Conrad Men's Founder Alex McAfee had the opportunity to sit down with L.A. Yoga Teacher Sean Gray to talk about Yoga, Surfing, Travel, and Fatherhood.
Alex: We’re going to start right off with-- How did you get into yoga?
Sean: Well, let’s see...
Alex: Or were you doing something before yoga.
Sean: I used to work out a lot. I was a gym guy. I’ve always been an athlete. I grew up playing sports and I used to do triathlons, and I used to run races. I’ve been a surfer since I was 11 years old. So I’ve always been active and using my body. In my early 20s I started lifting and then like around 22 – 21, somewhere around there, I started lifted weights and was enjoying that. Lifting and running, and like I said, swimming and doing triathlons and just doing that; riding bicycles. There was a yoga class at my gym, I was working out of Gold’s Gym at the time, right here in Venice. There was a yoga class there that somebody invited me to, and I was really resistant to do it. I didn’t want to, and I just didn’t understand it, I just didn’t know it, and I was really happy with what I was doing. I was happy with the results I was creating--I liked it. I was just doing my thing. But I decided to go to the class, and I hated it.
Sean: I didn’t know what I was doing; I felt embarrassed. I’ve always been good at activities and sports and I felt very--not good, it was just painful. I was just really resistant. It took me about six months to go back to another yoga class. But after that second one--I went to that second yoga class--I started to like it a little more, started understanding it a little more and before I knew it, I was only going to yoga classes. I wasn’t even going to the gym to work out.
Alex: No lifting?
Sean: No lifting, I was just going to the yoga classes. So then I started expanding my yoga practice to other studios, and that was what my yoga world consisted of for probably a good year, year and a half; it was just Gold’s gym, which was just fantastic. It was relatable for me, it was convenient and it came with my membership.
Alex: Then how did that transition into teaching?
Sean: I was practicing for probably about seven or eight years before I decided to become a teacher; and once again, I resisted. I didn’t want to do it. I was working in other industries, and not happy. I was traveling throughout Brazil at the time. I was on an island called Florianopolis, which is the second most southern state of Brazil; it is an island just off the mainland. I was traveling through Brazil and then I realized that I needed to do something different in my life. And what I did is, I wrote down my three favorite things I liked doing the most; because I know that you can pretty much find a way to make a living doing almost anything, you just have to figure out how.
I wrote down my favorite things that I like to do the most. Figuring if I did one of those, I’d be happy doing it. Those three things were surfing, traveling, and yoga. I looked at my number one, surfing, and I was like...okay. I looked at it and, like, I’ve got to be honest, I’m a good surfer, but I was no Kelly Slater, and you have to compare yourself to him if you’re thinking about becoming a professional surfer. The idea of opening a surf school and wearing a wet suit all day just wasn’t appealing to me.
So then, I looked at the second one, which was traveling. I was traveling at the time so I thought maybe I could create a travel blog and build some momentum. So I did. I started the blog, started getting it out there to see if I could get some sponsors. But I found out pretty quickly that in order to sustain your travel, you’ve got to be kind of already doing it. It has to be a well-established lifestyle.
Then I looked at the third one, which was yoga, and I had resistance--I didn’t want to do it. I was like no...I like my practice, I like walking into a studio, just anonymous, unrolling my mat, practicing, and getting out of there. Like well, it’s in my top three; I’m not going to overlook it just because of the resistance. I know now with resistance there’s probably a big lesson behind it.
I looked up teacher trainings that were convenient for me, close to me. I found one at the Yoga Collective, Tamal Dodge was teaching it, signed up, and like around halfway through the training – I had started teaching privates for friends and family just to gain experience. Just free privates, I was just giving them out so I could get some experience.
Then when the training was over I was offered three classes on the schedule at the studio I did my training at and took those and started teaching. Then I got classes at other studios like The Tree Yoga and then I got a class at Power Yoga and some other smaller boutique yoga studios. That’s where the teaching began. Right there, so it’s been about five and half years now. Now I’m teaching at YogaWorks exclusively. I don’t teach at any other studio. And I teach retreats, and workshops, and I have private lessons and I’m moving in the direction of becoming a teacher trainer for YogaWorks.
Alex: Can we talk about the retreats? Especially about travel, because travel is a huge part, I believe, of change. So how did traveling change you, and how do you think traveling can change other people? Especially traveling for a yoga retreat.
