It’s not at all unusual these days to hear an array of celebrities from Madonna to Oprah extolling the benefits of yoga for everything from weight control to achieving that sought after yoga butt. However, we can now count a full-fledged superhero among those who acknowledge the life-changing potential of yoga and its holistic approach to healthy living.
Brandon Routh, star of the Hollywood blockbuster, Superman Returns, was introduced to yoga as part of his physical training program to prepare him to take over the role of Superman from the late Christopher Reeve. While yoga’s fitness benefits are an accepted fact in today’s culture, the deeper messages and philosophy of the practice are seeping more slowly into the collective consciousness.
Expecting a typical Hollywood-style trainer whose goal would be to get him pumped up, Brandon got an unexpected gift in the form of Icelandic yogi and life coach, Gudni Gunnasson, who was hired to supervise his training. Having developed his own unique approach to yoga known as Rope Yoga, Gunnarsson was able to help Brandon overhaul more than just his physique throughout the course of their work together. Gunnarsson’s approach is a yogic system focused on core strengthening, both physically and spiritually, through a series of postures performed using an apparatus that he invented, coupled with a life element that encourages awareness, intention and personal responsibility.
Having had next to no experience with yoga prior to meeting Gunnarsson, Brandon wasn’t sure what to expect. “The little bit of yoga I’d done was with a video at home, but it was nothing I was very adept at. It was too slow for me and I couldn’t see the benefit in it. Rope Yoga was different from the yoga I’d done before. The first day, we didn’t do anything physical at all. We just sat and talked and I was really impressed by Gudni’s outlook and his philosophy. He was saying things I had thought of but hadn’t ever heard anyone put into words the way he did. It showed me that my thoughts about how I wanted to live were valid and worth pursuing. He opened up a lot of thought processes for me about things, like the language I use in my daily life and the way I go about my day. He helped me see that what you put into your life is what you get out of it. It’s a very empowering idea.”
One of the core ideas of Rope Yoga is taking responsibility for one’s life and actions, and in doing so, empowering oneself to create a life of purpose and fulfillment. Having derived this concept from the yogic ideal of holistic union of body, mind and spirit, Gunnarsson has, through his approach with his students, reworded yogic philosophy in a way that Western minds can easily digest.
Along with the all of the work on the inner self, Rope Yoga’s system of strengthening the core, focuses on the lower abdomen, a notoriously underdeveloped part of most people’s bodies. It deviates from the general fitness industry norm by abandoning the no pain, no gain approach to developing the body. Rope Yoga’s approach is one of kindness and compassion toward the body and the self, derived from the yogic principle of ahimsa (non-violence). Gunnarsson encourages his students to work slowly, with presence of mind and without judgment.
By nurturing the self and the body rather than punishing them, the results his students see can be stunning. Brandon’s experience with this approach was profound. “I think about my workouts with compassion because I know that rather than forcing my body to do things, I can allow it to do what I ask it to and trust that I’m capable. I don’t struggle with it. Now I just breathe and stay present with each repetition. I’m much more flexible. My knees don’t hurt me any more. I have more endurance. I feel more capable and in control of my body. I’m more confident and I trust my body.”
People who practice yoga report a dizzying array of transformative effects from the euphoric blissed out feeling after practicing to spiritual awakenings that dramatically shift the course of their lives. It’s clear that yoga has something to offer everyone. For Brandon, yoga has provided him with some life lessons he did not anticipate when he accepted the role of the iconic superhero that placed him in the limelight. “I think the lesson I call on most is not holding onto things, accepting life as it happens and not holding onto negative events and letting them define me.
I once broke my collarbone and have had sensitivity there ever since. After some work with Gudni, I realized that I was still upset with myself for letting the injury happen and was able to let it go along with the physical remnants. It’s been a really powerful lesson for me. I see friends who hold grudges against other people or themselves for things and let that stop them in their lives. They can’t move on. Letting go is a powerful thing. By letting go you can redefine who you are and what you want your life to be. My life has become much richer since I was introduced to Rope Yoga. I think I was on this path in an unfocused way before and that lead me to Gudni. Now I’m much more open to receiving what life has to offer. You can only learn when you’re ready, then you can apply the lessons to your life.”
Though the occasional yoga purist may balk at Gunnarsson’s unorthodox approach to the physical practice of yoga, the foundation upon which Rope Yoga is built comes straight from the heart of yoga’s message and gift to us. Famed Indian yoga master, TKV Desikachar once likened the differences between the many approaches to yoga to a mountain of yoga. In his analogy, all of the different teachers start far apart in different places around base of the mountain, separated by the differences in their teachings and beliefs. They all take different paths up the mountain, but ultimately, they all arrive at the same destination. Rope Yoga is providing yet another path up the mountain of yoga, fit even for those of us who can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound.