So, it helps you in that mental aspect. And then physically, I think it’s just the openness, it allows you to be more efficient in your movement, because you don’t feel restricted. It’s the feeling of tightness, or restriction, that makes you stop early. Opening up physically like that, definitely helps.
T.E. What is your yin yoga practice like these days?
M.K. Because my hours are so sporadic, my practice is all over the place. Sometimes I’ll do a straight hour and half yin practice, where I’m picking maybe five to ten poses, and sitting in them for three, four, or five minutes each. Sometimes it’d even be ten minutes. Other times, maybe I have less time, I’ll get into a few poses that I know I need for that day. I still go back and do the Ultimate Yogi Yin video. I’ll still go to a live class. That’s great, because sometimes it’s hard to do it on your own. If you go to a class, you’re not going to do the same stuff every time. Sometimes we avoid those things that we need the most.
T.E. I think that’s an issue for a lot of people that are resistant to Yin yoga. The reason they don’t like it, or do it, is because their weakness is flexibility. They may be good at strength, they may be good with cardio, but when it comes to flexibility that’s their weakness. That’s why they don’t want to go to Yin yoga, but they probably need to do that more than the other stuff.
M.K. I totally agree with that, and those same people also want more of a vinyasa flow class, because they’re better at moving on from things. They are like, “Hey, here’s a quick thing in life,” especially nowadays with our phones and everything. “Here’s something quick. We’ll get into it, but I know I’ll be out of it in two seconds so I’ll hold it.” Yin doesn’t let you do that. It says, “Hey, here’s what we’re doing and let’s see if you can sit in that.” You have to deal with what’s mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, going on that day.
T.E. You talked about how yin helps with your training work. Have you noticed similar things translating into normal day life, like relationship stuff?
M.K. Definitely, with my girlfriend, it allows me to listen better. You might take a moment to hear what somebody is saying and go, “I’ll take a moment before I respond to that.” We’re all trying to be so quick and witty, and we always have some guarded response. We are trying to make ourselves feel better, but it’s coming from an ego point of view. In that sense, it’s helped me. Also, in Los Angeles, or any big city, you got traffic and you got people of all sorts. Some people are respectful, some people aren’t. Maybe someone’s yelling at you, or screaming at you in their car, or beeping their horn. You take a second, instead of reacting right away. You think to yourself, “You know what? I dealt with this last night in my own practice. I’m going to bring that off the mat.” Isn’t that what yoga is about? It’s being able to take it out into real life, to apply it.
T.E. Sweet. Can you talk about pranayama and why a breathing practice is important?
M.K. Pranayama for me is just breathing, but it’s breathing with intention. I don’t get too intense with too many styles of breathing. I usually do some alternate nose breathing, or I’ll breathe in, hold for a count, breathe out, hold for a count, and I just do it that way. Those are the two that I really use, simple pranayama. For me, I use it more for relaxing and to settle down. I usually use it at night or if I’m feeling anxiety, it’s a good way for me to change that right away. Within five breaths I’m already feeling 20 times better. Anytime I do my own personal practice, I try to do it sometime at the end of the practice, before I go into Corpse pose, because it allows me to go deeper into it.
T.E. Have you noticed any direct effects of your Pranayama practice within your weight training?
M.K. Definitely, I’ll notice it usually in between sets. Let’s say I’m doing kettlebell swings. In between your sets, you’ve got to get your breathing under control, so that you can do the next set with efficiency, with power, and with strength. If you just walk around and pant for 45 seconds, and then do your next set, you’re not going to feel recovered. You’re going to be swinging improperly, it’s going to be going into the wrong parts of the body, and that’s the road to injury in my eyes. So, breathing is so important for those type of exercises. It’s true even with running or in between heavy deadlifting. If you’re not breathing properly, and getting your body back to homeostasis, then you’re just kind of adding up that tension. Over time you’re going to break down, so yeah, I think pranayama is one of the most important things.
T.E. Cool, for you what is meditation? And why is it important?
M.K. Meditation, for me personally, is just being quiet and listening to myself. It’s also trying to clear some of the things that are going through my head. So, taking a second to go, “All right, this is how I am,” but then also trying to quiet that a bit, and listening to what’s going on. Then I kind of let it go, if you feel what I’m saying there. It allows me to kind of hit that reset button a bit.
T.E. Is there a certain meditation technique that works for you? When you meditate how does that go down step by step for you?
M.K. First I try to be as comfortable as possible. When I first started doing it, I think I felt like, “all right, I have to sit up perfectly, I can’t use a prop, and I can’t be up against the wall. I got to just sit there in this hardcore Zen style.” I respect that style, but for me it’s different. I feel like some people that don’t do as hardcore training, maybe that’s easier for them. They’re not putting that much strain on their body throughout the day. But for someone like me, who’s lifting a lot, my job is lifting weights, and I like to push myself pretty hard. Sometimes it’s hard to do that. So what I do is, I get up against a wall. If I’m feeling a little more locked up, I sit on some kind of meditation pillow or bolster. First, I just try to stop moving. Sometimes that takes two or three minutes. I’m a fidgety kind of person. I get anxious quickly, so I might be scratching itches and moving, and then I wait for that to subside a bit. Then I check in on my breath. From there I try to let the breath go. I just feel it through my nose. Then I go into my process of being still, checking in with what’s going through my head, and trying to be quiet. For me it’s usually 5-10 minutes. I’m not hardcore with it. I think there’s a lot of good that comes with those longer meditations. I’ve done them before, but for me it’s just about taking some time during the day and being quiet.
T.E. I like what you said about, when it comes to your pranayama and mediation practice, that you don’t overdo it. It’s not like this job or grim duty. I think that is good for people to hear. What advice would you give your clients to get them started with Yin yoga?
M.K. First, I would try to get them to go into a class setting. That way you’re with other people, and you’re feeling the group energy. Seeing other people is inspiring. Sometimes I’ll go with them so they feel supported by who’s telling them. That’s my first advice to people. The classes, to me, are the best way now to do it. They’re getting more and more popular, and people are seeing how helpful it is.
T.E. Plus when you are in a live class, you can’t pick up your phone, or run to the refrigerator! [laughter]
M.K. I’ve done it at home. Sometimes I’m like, “I’m going to do yin.” Then within 20 seconds, I’m already like “I don’t know about this!” [laughter] Again it’s a very confronting, challenging type of yoga. When you first do it, it kicks your butt, but you also feel really good at the same time. Usually after a few times you start to get it, and then after months you really start to get it.
T.E. All right, what’s your favorite yin yoga pose?
M.K. I like Seated Diamond pose. I get some stretch from it, but I also get a really relaxed feeling. I feel like I can breathe really deep, and just chill in that pose for a while.
T.E. What’s your least favorite yin yoga pose?
M.K. Least favorite is probably Dragon pose. I like it and hate it at the same time. It’s the one that if it feels good, I love it. If I don’t feel good, and I’m feeling restricted in my hips, in my hamstrings, or my hip flexor, it can be a tough one. I like when I get done with it. I’m like, “Oh man, I made it through that.” It’s a good challenge.
T.E. Totally. Any last inspiration on why yin yoga is important?
M.K. I think it’s important for what I’ve been saying. You are checking in with yourself, and being quiet, and sitting there. It’s kind of like meditation. If you’re not yet ready for meditation, it lets you see glimpses of that in the postures. It also balances out that ‘go-go-go’ type of day, that we have with our phones, with our jobs, and with our relationships. It balances us out and that’s just priceless. You can’t get that from any other practice.
T.E. Awesome! Thank you.
M.K. Peace! That was fun.