Sean: Well traveling changed me in so many ways, as it does. You get to look at different perspectives, different worldviews, and different ways of how people live and how they treat their families. How they treat their work and how they treat their lives. When I first started traveling, I was going to Europe. I went to Europe, which I think is a very easy adjustment for Americans because it’s kind of similar perspectives and worldviews. I started going to Australia, which is much different; and then South America, which was really different. So I think it really changed me; just opened my eyes to the different way people live and it also made me realize how good I have it here in the states compared to so many other places around the world. We’ve got it good! We really do. So, I just think it changes people in that way. It gives them a different worldview, a different perspective on how other people are living. So maybe it can just change. Even if it just changes the way people think of how good they have it, and just having some gratitude for things that we do have; the luxuries that we have. So that’s how traveling changed me. And speaking of retreats, I’m actually leading my fourth.
I started teaching retreats, let’s see, it’s almost going on three years ago. Three years ago and actually, my first retreat I led was in Nicaragua. I went to Nicaragua and we went to a couple different locations. And one of the participants in the retreat was talking to me pretty much about how I started and I told the basic things I just told you about my top three list and how I started moving in that direction and then I realized--here I was In Nicaragua traveling, leading a yoga retreat where I can surf! So, it brought my top three together! Yoga brought my top favorite things that I like to do the most, into one, and it’s a dream come true. Now I’m leading a retreat in a couple weeks to Bali, which has some of the best waves in the world, the most beautiful scenery in the world, and I get to do the three most favorite things I like to do the most. That’s amazing!
Alex: Let me ask you how yoga, as a practice, has changed you as a person.
Sean: How much time do we have, because it has changed me tremendously! I mean night and day, night and day. You know what I’ll do is I’ll tell you...I keep pulling realizations left and right, you know, almost every day. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but every once in awhile I’ll have a realization about how the practice has changed me. But one of the first ones I had, like it almost committed me to the practice, because I realized what a big change that it actually had made. I was, and I learned it pretty early on in my practices, probably around the sixth, seventh, maybe tenth class that I had taken. I realized half-way through the class I would take a break. You know because I always started off everything really strong. I started everything off at 110 percent. Then, I realized how that was in the rest of my life and I had the realization that was how I was doing everything. That’s how I was working, that’s how I was relating to friends and girlfriends, family; starting off really strong at 110 percent and when it didn’t go the way that I liked or I got a little uncomfortable, a voice would pop into my head saying, “You’ve been working really hard, you deserve a break.” And then I’d back off--and that kind of crushed me at the time because I realized I wasn’t a finisher. That I wasn’t finishing what I was starting.
So when I realized that’s how I was living every aspect of my life, it gave me the opportunity to make a decision of whether I wanted to change it or not and I did. I wanted to change it. So the very next day I got back on my mat, doing the same thing because that’s how I do things, I start strong. Then, at the same place, same time, the voice popped into my head – “You deserve a break. Go ahead and take it, it’s yoga. Take it, it’s all good.” But I didn’t, I said no, I can finish this, I want to finish what I start.
So the yoga practice not only made me realize how I was being. It also became the playing field of transformation for me. Because every time I got on the mat, I had an opportunity to be challenged by that.
Alex: It showed you how you live your whole life?
Sean: Oh yea, and how I was living it, in that way at least. Yoga shows you how you live because we all have one way of doing things and we do everything one-way—that’s our way. We work our way, we play our way, and we do everything our way — including practice. So the practice asks you to look at how you are being, what you are doing. I noticed that I was doing that in everything and then it became a playing field of transformation for me. What it did was--it gave me the opportunity to practice integrity--and that was huge. You know, having integrity is huge. Then it also gave me the opportunity to reflect and look at what I was about to start, and figure out if I wanted to finish it or not. Because before, subconsciously, I would want to take everything on. Because subconsciously I knew I had a really good excuse to leave it if I wanted to, because I took everything on—jobs, girlfriends, just everything. Because I knew if it doesn’t go the way I wanted it to, I can just say goodbye. So that was really big for me too, because it gave me the opportunity to really make sure I knew what I was getting myself involved with; and it also gave me the opportunity to practice saying no, which was big. It’s hard to say no to people sometimes. So it gave me the opportunity to practice integrity, reflection and contemplation, and then it ultimately changed my life, forever.
Alex: Then the last question is: How has your yoga practice helped you with fatherhood?
Sean: Oh, patience. Patience, acceptance, connection, love – I mean everything, because yoga practice just cultivates all the good qualities in us and enables us to look at maybe the not so desirable qualities that we get to practice letting go of.
For more on Sean check out his website: Click Here
For his upcoming yoga and surf retreats: Click Here