I grew up in a small city in southern Colorado. The kind of place that has more tumbleweeds than scenic hiking trails. It’s kind of place that people can’t wait to leave. I am not one of those people. This is my home and I like it here, despite our notoriously bad drivers and lack of entertainment that doesn’t involve bowling or the movie theater.
With so little to do here it’s no surprise that my hometown is also lacking in the yoga studio department. For me, this meant that I began my yoga practice at my university rec center. Only because my best friend dragged me there…. Little did I know that someday it would become my biggest passion and an essential part of my life’s purpose.
I competed in barrel races and roping competitions all through high school, and although I was never particularly athletic (all-city debate champion three years running say whaaaaa!), I partially defined myself by my rodeo-ing, ranching, hunting, and just all around mildly redneck heritage. I never saw myself as someone who would practice yoga. Mostly because I believed all the stereotypes: You have to be vegan, and skinny, and blonde, and way too stuck up for your own good…which I would come to learn is not actually the case.
My grandparents still own a small ranch just outside of town (on the longest dirt road you’ve ever seen) where I am proud to spend a large number of hours branding and vaccinating cattle as well as going on early morning hunting trips with my brother. So naturally, I never though twice about eating a steak (especially from the cattle we raised). In fact eating a lot of meat was something to be proud of. And if eating cattle wasn’t a big deal it seemed even more natural that we would eat all the things my family hunted and killed. Hunting trophies in the house were as common an occurrence as old bull riding stories and the sound of a turkey call announced the change of season. Little did I know that it would all be put into question when I took on the yogic lifestyle. If there were such a thing as an anti-yogi, I appeared to be part of a family full of them.
I was reminded recently of how different I am from other yogis while driving in the car with a few of the women I completed my teacher training with. We came upon a large truck with something odd strapped into the bed. As we got closer it became evident that the object was an elk shoulder mount, and an impressive one at that (layman’s speak: it was a hunting trophy. You know the animal heads hanging on the walls? Yeah, one of those.) My first thought was “damn, that’s a nice bull!” and just as this thought crossed my mind one of the women in the car with me cried out, “I just can’t believe people do that, I can’t even look at it! What a beautiful animal!” and it hit me. These ladies (some of my favorite people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet) see this as a severed animal head. I see it as the story of a man or woman who has probably spent years looking for an elk that big and has had it mounted as a well deserved trophy after field-dressing it and possibly butchering it themselves to turn an adventure into something that will feed their family for months on end. To me, the hunter’s way of honoring the animal they eat is valid. But when you tell this to someone who doesn’t believe the animal should be eaten at all you’re kind of fighting a losing battle…
It’s constant little reminders like this that show me that I am not a yogi—or at least not a traditional one. I eat meat. I even participate in hunting and cooking meat. I have a gun rights bumper sticker, and I have never met another person who spends all of Saturday morning teaching yoga and that whole afternoon branding and sorting cattle. But that’s what makes me, me and probably one of the reasons that I get to consider myself as holding the prestigious title of a “bad yogi.” I’m not going to pretend that I embraced this contradiction overnight… or that I haven’t met people who disagree with me. But I love yoga and I love where I came from, so eventually there was no giving up one or the other. I’m a hunting, ranching, meat eating yogi.
My ability to embrace the contradiction that is me is a living testament to the “yoga is for everyone” mantra. Sometimes it’s still a struggle to balance my two worlds but there are certain moments that remind me why I am where I am on this journey. Big moments, like succeeding in publishing an article about big game hunting on a yoga site and receiving an email from the host of a hunting show on the Sportsman’s Channel and his team who read that article (that was a dance around the kitchen for twenty minutes moment). And little moments like seeing my hard ass, rancher, ex bull-rider, I’ve broken every bone in my body twice, grandpa doing sun salutations in my living room (just as worthy of a mini dance party).
So, when people ask me (or when I had to ask myself) how I can practice yoga given my lifestyle and what I believe, I now have an answer. I just practice my own kind of yoga. It respects the practice and ancient yogic traditions, but it also respects where I came from. I call it dirt road yoga. And all it took was a realization on my part. I realized that I could be 100 percent unapologetically myself and still practice yoga, and that is a beautiful thing.