We spoke to Ben back in 2018 when he was running a boxing and movement initiative for young people, Gloves Not Gunz. Since then, he has brought the incredible organisation Urban Yogis to the UK, who help young people create profound personal and social transformation using the tools of yoga and mindfulness. We collaborated with Urban Yogis on our Germinate tee - and it certainly won't be the last time we do so. When Ben's not being ceaselessly altruistic, he has a diverse and yet dedicated practice of yoga, calisthenics, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, MovNat, football and, when he has the chance, surfing.
Ben Eckett, Director of Youth & Community Organisations Urban Yogis & Gloves Not Gunz
What does your perfect morning look like?
The perfect morning would be a 7am wake up, coffee, 1 hour of yoga and movement, 1 hour surfing and then breakfast with my family,
Tell us about when and how you got into movement.
I have always been a very active person; I played a lot of football when I was young and at 16 joined Exeter City FC Youth Academy. It was a brilliant experience and I loved playing football, but I didn't have the right attitude to progress further. After the 2 year contract I decided to travel to Australia. Before Australia I had surfed a little as I grew up by the sea, but there I really got into it. Since then, surfing has been my go-to activity. I have lived in London for 15 years now, so I manage a few surf trips a year and then surf back home in Devon or Cornwall whenever I can.
I started yoga 5 years ago. It's become a major stress release for me as the work I do can be very emotionally draining at times. Yoga gives you that space to relax the mind.
Sport and movement have had a huge impact on my life. It's given me balance during times of challenge, and has helped me stay focused and motivated. That's why I feel so strongly about using it to support young people - there are endless positives that sport and movement can have upon an individual's life - both physically and emotionally. I have worked in youth and community for 15 years and I've seen many success stories for young people all thanks to engaging in sports.
What style of movement do you practice most nowadays and what keeps you coming back for more?
I practice yoga most days, predominantly Ashtanga - this will include asana, pranayama and meditation practice. I tend to run once or twice a week and do a variety of strength and mobility training including calisthenics, kettlebells, MovNat and climbing.
Before Covid I was training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 3 times a week - I had been doing so for 18 months. I manage to get away to surf a few times a year and surf locally whenever there's waves. I recently started MovNat training and have enrolled to complete their level 1 course this year. MovNat promotes using your environment as a training tool and their focus is on natural movement. I'm also in the process of playing football again for a local veterans team...
I really enjoy having a varied training regime and like to learn new things. It's good to keep the body and mind challenged.
If you could only train for 2 hours per week, how would you spend it?
Great question. I would say 30 minutes of yoga, 60 minutes surfing and finish with 30 minutes grappling.
What is your primary goal in your practice at present?
Building knowledge around mobility and putting it into practice. When I first started Ashtanga I became a bit obsessive with it and it was the only activity I was doing. This subsequently made me weak in a lot of areas and I kept getting injured. Over the past 9 months I've been attending mobility workshops with Benjamin Sears, MovNat and developing my own ideas through linking the movements of different sports.
I always have a goal of learning to sit still and meditate more as this can be challenging for me. My brain always seems to be going crazy and it's not easy when you have two children under three whilst working from home.
What's your all-time favourite movement, pose or technique?
Tolasana is one of my favourite poses as it took me a long time to be able to safely get into lotus position. Tolasana symbolises the end of a long practice too as it's one of the finishing postures of the primary series. I love teaching Bakasana to young people as it's a great posture that they often think is too difficult but they usually get it after a short period.
What makes a great teacher (of any discipline)?
I was thinking about this recently as I was reflecting on the teachers that have had an impact on me. One of the main aspects that sticks out for me is when someone is genuine and interested in you, when a teacher in whatever context can give you the time of day and genuinely cares... This gives a great foundation to a relationship.
A good teacher needs to have other traits like adaptability to meet the needs of a student, understanding of different learning styles, a strong communicator and support with achieving goals.
I always feel it's important for the teacher to be a good role model in whatever they teach.
In the last five years, what habit, belief or behaviour has most improved your life?
Yoga has definitely been one habit that has helped me in the last five years. It helped me become more reflective and self-aware. The accessibility of it means I can do it most days and even when life is busy with family and work, I can still grab 20 minutes. I started journalling recently and this has really aided with developing positive behaviours and habits.
Tell us about a time failure has led you to later success.
One area that I failed when I was younger was education. I didn't like school and struggled to engage with learning. At the time of secondary school I had a lot going on in my home life and the consequence was playing up in school and getting involved in other negative activities. I was regularly excluded during this period and even got into trouble with the police on several occasions. I feel like the education system in the UK can't always be supportive to the young people that don't fit into the academic structure. The result is that some are excluded from it and often means they get involved with crime, anti-social behaviour, increased mental health issues and feelings of exclusion.
I managed to turn my experience into a success later in life - it's part of the reason I ended up working within youth and community work. I was passionate about supporting that small group of young people that were having challenges just like I did. Once I found something I was passionate about it became a lot easier to re-engage in eduction. I ended up completing a degree at 31 and getting a 2:1. I was only the second person in my family to complete a degree, so this was a great achievement and something, considering I did so badly at school, I'm very proud of.
I feel strongly about using our failures and challenges as tools to drive us and be better at whatever we care about.
What are one to three books or films that have greatly influenced your life?
At the beginning of lockdown a friend lent me 'A Man's Search for Meaning'. It's an incredible story which can certainly put things into perspective when going through a challenging time. It also proved to me how important it is to find purpose in life.
From a yoga perspective I would say, 'The Art of Vinyasa'. This book has great guidance on approaching yoga and Ashtanga.
Choosing a film is tough - so many! My favourites were The Godfather collection - I'm not sure there's anything in there to positively influence my life but all the same, brilliant films.
If you could be any animal in the world, what would you choose and why?
This would probably change depending on my mood, but today I'll go for a turtle. I grew up living by the sea and love being in the water. Turtles are amazing animals and have been around for more than 100 million years so they must be doing something right. My wife's family are from Barbados, so whenever we visit I get to surf with them. I've taken my daughter swimming with them a few times. I would be more than happy being a turtle bobbing around the Caribbean Sea.
What's your guiltiest pleasure?
Rum. It always feels like a great idea at the time and I enjoy the feeling, but then the guilt drops in when I know I've got to wake up at 6am to sort the kids.
When you're feeling stressed or unfocused, what do you do to resolve it?
I usually find I'm stressed or unfocused when I'm tired - this is usually when the kids aren't sleeping. I'm terrible without sleep and I have no idea how my wife is still going after the sleep deprivation she has endured in the past few years. The way to resolve this issue is simple - more sleep!
What advice would you give someone who is about to embark on a movement and wellness journey? What advice should they choose to ignore?
Try lots of different forms of movement and wellness to find what works best for you. They all have their benefits and if it helps you feel better, what more do you need? I've always believed that balance is key - in practice, finding a balance of training and diet without being overly obsessive.
Don't spend too much time on social media comparing yourself to Instagram superstars.
Take advice from professionals with a pinch of salt. A lot of the movement and wellness pros think they have the answer - there's lots of great advice out there but I would take little bits here and there and make it work for you.
The worst advice I hear relates to pain. I've heard some bullshit going around about pushing through pain in yoga to reach some sort of spiritual enlightenment. There's definitely benefits of a little stress on the body, but there's a difference between being resolute through discomfort and being in pain.
Finally, I'm not a fan of the guru worshipping that can be found in yoga.
If you could share one message to every single person on the planet, what would you say and why?
We are have challenges in life and our own experiences that we go through. Try not to be judgmental, be generous and help where you can. Find a purpose and work hard at everything you do in life.