There are eight limbs of yoga -- one is ahimsa -- the practice of non-violence. When we think of sports, boxers are perhaps working within the most violent of all arenas. Kent Galli teaches yoga to these very athletes. Not so much as act of sowing peace. But as act of sowing inner-balance, grace, ease. Kent talked with _Practice about how yoga waved into his life, and how it guides him now in his task of teaching others.
Some twenty years ago, I was riding my bike down the strand when I bumped into a fellow surfer friend of mine – and I noticed his physique had transformed from scrawny to muscular. I asked him how that happened and, in typical surfer fashion, he said, 'Yoga bro, you gotta come check out my studio in Hermosa...'
Yoga came fairly easy for me because, thanks to surfing, I was already fairly limber. I found the challenge to be trying to practice it more than once a week. I viewed it as just a workout and a way to improve my balance and quickness on my surfboard. Part of me wanted to practice more than once a week, but something in me wouldn’t allow that to happen. It took acknowledging that yoga was a part of who I am – after that, I could practice every day. The ego-buster for me has always been what goes on in my head – not in my body.
Ironically, twenty years later, I feel more balanced, aligned and flexible than I did when I was 30.
A few years ago, I started teaching because I felt compelled to give it back. I had finished a training with my teacher, Annie Carpenter, was doing a mentorship with her when I learned the importance of Seva, giving back. I knew I wanted to give back something I believed in and loved. First I taught some surfer friends of mine. Then, I met my business partner; she managed aspects of the careers of athletes – boxers, basketball players, MMA fighters. She was a firm believer in meditation. And after a few months of talking about what drives us, we decided to introduce yoga to her clientele.
I now mostly teach boxers and MMA fighters. Yoga, at its root, offers the ability to unite the breath with the body, to be aware of yourself, to be aware of everything around you, to be present in the moment, and to breathe through difficulty. In sticking with these base concepts, teaching MMA fighters and boxers is relatively easy because their physical discipline is already rooted in these concepts. Granted, I don't like to see the bodies of those I teach take punishment. When I transition them to a yoga room, they struggle to simply squat and sit on a block. When they finally embrace something that seems so natural for all of us practitioners - that is incredibly rewarding. Learning flexibility, balance, and breath control, for them, is akin to a religious experience.
These boxers and fighters are often surrounded in the training facility by groups of people – friends, fans, media. Their workouts are public, quick and loud. I think they’re surprised at the meditative movements in yoga. They generally don’t practice balance and stretching the way we as yogis do. I had one 35-year old woman MMA fighter tell me that after a couple months of yoga, she was doing overhead and roundhouse kicks like a 25-year old again.
Many of these athletes are impressed with the degree to which controlling the breath takes them out of the fight-or-flight cycle, even while in the ring. Owning their breath allows them to work towards owning their fight.
There is a lot of yoga in the world these days, from funky socks, to organized retreats, to festivals and crazy Instagram poses. I look at some of these hybrid capoeira/gymnastics movements from my training perspective and think, Ouch, rotator cuff tear epidemic in 5 years. But I can appreciate the beauty in the movement and the strength in the body, and look for a balance.
I've been doing versions of these movement disciplines in surfing for a long time – it runs parallel to my yoga practice - the art of fluid movement, transition and balance through poses. I try to impart that to my fighters.
Teaching tough-as-nails fighters who struggle with, and ultimately laugh at the subtle challenges in yoga poses, has taught me to come back and appreciate the basic subtleties of yoga - both mentally and physically - like just squatting on a block for as long as you can.
I don’t see yoga as peace-loving per se; I see it more as awareness-creating. I think peace is a byproduct of the awareness. The opportunity to slow down, spend some time working quietly – that creates the peace.
Yoga has enabled me to stare down a 20-foot wave that is about to detonate, and know I'll breathe through it. That kind of strength I can't get enough of.
To learn more about Kent's training program go to www.platinumconditioning.com