Welcome to yoga origins - men and their stories of how, when, where and why they decided to try yoga. Expect straight-up honesty, heartfelt insights and side-splitting moments.
I hope these genuine accounts can inspire those who have doubted themselves to give yoga a try, and reveal to those that have already that everyone has let one rip in class at least once...
You might not agree with what you read - but who is anyone to say how a person interprets a particular experience?
Cheers, or is it Namaste?
As this is a blog about physical exploits, let me physically introduce myself. I am 1.74m tall and today weigh 78.7kg, which according to the WebMD online Body Mass Index calculator, is overweight.
One week ago, I was 83kg and was closer to the “obese” end of the BMI sliding scale. Today, at 78.7kg, I am closer to the “normal” side of the scale so not all bad, however, 73kg just drops me in into “normal,” side of the index but losing these last 6kgs seems like a long way off, it’s been many years since I was in the early 70’s, in fact it was probably in the early 1970’s.
My body shape could be considered as “stocky” or “sturdy” (i.e. NOT flexible) and with quite short legs, often the brunt of umpa lumpa quips. However, as I spend a lot of my time flying with my job, every silver cloud…
I am 51 years old and having now just completed 6 lessons, classes, sessions or whatever you call them of yoga, you could say quite late to the game. I have always kept myself in relatively good shape although have to admit, over the last few months, really let myself go and, having been here before, it used to be quite easy to starve myself for a few days and run it off. Not so easy these days.
Through school and my Air Force days, I played a lot of rugby and ran a lot, fit as a fiddle without trying too hard. Then in later years, work commitments and laziness brought a premature end to my rugby playing and then I started running, and, although I have completed quite few 10K’s, half’s and marathons over the years, and kind of enjoyed it, it always felt like an effort and can’t say that it really provided me with the athlete’s physique I thought that I deserved.
It was always all too easy to pile on the pounds as soon as the weather turned sour and I would get fed-up of running having to start from scratch. That said, running suited my work schedule and I have run all over the world, hotel treadmills if not always the streets.
More recently, it’s my knees that have been giving me issues, I know that it sounds like a runner’s cliché and although I am a long suffering but massive LFC fan and love watching football, I never really played much other than in the street with the kids.
However, two years ago I got roped into an after-work game and true to my wife’s warnings of being too old and ending up in hospital, after 15 minutes on the field, I did.
No crunching tackle, but the nearest person to me was still close enough to hear the loud crack as I over extended my leg, cracking the tibia just below the knee, and tearing a heap of meniscus. After I came out of plaster, I needed reconstructive surgery although to be honest, if I run and sometimes walk, it feels worse now than before the operation.
So, something is not quite right in there, but, was also told by my surgeon during the physiotherapy sessions that my running days were over. Of course, I have since run miles on the treadmill in defiance and although not so sore when I run, It hurts like hell when I stop. So yes, I do carry a knee injury.
So now that you get the picture that I am rather flabby, out of shape, dodgy knee and the type that likes the odd and occasional glass of wine or ten pints of Guinness on the odd bender, so why yoga?
I can’t say that my lifestyle fits the usual yoga profile and although I have been a vegetarian for the last 25 years, this is more to a youth of supporting animal rights than any diet health kick, as well as being a Smiths fan.
I mention all this in an attempt to paint a profile of my lifestyle, what I look like, and to try to make the point that I am neither athletic or into transcendental flying having just returned from a life of silent exile in Nepal.
I think the penny dropped recently when brushing my teeth, I did not recognise the person that I was looking at. He was hungover, dark lines under his bloodshot eyes, a real beer belly and looked 51 years old.
So why yoga? I knew that I had to do something that I could commit to. Running is too easy to give up and then there is the knee. My job does not allow for scheduled organised sports and what I am supposed to play anyway, rugby, football or golf? Tried golf before and although it was OK, the only time I worked up a sweat was racing to the club house to call an ambulance. I had just smashed the shin of my golfing partner, the elderly wife of my boss and the owner of the company. Another story for another time though I don’t work there anymore.
I thought of martial arts, they do some sort of Kung Fu classes near where I live and came close. However, after looking at the classes on the internet, I could not see myself wearing the bright yellow silk outfits.
I have been married for 22 years to my wonderful and long-suffering wife, Emma. Perhaps I am the cause of much of her suffering, and although she will not be too happy with me saying so, I used to call her Emma Dilemma. I love Emma to bits, but she always found something to worry about, and if there was nothing to worry about, she was the type that would find something to worry about, that was just the way she was. Even had a fear of flying for flights for trips we had yet to make kind of worry. I would not say neurotic, but not sure what the word is.
