Very recently I have morphed into “that guy”. It has taken just under two years for me to admit this, but I have become that guy who proudly and unashamedly calls himself a “man-yogi”. There is, however, a caveat to my self-admitted title. I am not that guy most people imagine as a man-yogi. I am not that guy that is pictured on Yoga magazine covers. Nor am I that guy who has his own YouTube yoga channel. There is no 6 foot 2 inch, 7% body-fat athletic build here. No chiseled jawline. No perfectly trimmed beard. Definitely not a model for the latest in men’s yoga clothing. Nope, I am not that man-yogi. So if I’m not that kind of man-yogi, what kind am I? Think middle-aged, slightly pudgy, shorter-than-six-foot guy. Actually, if you imagine a guy that has the height and physique of one of Tolkien’s Hobbits, you’re there! Then add the flexibility of a totem pole and you have most of the vision.
So what happened in the last two years to get me on a road to yoga? It is easier to explain what kept me away from yoga. Blocking my road was nothing more than false perceptions. False perceptions related to guys doing yoga and false perceptions about how others would react to me practicing yoga. False perceptions about men and yoga have been around for ages. We’ve all heard them. “Yoga is not a work-out.” “Guys don’t to yoga.” “You have to be flexible to do yoga.” Getting through the guys-doing-yoga perceptions was not too difficult. As with most things, perceptions change with the view. As I researched yoga, read about yoga, and spoke to yoga teachers, my understanding grew and my initial perception changed. Resolving my view as to how others would think about me doing yoga was much different. I believe my perception was actually based in a fear of ridicule. You see, I am not only a guy, but I am a guy that works in a historically “macho” field. I’m a firefighter/ paramedic. I have been enjoying this career for almost 30 years. And in those near-30 years, even though women started working side-by-side the guys, the “machismo” remains. So there was always the fear that doing yoga would lead to “the guys” making fun of me.
So what allowed me to, as they say, jump in with both feet? That answer is simple. It was the kindness and understanding of the yoga community. It started with a Sunday morning “beginners class” taught by a friend. After those initial eight weeks I felt better about myself but I couldn’t understand why. How could a one-hour-a-week class that most of my “guy” friends would view as “basic stretching” make me feel so different? I didn’t know the answer, but I knew I had to continue and learn more. So over the next two years came different forms of yoga from gentle, to flow, to Vinyasa.
Then one day I realized that somewhere along this road I had changed. I realized that I didn’t have to be the yoga guy that is seen in the yoga media, Mr. Yoga-perfect guy. No matter how often I practiced, I was never going to be “that guy”. But I could be a different guy. I could be my own type of man-yogi. I came to understand that it was OK to be a Hobbit-shaped, rather physically inflexible, middle-aged man-yogi. It was OK to be the guy that looks for a yoga studio when out of town for a conference. It was OK to be the guy that follows Bad Yogi on Facebook. It was OK not to care what “the guys” thought of practicing yoga. And it was definitely OK to be that guy who recommends yoga to his fellow firefighters, be they male or female.
It’s been an odd journey to man-yogism. But it has been fun. And I am lucky to have yoga teachers who constantly profess that yoga should be fun and noncompetitive. Because of the support of my yoga community, I became that guy that truly believes practicing yoga affects the body, mind and soul. Even if that body, mind and soul resides in the shape of a Hobbit!
That is my journey to becoming “that guy”; man-yogi. What was your journey like?