We caught up with Matthew Gough, the founder of a yoga studio set up with gay men at its heart.
Why did you set up a yoga studio geared at gay men?
I first found yoga through rock climbing; they’re similar disciplines in that they both involve getting your body into weird shapes whilst controlling your breathing and staying calm and focused. The climbing community is one of the most open, diverse, and accepting groups of people you’ll ever meet, very down-to-earth, un-pretentious, and genuinely caring about each other regardless of their identity, and the climbing yoga sessions were very much in that spirit. No chanting, no drama, just a bunch of friends sharing an experience.
I then tried a class at a ‘regular’ studio and was horrified to find almost the exact opposite: a room packed full of identical skinny white women, all in this season’s Lulu Lemon leggings, with a £150 yoga mat, who all looked judgingly at me in my scraggly trackie bottoms and ripped t-shirt and cheap battered yoga mat and openly laughed at me when I couldn’t effortlessly bend into the shapes their bodies went into naturally. It was a horrible experience, I felt excluded and judged, and it was not at all what yoga should be like or had been like with the climbing community. I wanted to bring some of the magic of yoga I’d found in the climbing community to my own community, my tribe, and so I trained to be a teacher specifically to teach yoga for gay men and bring that sense of fellowship and community whilst nurturing and supporting each other into my classes.
Yoga in the West is generally a very female-dominated activity and sadly in many places highly commercialised and expensive so I wanted to do the opposite; take yoga back to its original intentions and support a significantly under-represented group in yoga, taught in a gay safe space and in a way that resonates with gay men. There’s humour, friendship, compassion, support, lots of falling over, and laughter, and it makes you feel amazing and ready to head back out into the world recharged and raring to go!
Tell us a bit more about the naked classes.
Yoga was traditionally practiced naked: it’s the ultimate expression of authenticity and truly embodies the philosophy of being at one with the universe and rejecting materialism. Specifically, in the gay community we are under HUGE social pressure to have the ‘perfect’ body; be six feet tall, have a taught six-pack, perfect tan, big dick, and the list goes on. Many gay men have significant body confidence issues because literally, no-one has that ‘perfect’ body in real life, and by sharing a non-sexual experience with other naked guys you can begin to realise that you’ve been misled by porn, and that actually guys come in all shapes and sizes and colours, as do their various appendages, and we’re all fabulous and perfect in our own way.
Yoga is about deepening our understanding of ourselves, the world around us, and our place in that world. Without the physical shield of clothes, it’s much easier to connect with that sense of self as we can more easily put aside the mental shield we all have in our daily lives. We’re all on the same level, so no judgment can be made about who we are by the outward signs we choose to cover ourselves with. Meditating and practicing yoga whilst naked as a member of a group of other naked men is a life-affirming and deeply liberating experience.
Is there anything else that sets you apart from other yoga studios in London?
We’re unique in that we’re the only dedicated studio that is specifically for men only, but we’re also unique in that we bridge the gap between a teacher running a class in a local community center or church hall and the huge commercial generic yoga classes in traditional studios; we have the best of both, i.e. a beautiful space with all the props and accessories, smaller classes with plenty of space to practice, a teacher who knows your name, but also no thumping music from the gym next door or being hustled out of the class at the end because the next class is hot on your heels. Our teachers also practice in each other’s classes, so we truly are a community sharing an experience and not just a ‘guru’ on a pedestal shouting at their acolytes.
What would you say to those who think they’re not flexible or fit enough for yoga?
That’s like saying you’re too dirty to have a bath! 🙂 Seriously, our classes are full of guys who thought exactly the same thing – many have been advised by their doctor or physio that yoga would help relieve back pain and aching joints, and others have been told by their PTs that their gym routine would be massively improved if they stretched more, yet others are cyclists or runners who have read the research that active and controlled stretching and muscle engagement will improve their performance. Lots of guys are worried about coming for lots of reasons, but there’s a consistent feeling that they’re not flexible or fit enough for yoga. It’s categorically not true, there are classes that suit all fitness levels and abilities at BSY.
More importantly, “yoga” isn’t just one thing, there are as many different styles and types of yoga as there are yoga teachers…. Some are fast and furious “flow” classes where it’s true, a level of physical fitness will put you at an advantage and you work up a serious sweat, others are much slower deeper stretching classes. Yet others are more about detailed alignment, whilst some are about feeling a shape in your body and not worrying about what it looks like.
This is why I suggest that people try more than one class or teacher until you find a ‘good fit’ for you. We offer a special offer of four classes for £40, as well as an unlimited monthly membership for £75 which allows you to do as many classes as you like in the month precisely to try out lots of different teachers and classes.
What’s a good class for newbies to try?
Any class that’s not marked “intermediate” on the timetable, though even those are about being moderately fit rather than knowing anything about yoga. The best thing to do is have a look at the timetable, check out the class description, and find something you like the sound of. Tuesday evening at 7 pm is one of our flagship classes – it’s very relaxed and a great mix of styles. If you like something a bit more disciplined and repeatable Monday evening 7.30 pm “26+2 (60 min)” is a great class as it’s identical every week and the sequence was originally designed to be accessible for beginners, or if you like it a bit more upbeat and fun but still pretty challenging Thursday at 6 pm is a “flow” class that’s energetic and a bit of a workout. One of our most popular classes is Saturday morning 11.30 Deep Yoga Stretch – it started life as a class for cyclists and runners who don’t stretch enough but know they should, and has evolved into a class for anyone who wants an easily achievable class that really gets deep into those tight muscles.
Find all the info you need about Brew Street Yoga and all their classes HERE!