I’m not a yogi, but from time to time I play one on television. Seriously, I do take the occasional yoga class and despite not being a ‘yogi,’ I like yoga, sort of. I have dabbled in yoga over the years, and pretty early on it appeared to me that while I was welcome to participate in their group, I wasn’t one of them. I’m from the tribe of folks that like to talk fast, walk fast, and fidget non-stop. Still, while yoga doesn’t come naturally, it intrigues me. What really drives my curiosity is that unlike a lot of the other exercise I do, it makes me feel better after I do it.
Now, I’m not quite sure about all of those fancy pose names, the chanting, and the incense, but again, I feel better for doing it. This is the reason that despite it not really being my thing, I always find my way back to yoga. It challenges me and makes me more present. Some of our most challenging relationships and activities are our best teachers. I have learned that these teachers are as important in our journey as our favorite professors.
Several years ago, my friend Matt showed me a video of the Inappropriate Yoga Guy. Like most humorous things, this video is hilarious because there is some truth to it. At that time, I had very little experience in and around yoga. That video and the yoga instructors I had met at the gym were my pretty much my first impression of yoga – that is, hippie-dippy. Now, hailing from the Pacific Northwest, I have encountered my fair share of such people, so I’m not all that bothered by the whole hippie thing. However, that said, I don’t really participate in the way of the hippie. So with that as my impression, I was always hesitant to give yoga a go.
I found out about yoga, the way many dudes like me find out about it – because of girls. Back in the day, an ex-girlfriend of mine dragged me to yoga class with her at a local community center. I tried it and it wasn’t my cup of tea, but still, in the back of my mind, I felt there was perhaps more to learn from yoga. Plus, of course, I took note that in yoga class, unlike the boxing gym where I was hanging out, lots of girls were there. Hmm. Maybe the inappropriate yoga guy has something figured out.
Seriously though, the real draw to yoga isn’t the women, the lululemon yoga pants, or the chanting and incense, it’s the principle of inclusion. There is something in yoga for everyone. Though I am not a yogi, I am welcome to work on my practice right next to a hard-core yogi. Speaking in generalities, men can work on flexibility and balance and women on explosive power. Yoga is indeed inclusive though yoga started as a very exclusive practice – men only. Fairly ironic given it’s predominantly female reputation.
The fact is, few practices or modalities of exercise are truly for everyone. As a boxing coach I certainly couldn’t say that boxing is for everyone. Not everyone really is okay with a jab to the nose. Trends like CrossFit have become controversial in that it’s clearly not for everyone, and yet many seem drawn by its mass appeal. Yoga, I can say, without equivocation is for everyone. Not that it’s everyone’s preference, but it offers something for everyone.
Yoga does so because it brings front and center the principle of balance. The manifestation of what occurs in the physical movement of our bodies, as I have learned in the martial arts and boxing over the years, occurs through balance. Balance means the fusion between our energies – male and female, internal and external, our inner body and breath and how we move our external form. Yoga, like the martial arts, teaches you both internally and externally.
Another appeal that yoga has is that it challenges us in a different way than intense activities like running, powerlifting, and boxing. Yoga forces me to find acceptance in the discomfort of stillness. As I learned recently from my teacher Yoga Billy, yoga also balances my male-dominated energy with plenty of female energy, and interestingly enough it can also do the opposite for those on the other end of the spectrum. There is also male energy to apply to those poses and yoga flow.
Yoga Billy is somewhat of a local legend here in Denver, which is to say, his classes are always packed to the hilt. Always. Billy and I got to chatting the other day about yoga and its appeal to everyone, myself included. He broke it down like this:
Yoga takes the arrow that is pointed outward and points it inward. We can’t change yoga to something that is convenient for us, we let yoga transform us. We’re so hooked on success in our culture. You’re not here (in yoga) to be successful, you’re here to fail.
Damn Billy. Straight up wisdom. That is why I keep coming back to yoga. I’m not hearing that at spin class or between sets in the weight room. I might hear that from my sifu if I were still practicing kung fu, but as noted, the problem with the martial arts and boxing is that accepting failure involves getting your ass kicked, literally. The martial arts are simply not for everyone. Now yoga might make you grimace and squirm and almost pass out from heat, but I have yet to see anyone knocked out or take a knee from an accidental kick to the groin.
The fact is, despite our means-to-an-end culture and people wanting bigger biceps and leaner waistlines, yoga is thriving. In simple terms, this is because yoga works. Not in the short-term ways that many of us and our egos seek, but in the way that it forces us to slow down and work from the inside out. In yoga class we hear the word intention a lot. As in setting the intention for our practice or for our lives. Again you don’t get that in spin or Zumba. In yoga you hear words like peace, love, connection, and fire, and these intentions are the things that truly provide lasting motivation.
Yoga has not changed the fact that I talk fast, walk fast, and move fast. I also still like punching things (although never in anger). With this as my mind set, yoga is not easy for me nor is it a natural fit for me. However, yoga teaches me things and so I keep going from time to time to explore more. As my man Billy says, “Yoga is successful because of how it makes people feel. You come in one way and you leave another way.” Yoga transforms and brings us to the present moment. That is why yoga works. I might not practice tomorrow, but I did today, and I’ll be back.
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