In this week's post, I caught up with certified Strong First kettlebell trainer, functional strength and fitness expert, yoga and wellness warrior and beloved friend, Mychal Prieto.
I first met Mychal over a year ago when we were both on a yoga teacher training intensive in Southern Spain. I was so fortunate to have such an amazing group with whom to share that experience. We all bonded in a way that only five hours of daily yoga practice in 40 degree heat can bring.
Mychal is like family to me. His wisdom and outlook on the world is impressive for someone who isn't yet 30. He is humble, kind, funny and is the type of person you want in your corner when shit hits the fan.
In this interview, we talk about Mychal's background, his family, how he was introduced to yoga, how he lives his life and what it's like to be Jane Fonda's personal trainer.
What does wellness mean to you?
It's a lifestyle thing I think... lifestyle and overall wellbeing and all the things that go into regeneration like fitness, sleep, environment, nutrition, whom you associate with. There are a lot of factors that go into general and overall wellbeing and it's how they all work together in your life.
You're a very exotic looking guy - what's your background?
That's funny because my parents always thought we were Mexican but then my Mum had some genetic testing done and it turns out she is over 70% Iberian, which is like Spanish/Portuguese. So I took the same test where I submitted a saliva kit to a lab and around a month later I got the results and it turns out I'm 55% Iberian, obviously from my Mum's side, and 34% Native American which would be from my Dad's side. And then I have a mix of hispanic genes in there so I guess my background is Latin / Native American.
Is fitness something that runs in your family?
My Mum has always been really fit. She had asthma as a child but then became a long distance runner. She's done about 10 full marathons. And my Dad was a sprinter. He ran track in High School, he was into power lifting. He's always been strong as fuck.
I think I got my Mum's genes there as I'm more of an endurance athlete. I can't sprint but I can sustain a long distance.
My brother is athletically gifted, much more than I am. Even as a kid he had a natural capability for sports whereas I had to work harder. Even now, he can get shredded in a week. He's a freak.
What does your daily routine look like?
I'm usually up with the sun, if not before. I start with a bulletproof coffee which I make at home and then on Monday, Wednesday and Friday I'm training people for about two to three hours in functional strength, resistance, body weight, animal flow type sessions or bar weights and kettlebell on Friday.
And then on Tuesdays and Thursdays I train people in Beverley Hills. One of my corporate clients is a fashion designer so I'm there on Thursday nights leading a corporate yoga class.
I try to do my own training in the morning and I try to do some form of movement every day. I do resistance training three days a week and I find that gives me more energy on the days in between. I have one day off a week where I take a yoga or meditation class or do my own practice.
When I'm working, I usually don't eat until about 10.30am and then I have a snack like some raw almonds or fruit and nuts from the farmers market and then later in the day I make a shake with spinach, avocado, raw almond or cashew nut butter, figs are in season at the moment so I put a few of those in, cinnamon, turmeric, green superfood powder, frozen berries and that usually keeps me going until dinner. And then for dinner I eat lots of leafy greens and maybe some meat from hunting with my dad and brother, although I'm running out of that now.
Tell me about the hunting. What's that about?
The ritual of hunting has been in our family since I was in diapers so it's always been a very natural and organic thing for me. I didn't feel it was wrong to take to life of another animal to eat - it's part of nature and it's the way animals eat. To me it's a sustainable and humane way to bring meat to the table.
I know eating meat is not for everyone. I eat meat about two or three times a month so I don't eat as much meat as I used to but I am proud of being able to say that the meat I eat is from an animal that I hunted with my dad and brother in the wild that I've carried on my back and packed and shared with our family. If you can honour the fact that an animal gave its life so you can have the nutrients - that's a beautiful thing and part of nature. Not many people have ever been exposed to clean meat. Even that organic, grass fed meat - it doesn't compare to going out in the wild.
So if you have a mainly plant based diet, how do you get enough protein? From the same place that Popeye gets his protein! I eat a lot of leafy greens like spinach, kale, beans, a lot of nut butter - raw sprouted nut butter from the farmer's market - not the conventional ones. I snack on fruit and nuts. I haven't used protein powder in years but I have dabbled in a little collagen protein that Bulletproof sent me. And avocados - I eat maybe one a day. It's like that "apple a day" saying. An avocado a day...