Last year I really gave Emma something real to worry about. I am in the oil and gas business and although low oil prices are good news to many people, the industry was and still is in crisis. Many lost their jobs and I went months with no pay before eventually losing my job. I was locked into a lease on our apartment, a son in private school about to finish his GCSE’s, a daughter in uni, 2 cars on finance and living in Dubai, a place where you can get arrested for bouncing a cheque and in jail for not paying your bills.
Understandably, it was my turn to be neurotic and my stress levels were sky high and If there was ever a time for Emma Dilemma to panic, now was the time.
Oddly enough and through all this, Emma remained calm and kind of held me and the family together. How could a person previously worried to leave the house, become so incredibly strong during the most stressful period imaginable? Emma had changed.
And although the same person she always was, she had started doing yoga about 4 or 5 years ago. Not only was she looking fantastic and looking years younger than all her same aged mates, she had become stronger and calmer, nothing phased her. Well not much. The transition was amazing, and with a great body too...
As a consequence of our economical struggles, Emma left Dubai and now lives with our kids back in the UK while I am still in Dubai with my job. But rather than join the sad bar flies for my dinner every night (as I brushed my teeth in front of the stranger), I needed to do something healthy and yoga kept coming to mind.
After some internet searches I managed to find a school, studio or whatever you call these places and living in Dubai, there is no shortage. My main criteria were that it had to be close as I could not be bothered driving through hours of traffic to the other side of town.
The place that I use is literally 5 minutes from where I live, and I signed up online for my first free introductory trial class.
The day that I was planning to start was scuppered by a hangover as I had a friend out from the UK visit for the weekend and with Emma now living in the UK, was probably a little more boozier that it would have been. Then, with my friend on his way home and with fresh resolutions and promises that I was never to ever drink again, I made the booking for my first class.
Although Emma has a fine collection very fine yoga pants, I settled for an old pair of black running shorts and a black Joy Division tee shirt and in a pair of flip flops, headed out feeling like the new kid about to start at a new school. I spend my life visiting clients all over the world, usually complete strangers and although I am comfortable delivering presentations to room full of people, I was more nervous than I have felt in years. Why? Because I did not want to look and feel like a complete tosspot.
As for my choice of clothing, I would offer the following advice, make sure you were something under your shorts to prevent unexpected embarrassing escapes, and, if your top is too short, you are also going to get a mirror full of belly every time you lift your arms up. Although it will become apparent that nobody is watching you, you certainly will be watching you and I found my flabby white belly very distracting.
Although my arms and face have seen some sun, my legs look like milk bottles so wearing black did not help with the self-esteem, however, now 6 classes in, I don’t give a damn what I look like and the scruffy tee shirts are staying.
On arrival I informed the reception folks that it was my first class although the staff can spot a new face a mile away and they were great to me. They gave me my towels, a brief tour and although I did need not the changing rooms, told me where to stash my wallet, car keys and flip flops, as the whole place is shoe free.
I sat and waited for the class to start and when entering the studio, a quick glance told me that I should roll out my towel on the mat and then I had a choice. Half the folks were stretching and the other half lying flat out doing nothing. I opted for the stretching moves and sort of went through the typical pre-match routine. Did I say folks? I meant girls, ladies, females… I was the only bloke in the room. Obviously, I opted for a spot at the back of the room and so that I could get a good look at what the instructor was doing of course.
This was a Vinyasa flow class, and to be honest still not really sure what that means. The blurb on the website said that it was suitable for beginners through to advanced. Since then I have also done an Ashtanga class, a Yin Yoga class with Billy Connelly, a warm Yin-Yang flow class and a slow flow yoga class. I am kind of getting the hang that the Yin classes are less energetic and focus a lot more on breathing and mediation, although I will come to that side of it later.
For now, I will focus on the physical, and is it physical. I am not sure if it is an aging body or memory loss, but I don’t recall rugby or military basic training as this physical, or, sweating as much as I do. The only difference is that unlike the aforementioned activities, normally accompanied with an instructor or coach screaming obscenities and howling at me to push myself harder, you have gentle and soothing encouragement from a well-toned instructor, advising you to only do what you can do, oddly enough this has the opposite affect and you tend to end up pushing for all your worth.
Mention yoga to most blokes and the word flexibility is an immediate word association. On a scale of 1 to 10, I am a minus 5. Honestly, with straight legs I struggle to get just past my knees. I even choose my shoes carefully when flying to ensure that they will not set off the alarm as these days, I struggle to take them off without having to sit down.
Besides flexibility, I did not realise just how weak I was. It’s odd as to how my wife will still ask me, as a strong male, to carry the heavy bag or to move the heavy furniture, we are the stronger sex right? Wrong.
