A few weeks back, I went to CAMP, a creative conference held at a California summer camp. Every morning, we’d gather for yoga with Marco Antonio, an instructor with a unique teaching style. (“My voice sounds like Aziz Ansari. It isn’t very zen.”) On our last day, he led an “emo breathing exercise” that made me cry a million tears. Though I tried to pass it off as elevation sickness or severe dehydration or just a hangover from the previous night’s scout dance, in the end, I had to admit, I was moved.
Today, the inimitable Marco shares his thoughts on staying positive, students who give him the stink eye, and why yoga is for everyone…
Do you remember your first experience with yoga? Were you immediately hooked?
Around seven years ago, I tried a Bikram class with a friend. Bikram is a style of hot yoga that can get pretty intense. (I wouldn’t suggest making it your first class!) My friend almost fainted and left halfway. I stayed until the end, but it did NOT hook me immediately. I was like, “You have to hold these poses forever.” But part of me sensed that I was learning something valuable.
Why did you stick with it?
A relationship had just ended and I was really lonely. Yoga became my escape. I wanted to be part of a community, to form new friendships with people on a similar path of trying to help themselves. I was going to therapy at the time, but yoga was what helped me put everything I needed — physical and mental — together in one place.
How has yoga helped you in other areas of your life?
It taught me how to control myself and how to deal with adversity. I have asthma, and before yoga, I didn’t know how to breathe properly. It also helped me gain control over my anxiety through movement and mindfulness. All through my 20s, my mind was always running, and yoga created the space to see where I was pushing too hard and needed to slow down.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I usually refer to myself a gateway teacher, kind of like drugs. I aim to work with people who are scared or intimidated or totally new to yoga, and make it super accessible and hopefully enjoyable.
What’s your advice for finding a class that feels right?
Finding a yoga teacher is almost like dating. Everyone teaches in a very different style — chilled out, intense, athletic, spiritual — and sometimes you have to try a bunch of classes until you find someone whose vibe matches what you’re after. Also, do some research before you go. My favorite teachers are actually people I found on Yelp! If a teacher is really good, people will talk about them.
Speaking of energy, how do you stay so positive?
First off, to be completely honest, I’m not positive all the time. I can be extremely critical of myself. But yoga taught me this: When you pursue what you’re passionate about, you naturally find the space for gratitude. In my experience, if you make time for things you enjoy, the law of attraction comes into effect, and you naturally find yourself feeling more positive.
What’s one lesson you’ve learned from your students?
I’ve been surprised by how much I can relate to a variety of people, from young athletes to senior citizens. When I first started out, my goals were focused on inspiring youth. But I’ve noticed that my senior students are the ones who stay after class and express their gratitude. I’m always afraid someone is going to be like, “Hey son, you don’t know what you’re talking about!” But I love that we can all relate to and inspire one another.
What’s one surprising thing about being a yoga teacher?
A lot goes into a class. You don’t see what happens behind-the-scenes — coming up with a flow, putting together a playlist, breathing exercises, formulating a whole experience for your students. I draw inspiration from everywhere — what I read, what I see, conversations I have with people. I’m always looking for things to bring to class.
Do you ever encounter students who are just not having it?
Yes. The other day, this girl was giving me the stink eye. Another time, a student kept questioning all my instructions, saying things like, “Isn’t your foot supposed to go here?” But the show must go on. You have to go in with the understanding that not everyone likes everything, and that’s okay.
What would you tell someone who finds yoga intimidating or boring?
My master teacher always says, “Yoga is just life.” It’s your practice, and it can be whatever you want. Don’t be afraid to try different things. If you don’t want to do a pose, you don’t have to. If your body isn’t comfortable with something, don’t do it. I don’t start or end my class with the sound of “Om,” because I suck at it, and since I have asthma, my Om lasts three seconds. Also, take it slow. Yoga isn’t like a cardio class where you attack it right from the beginning. Go slowly, and save your energy for the end.
Congrats on becoming a member of Boys of Yoga! What’s the deal with that?
Boys of Yoga is a crew of international yogis working to make yoga more appealing to guys. There are lots of misconceptions out there, from popular culture and the media, that yoga is exclusively feminine. It can be hard to get guys on the mat. I hate to think that anyone believes yoga is limited to any type of person. It’s not just for those who can afford it, or for young people, or for tall, flexible mermaids. Yoga is for everyone.
What’s one piece of advice you live by?
The first thing that comes to mind is actually something I read in a Kanye West book [laughs]. I’m sure he didn’t actually write it, but the line is, “Never complain without offering a solution.” That has helped me so much. If there’s something you’re not happy with, it’s not going to change unless you take action.
Thank you, Marco! I’m grateful to call you a friend.