For as laid back and as easygoing as Wilton yoga teacher Matan Cohen-Citron is, he attracts a strong and fervently devoted cult following of yoga enthusiasts to his classes. He teaches at the Wilton Family Y, Hello Yoga and privately, holding workshops, leading mediation group, teaching mindfulness classes, doing yoga therapy and leading retreats.

“I teach a little bit differently than others do. I give a lot of place to experiment,” he says. “It’s popular for teachers to talk a lot in class, turning the class into stand-up comedy. I don’t do that. I keep quiet, and encourage people to deal with what’s real in their lives, not to say no but to stay open. To observe. And I don’t push people physically, I will always challenge mentally. I really encourage and celebrate people’s minds and who they are, and try to have them think for themselves. This is how I see this practice.”

The dad of two girls and husband to “an amazing wife,” Matan has been perfecting his practice since leaving corporate finance to teach yoga five years ago when his first daughter was born. “I couldn’t tell my daughter that was how I made a living–buy low, sell high. They gave me a huge motivation, to be present because kids are so present.”

Mindfulness and presence seems to permeate everything about Matan, especially the way he practices and teaches yoga.

“Yoga is a state that we can’t really describe with words, it’s a mental state. What we’re talking most of the time is not ‘yoga’ but how we practice yoga. There are many ways to practice yoga. There is the devotion, there is the intellect, there is the meditation, there is what people refer to — the hatha yoga, the asana parts–all the different names:  the ashtanga, the dharma, the jhivamukti, the kundalini–all these different forms. Most places just stick to asanas. I prefer bring more of the meditation, because I think that’s a huge part. Everybody is different and you have to find what is right for you,” he explains.

He’s a big believer that everyone can benefit from practicing yoga.

“To take you to the certain state of mind, a spiritual practice. Most people go for it without really knowing why they’re doing this. What fills them is the side-benefits:  alertness, you feel great, you feel awake, the body’s energy is flowing. You can do it all the time and everybody can do it.”

To encourage someone new, Matan says to be open to new things.

“You need to explore and you need to play. You may need to practice with a teacher a few times, and if it’s good–good! You can try other teachers, go back and forth, until you find the method that works for you. And the practice changes.”

Exploration and yoga was something that resonated for Matan, especially as he recounts how he became interested in yoga himself.

“I had a lot of curiosity. I had always followed the ‘right’ way where I grew up–got good grades, finished high school, went to the [Israeli] army, and then I thought I would get something from it. But I realized it wasn’t what I expected in life. So I travelled for a few years and tried different forms of yoga and different teachers.”

It was while traveling in India for 9 months that Matan found a teacher he clicked with. “This teacher gave me the right tools to work with where I was in life back then. It transformed everything in my life.”

So how did he get from India to Fairfield County? “I met my wife,” he smiles. “My wife is from here. I really didn’t plan to move here, that wasn’t the plan back then.”

But now that Fairfield County is home, he feels fortunate to be teaching in Wilton.

“There are a lot of great people here, who care a great deal and do a lot for the community.”

That’s an important concept, according to Matan, and the idea of community is something that he sees yoga can contribute to.

“Yoga practice brings the ability to watch the mind, to watch how you live. Also you start to see the relationship between everything, a sense of interdependence. In the beginning we may come to yoga to isolate ourselves–Mommy had a bad day, so Mommy is going to yoga class. Taking a yoga class will take away the stress, and help us be more comfortable, more content in our own skin. But we do things not just for our individual selves. Later comes the understanding that when go to do this practice for myself, it’s not just a gift to myself–it makes me a better dad, a better husband, a better teacher. I’m going to be nicer to every person that I meet,and that’s going to affect the world. We do the practice through ourselves, but we do it to change the world. To create more peace, to create more gratitude.”

Matan focuses a lot on this with his students who register for his retreats.

“We do yoga, meditation, discussions, yoga philosophy. I also do workshops here in Wilton 2-3 times a year.”

One such workshop that Matan will be holding is a back yoga therapy series at Hello Yoga, called “Say Hello to Better Backs.” The four-week series begins Friday, Sept. 12 at 9:45 a.m. and is $120 (after Sept. 9 the price increases to $150). It’s geared to people who suffer from back pain, especially chronic back pain, numbness in the leg or sciatica. The focus will be on learning simple poses and actions to relieve pain and decrease chronic stress. People interested in registering for the workshop can do so at the Hello Yoga website, although space is limited to only six students. (no drop-ins).
$120 for 4 weeks.

Given the message he’s teaching–both for people who pursue yoga for therapy, meditation or fitness–it seems everyone could benefit from a bit of Matan’s perspective.

“I’m super content with my life, I love teaching yoga and working with people.”

To find out more about Matan’s workshops and teaching schedules, visit his website, or the websites of both the Wilton Family Y and Hello Yoga