Yoga has and will always be a practice that has introduced me to an incredible assortment of people. A large majority of the people I’ve met through my yoga practice are women who continue to redefine my understanding of strength. I can only speak through my experience, so let me begin where I found my own strength as a man.
I was living, working, and attending art school in Philadelphia. I had only recently become an athlete. In high school I was bullied by “jocks” for being artistic and introverted. I didn’t want to go to football games and cheer on guys that pushed me around, I wanted to lock myself in my room and draw characters from Lord of the Rings. The idea of organized sports seemed like another opportunity to be picked on for not being fast enough, or powerful enough, and I didn’t have a father figure around to show me what a healthy male body was capable of.
Once I left my small farm town, the world opened up to me on all fronts. I was able to find inspiration and motivation on my own, to use my body in new ways. Results took years, but I quickly became addicted to lifting heavy things-I went from introverted punker artist to muscular extroverted punker artist. It was the first time in my life I felt powerful. I didn’t have to be part of a team, I could be my own coach, and I had to rely on pushing myself. I’d pop in my earphones and be transported to a cathartic world of pain and pleasure within myself.
I felt like I finally found my “sport” and with that sense of belonging and accomplishment, I found my confidence. Then I met a woman. She was only two years older than me but wise beyond her years. I wanted to share everything with her, and she wanted to share everything with me. She introduced me to food I never knew existed and we backpacked through Europe together. I was in love, to the best of my understanding as a 21 year old. I’d do anything for her, including take a yoga class…
I had convinced myself, along with peer pressure from my fellow gym rats, that yoga was for “girls”. This sexist idea kept me closed off but I had agreed to try it, for her, even if I wasn’t happy about it. I had all of these ideas that were born from nothing more than ignorance and fear. But… I promised I’d go, so one day we finally managed to make it to a hot yoga class.
Before class even started, I was convinced I had died and gone to hell, or hell had come to earth. After 20 minutes of huffing and puffing, I was spent- and that was just the warm up!? Whatever stamina I had built in the gym was wasted here. I remember seeing my face in the mirror, convinced my head was going to explode. My eyeballs were trained on the door, hoping, praying I could slip out if the teacher ever opened the damn thing. Yoga was fucking hard.
Seeing my struggle, the teacher finally convinced me to sit down and breathe. I was too tired to argue, so I did. I found my eyes and took a deep, full breathe. The air was cooler down here, yes, even refreshing. I started to drink it in like cold water. I felt born again. With this rush of oxygen, came a sense of calming curiosity. I scanned the room to realize I was the only man (boy), and I was the only one sitting on my ass.
An assortment of women, of all shapes and sizes were moving and breathing in unison. It was like watching a dance where everyone was connected but still practicing in a way very specific to themselves as individuals. They were the masters of their own breath while using it to fill this communal reservoir to keep everyone present. It was both a relationship between each other and much more internal relationship within themselves.
I remember one woman, she had to be at least 70 years old, standing with her forehead to her knee. I saw her body rigid, unmoving, almost vibrating in its intensity. She was using her body in a way I didn’t think any human being ever could, and I was convinced I never could. When she released this demanding posture, her face was serene like she had just woken up from a refreshing nap. In that moment, she completely redefined my understanding of power.
There is a type of strength and power that can only be found through grace. Quieting your mind, relaxing the expressions of your face, relaxing your jaw, when you are using your body in such a physically demanding way. And that is powerful. That is a strength so subtle that it doesn’t need to be flaunted or even seen at all. It’s internal and more powerful than anything I could ever learn from a muscley-manimal.
I’ve been practicing yoga since that day, almost daily. I’ve been teaching yoga for a little under a year and have met my current partner and some of my favorite human beings through my practice. Everyone has something to teach, and we all have so much to learn. Moving, breathing, living with grace seems like something against my nature as a man, and that’s why I find it so important. I don’t try to muscle my way into things anymore. Instead, I inhale for space, and exhale to move into that space. I recently was lucky enough to teach with my girlfriend Nikki Carter, one of the most talented and humble yogis I know, at Life Source Retreats in Tulum. We began every morning with 90 minutes of power vinyasa in a tree house! followed by a delicious breakfast. It was the perfect space to cultivate a practice that links body and mind into the universal tool that it was meant to be.