It’s no secret that yoga has the power to give your mental and physical health a boost… but save your life? Well, yes actually. Just ask Gymbox instructor Max Munro. After suffering a major brain injury last year, he was told he might not be able to walk, let alone get back to teaching on the mat again. But since then, he’s made an incredible recovery – and he believes he’s got his practice to thank for that. Read on for some serious life-enhancing inspo.
Can you tell me more about your injury - what happened?
I fell off a roof when I was drinking - this was February 11th last year. I’d gone home and was seeing friends back there. It wasn’t going to be a big drinking night as my brother was getting married in the morning, but then 2am came and I was on the roof, very drunk. Last thing I remember was being on the phone telling someone I’d be down in a minute.
I woke up 2 or 3 days later in hospital, coming out of a coma. They’d just done life-saving surgery on the side of my head, and I was left in a brace to help keep it still. I broke two vertebrae in my neck, fractured my skull, eye-socket, jaw, wrist, hands, and lost all taste from the inside of my mouth. I then spent two months in hospital.
What was the recovery process like?
The first 8 days I was bed bound. Then I got out of bed, but moving very slowly and strangely. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and felt pretty oblivious because of the medication I was on. Then I was doing weekly therapy sessions and walking, speaking, doing written language tests.
I told the doctors I used to teach yoga, and they told me I probably wouldn’t be able to do that again. But I taught a class to about six of the nurses in hospital for about 20 minutes because I wanted to prove to them and myself that I could do it, and they were blown away. They were shocked at how good my multi-tasking ability was. But yoga is what I’d been doing for 6 years, 5 days a week, 4 times a day, so it’s built into me.
The nurses think it was doing yoga that saved my life, and made me recover in the way that I did.
So you were in hospital for 2 months. What was it like leaving?
As soon as I left hospital, it was back to reality and the depression hit. That’s why yoga is good to keep doing – it keeps you moving, helps you keep a positive mind.
When did you start doing yoga?
When I was 16. Finding it that young, before going through that adolescent phase of being really rebellious and annoying to my parents, it helped me really chill out.
When I came back from America (where I trained), I thought “no, I’m not teaching yoga, that’s too embarrassing”, so I didn’t do any for a year and lost all my ability for teaching. Then I did another 60 hour training course, then another 40 hours, another 70 hour, and the last one I did was Broga, which gave me so much confidence. It made me think “I can do this. This is what I’m supposed to be doing”.
I’d been working at a hotel for about a year and a half and doing yoga again made me realise I didn’t want to work there anymore, holding towels for rich people. I was two different people when I was working there. Now I’m doing yoga, I can just be myself.
How long have you been teaching now?
I’m 23 now and became qualified when I was 17. I’m one of the youngest male yoga teachers in the UK. The yoga that I teach, Budokon (a martial arts style yoga)…when I qualified in that at 17 I was the youngest in the world.
What’s your main focus now as a teacher?
The main focus is to get a new generation into yoga, in the 18-25 age range, and then guys as well.
I try and encourage men to do yoga for curing depression and other mental health issues, and I run men’s only classes to try and get men more comfortable in a yoga class…I have a couple of events in mind I want to do.
I think it’s important to get all walks of life together, especially those who have fame shoved in their face like Love Islanders. It’s important to talk about mental health with people like that. You’ve just got to let the ego drop and speak. I found doing yoga has completely changed my ego.
I’d also like to do brain injury and disability yoga, but I still need to get training in that before I teach it. At the moment, my memory still isn’t that great…I’ll probably forget half of this conversation! [laughs]
How is your memory now?
It’s okay! I’m using that Babble app to try and learn French. I think I’ve got stuff, but when I go back to month one I can’t remember certain words. I don’t think my brain’s retaining information very well… I don’t remember much of my childhood. I look at photos and it’s like seeing another person.
I’m glad the accident has happened though, otherwise I wouldn't have this huge sense of really living in the now. Every day I wake up and am reminded I have a brain injury, which is something not everyone has. If you haven’t had to suffer too much, it’s quite easy to get lost in the goodness of life.
Now, I want people to know how much yoga can save their life, can improve their mind, their depression…I walk around now and I’m becoming that stereotype of someone who just smiles at people, is polite to people…but I’m also the person who’s trying to get their mates to relax. I’m like “At least you’re alive, man!”
In 5 years’ time, where do you want to be?
I want to have my own retreats and I want to have potentially finished 1,000 hours of yoga training, which would make me a senior yoga teacher. I’m on 480 hours at the moment, and I want to get up to the 1,000 hour mark.
What would you say to someone who has never taken yoga before and is skeptical about trying it out?
Try some yoga at home first - maybe try [YouTuber] ‘Yoga With Adriene’ - I always recommend her. She’s really good. Then go to a class, learn more about how the breathing and flow works. Throw yourself in at the deep end.
If you don’t find it’s enough of a workout for you, go to hot yoga. I took my housemate and he was on the floor by the end! For the younger generation and egotistical guys, try hot yoga and you’re going to feel the benefits quicker.
Any form of movement releases endorphins and makes you feel good, and yoga is amazing to compliment anything you’re doing. Even weights - if you go to yoga you’re going to get so much more length out of your arms and you’ll be able to build in size quicker. That’s why Broga is there. The guy who made that is huge, an ex-NFL player and bodybuilder from America, and the aim is just to get men on the mat in the first place.