You train Jane Fonda - what is that like?
It has been very inspirational training Jane. Working with someone like her who is super committed at that age (80), with all the things she does in her life - as opposed to people my age who are in shape - keeping that up at her age is inspiring. She works really hard and it has been really inspiring working with her for the last year.
I would have never dreamed that I would be working with her. I just knew she was the godmother of fitness and that she got a lot of attention for being outspoken about Vietnam but I have learned more about her since then. She's had a pretty wild life with the things she's gone through with her father, the war and all of the political work she does now like when she closed her bank account at Wells Fargo on her birthday (to protest against Wells Fargo's investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatened to reduce the air and water quality across sacred Native American land titles of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe).
She has a platform and she uses it for things that are important and that she believes in which is cool to see. She's a really, really good person.
She's very blunt, too, straight talking. She's funny without trying.
What are the benefits of the type of functional strength training you teach?
There are too many to list! It's probably easier to list the non-benefits!
It makes your bones stronger, it builds muscle, increases your mobility, spacial awareness, flexibility, posture, balance, stability, coordination, it makes you more resilient to injury.
It's also mentally grounding and therapeutic. I was just having a conversation with one of my buddies about training and that any type of movement, whatever it is, is a time where you can still your mind and use it like a moving meditation.
So why yoga? What attracted you to yoga?
About ten years ago my coach recommended I take a yoga class. It was the first time a male figure told me to go take a yoga class since most male fitness figures back then were saying things like "that's just for girls." But he said it would really benefit me with mobility and flexibility and injury prevention. So Dad and I took a class together and I was so surprised that I was actually sweating. And afterwards I felt like I had really worked out and I felt amazing.
And when I started working at Equinox, my buddy, Adam, recommended I take the restorative class with an instructor called Lauren which was a slower paced yoga. After that first class I felt high. My joints felt good, I felt grounded and calm and it was my first experience of the mental benefits of yoga.
Can you recall a pivotal moment or crossroads in your life which steered you to the path you're now on? Yeah, there's a couple. The first one was when I was fresh out of college and I decided to get my Personal Training certificate with the intention of becoming a trainer at Equinox (a U.S. based high-end fitness company). I studied kinesiology and biomechanics in college and I had been training for more than a decade. The first Equinox I applied to didn't take me so then I applied to Equinox in Santa Monica and they accepted me. Equinox opened the door to a whole bunch of other opportunities. And later, I met the guy from that first Equinox that didn't hire me and I introduced myself and said "Hey, you may not remember me but I applied for a job with you and you didn't take me but I want to say thanks because I got accepted at Santa Monica," and I told him about all these other opportunities that came out of that. The second moment was taking that first restorative yoga class with Lauren (Eckstrom) and experiencing the mental benefits of yoga. That was about four years ago. I'm no longer at Equinox now but since then, I have become Lauren's functional strength trainer and I also did my yoga teacher training with her and Travis Eliot last year which is where I met you (Sayaka) which brought me to Australia for the first time and now I'm coming back again in September!
What 'dharma' or ethos do you live by?
I believe everything happens for a reason, more and more. There's always something you can learn, even in negative situations. Sometimes there are things that seem to be going wrong in your life but these are lessons, these are the things that are detrimental. I definitely live by that.
And karma. I'm a heavy believer in karma. What you put out is what you're gonna get back, definitely on an emotional perspective. If you're putting out bad energy, you're gonna get bitten in the ass. Unfortunately it happens to a lot of people who blame the world for their problems but that shit will keep coming back to bite you in the ass.
My grandma told me "treat people how you would like to be treated," and the older I have become, the more sense that makes. Can you imagine if everyone did that, how much better the world we're living in would be? Treat people how you would like to be treated. It sounds so simple. If you want the door opened up, open the door for someone else.
What can we expect from your sessions at the upcoming Wellness with Sayaka retreat?
You'll learn more ways to strengthen your body, you'll learn to move your body in a safe and functional way that will make day to day activities, and living, easier. You'll get some tools that you can apply when you're practicing at a gym or class, and techniques so you can train with a kettlebell safely and effectively. You can expect to get stronger, sweat, smile, laugh and have a lot of fun.
Mychal is co-hosting the September 2018 and January 2019 Wellness with Sayaka retreats.