Big fish in a small pond? LA based Yoga teacher Matt Hodges would rather be a shark in the ocean.
Matt Hodges says he want to be a shark in an ocean. It’s a desire that fits his driven nature and one he’s applied to in a variety of ways in his life including keeping his cool with a deck of cards in a sea of sharks while playing tournament poker. With the same dedication and focus Matt left Phoenix and dove into the LA yoga scene in 2014.
When asked why LA and what he likes about it, Matt responds, “I love everything about this place. The weather. The beach. The yoga scene. The small businesses. The people. The opportunities. The big yoga teachers are out here.” Matt adds, “Some people want to be a big fish in a small pond. I’d rather be a shark in an ocean.” That statement sums up how Matt lives his life – large and in charge.
Matt was 14 when he took his first yoga class; a friend suggested that it would be a fun workout. The teacher—Ian Lopatin, at At One Yoga Studio in Scottsdale—delivered and Matt was hooked. The combination of Ian’s lively contemporary music and laid back nature made a fast connection with Matt. Matt pursued practicing yoga with such tenacity that he began teaching in high school with an eye on continuing to grow and learn. After completing his teacher training at At One Yoga, Matt was hired to start teaching at the studio by two of his mentors, Ian and Ian’s wife Vanessa Lee. Matt taught at At One Yoga for eight years.
Teaching yoga in high school was only one part of his passion for physical fitness. He was already an accomplished athlete at a young age in football and golf. An ongoing pursuit of golf led to collage scholarships for the sport due to his mastery of the game (a four-under-par player at his peak). In his hometown of Scottsdale, Matt’s faves are the Jack Nicklaus Signature courses at Dessert Mountain and when he’s not on the mat, here in Los Angeles, he finds time to play at the Trump National Golf Club in Ranch Palos Verdes.
As if teaching yoga and playing golf weren’t enough in terms of extracurricular activities, Matt also earned his real estate license from the Arizona School of Real Estate and Business and segued from playing chess as a kid to playing poker with friends before he could drive. The same year he was eligible for a driver’s license he started entering tournaments. The thrill of poker and desire to swim with the sharks in many bodies of water has brought Matt to play poker at the Venetian, Rio and Wynn casinos. Matt still makes the occasional foray entering a World Series of Poker Tournament. This thrill-seeking nature plays out in Matt’s yoga practice often taking him to locations such as the tops of lifeguard towers or precarious ledges to hover in a balance pose.
Knowing all of this about Matt, don’t let the tattoos, Louis Vuitton sneakers, and alpha shark countenance distract you from the friendly, playful, and compassionate sides that he reveals in the yoga room. Wearing a warm smile, he begins practice with the statement “Welcome to yoga class,” and invites students of all levels to have fun and explore their practice. A commitment to selfless service in and out of the yoga room is his inspiration and his personal therapy. He continues to teach golf and finds fulfillment in helping lift up the people around him.
Matt’s signature style includes creative sequencing and amazing adjustments. Each session on the mat feels like you’ve been dealt a new hand at the poker table (with some similarities—think about selecting the familiar hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds) rather than a predictable pattern of sun salutations. Matt offers two to four variations per pose for everyone to follow depending on their level of practice. Lively, contemporary music from the likes of Bob Marley, TuPac, MC Yogi, Jack Johnson, or Ben Harper play as an accompanying undercurrent during class. The result is a relaxed and fun environment where you have the permission to enjoy yourself even while you’re sweating.
He acknowledges his teachers Steve Ross, Vanessa Lee, Dharma Mittra, Aaron King, and Ian Lopatin. On one end of the teaching spectrum, Matt admires Steve Ross’ ability to make the practice fun. In contrast, Dharma Mittra knows how to get students into places you wouldn’t normally get into yourself. In his class, all of these influences shine through. Matt confesses Krista Cahill always teaches him something new whenever he takes her class. On the philosophical side, Matt resonates with Steve Ross’ teachings on meditation.
Matt distinguishes his athletic background and body type from teachers who are naturally bendy. He has combined a passion for studying human anatomy with developing his own strength and practice.
Matt’s latest passion and pursuit? AcroYoga. Living on the Santa Monica beach, Matt frequently saw members of the AcroYoga community in action along the boardwalk and decided to join the team. Matt loves the challenge and the shapes, describing it as a combination of yoga, Thai massage, balance, and teamwork. If you stroll down the boardwalk on the Santa Monica/Venice border, you just might see Matt flying a friend in a dramatic pose. If you’re lucky, you might also get a chance to hang out with Matt’s lovable tank of a bulldog, Rocco.
What does the future hold for Matt? He imagines his image on the cover of Sports Illustrated to explain the importance of yoga and sports. Matt regularly plays soccer, volleyball, basketball and rock climbs. Based on his track record, wide range of athletic pursuits and his single-minded focus, I have no doubt this could happen.
Matt Hodges can be found at Maha Yoga (mahayoga.com) Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Monday and Thursday evenings Matt teaches the employees at Snapchat. Find him at: [email protected] or 480-251-3702 matthodgesyoga.com Instagram @matthodges_yoga
Amy Goalen is a photographer who is launching the Yoga Men calendar. She has been photographing men absorbed in their yoga practice. amygoalen.com