I now know that even some of the basic poses take great strength and these girls can stand there for as long as you like when after thirty seconds, I get the shakes. Not the gentle shakes, I am talking the wild kind of sweaty shakes. Imagine a dog coming out of the sea kind of shakes. Then there is the Downward Facing Dog, this is another basic Yoga pose that you will do regardless of the style of yoga you practice, it is part of the Sun Salutations routine which I gather is as to how you are supposed to start the day. Fair enough and better than squinting through the curtains and giving you balls a scratch I suppose.
Anyhow, the Downward Dog I am told is a beautiful resting pose, this is what we do to rest between moves. This gets me every time as I would much prefer the dog laying down on the floor pose to take a rest. A Downward Dog is basically a plank with your arse high in the air. Hamstrings, shoulders and arms burning, try standing like this for a minute or as I am coming to gather in yoga, time is determined not by seconds, but by breaths.
In other words, do the Dog for 5 breaths. I have a problem with this as not sure if we are talking about the nice slow deep breaths that we do before we started all this, or the type of breaths like a dog left in a hot car kind of breaths. Also, with my head facing down, all the sweat from my neck and chin, heads into my eyes and it stings. I’m a mess during the restful and recovery pose.
Anyhow, the hour feels like two, I am knackered, my face is beetroot red and you would think by the state of my tee shirt and shorts, that I had just got out of the pool. I scan the room, and study the mirror rather expecting all eyes on me with and faces in agony of supressed laughter, however, I soon realise that nobody is looking at me, most have their eyes closed and if anything, you can actually see that they are quite absorbed in what they are doing. This is a relief.
Then, after a full sequence of twists and stretches, some standing and some sitting and when I can just about take no more, we lay down flat on the floor, the room is silent, the lights get turned down low and we are told to relax and breath. I really like this bit. When I say told to relax and breath, they actually tell us how to relax, limb by limb and I did not know before that you can actually relax your mouth. You can and it feels great. We lay like this for around 10 minutes and it feels good.
Then, hands to together as in prayer, the instructor wishes us Namaste, we respond and she thanks us for practicing with her, wishes us well and it’s over. There is an odd stillness in the room at this point.
During this first class I had felt humiliated, I had made a fool of myself, I can’t bend, I have zero flexibility, I sweat like a dog, I am aching and the weakest person in the room, but now it’s finished, I feel great. What was that all about?
Driving home I come to realise that the only person judging me was me. Nobody cares what you do although to be honest, I came close to farting a few times and wondered how that would have gone down.
At this point its decision time, never come back, not for me, or do it again? I must admit, their marketing kicked in at this point and as a new member, was able to buy a half price unlimited pass. This was a good deal and have now completed 6 classes.
I have been every day since I started although as I need to travel with my job soon, I am wanting to get my money’s worth.
So, what happens to me after 6 classes? I actually now enjoy going, there are a few other lads that I have met and have now started saying hello to a few folks, the instructors too always make a fuss and make me feel welcome and offer that they are always there for any questions or help.
I have lost just over 4kgs. Not only this, and this blows me away, I can touch my toes. That’s feet together and legs straight and I can touch my toes. I don’t think I can ever remember doing this, even when I was fit. The progress in this regard has been incredible. Also, I feel pretty good, I sit straighter, slouch less and feel taller, I guess that’s my posture. I sleep better too and this is just after 6 classes.
The classes are not getting any easier, but I enjoy pushing myself just that little bit harder every day. And, when they say focus on your breathing, I have the odd moment beyond gulping for air, when I can.
Just every now and then, it feels as if it’s coming together and I recognise a slight feeling of being in the zone I used to feel when I ran long distances. I am starting to get it, and although yoga was developed by men with long white beards, I am beginning to wonder why so few men do it now?
Have we been conned with the whole flexibility thing, has it just been hi-jacked by the girls, and thus like netball just considered a woman’s sport? I think it is time we lads started to get them back for starting to get too good at football and rugby.
So what next, beyond now starting to recognise that face in the mirror when I brush my teeth, I have another obstacle that is going to hold up progress. My job. On Saturday I fly to the USA for two weeks of hotels, all you can eat breakfasts, meetings in the bar and very low will power.
One of the benefits of yoga is that you can practice on your own, in a hotel room. I looked at a few you tube clips and this is doable, in theory.
I could I look for classes to attend close to the hotels, quite like the idea of that and although probably not too difficult in the USA, my territories where I usually work are in the Middle East, North Africa and India. Although India could be interesting and maybe I will end up one day with a long white beard.