Friday, November 15, 2013

Is Rock and Roll Compatible with Yoga?

Back in the Summer of this year I saw the on-stage musical version of my favorite movie, “Rock of Ages”. I don’t know if everybody is familiar with the movie Rock of Ages or the stage show, but in short it’s a musical that tells a love story using rock songs from the glam rock days of the 1980’s. Watching the movie is great but when I got to see the musical on-stage it was a whole other experience. Anyway, after rocking out for two hours with my fellow middle aged brethren I started to head home. My voice was hoarse and my ears were ringing but my spirit was soaring. Usually I get that sort of high from my yoga practice and so my mind started to ponder a question. I wondered, “Is my love of rock and roll compatible with my love of yoga”?

Now let me be clear, in celebrating my own love a particular type of music I’m not putting down anybody else’s favorite music. I would say that I have a fairly broad range of tastes when it comes to music. When I go to yoga classes I enjoy the soundscape type of dreaming background music or the electronic dance music with a nice beat but I have always noticed that rock seems to be missing from the play list.

 I can understand the aversion to rock. It has a more pronounced drum track and electric guitar solos. It’s hard to wonder how you are supposed to settle into a relaxed state of being if you are listening to a killer guitar riff from say, Eddie Van Halen. However, in my listening I have noticed that rock and roll chords can put me in a relaxed, reflective state-of-mind that helps ease me into a meditative state. Two tracks that I listen to when I like to relax is Queensryce’s “Silent Lucidity” and Guns N Roses’ “November Rain”.

For the parts of the yoga practice when we start working hard in a flow series and we may have done our 20th sun salutation or we are struggling to hold a warrior two pose we need a more upbeat track to help us through our struggle. There are several rock tracks that I think work very well for this portion of our routine. I always enjoy listening to Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again”, Queen’s ”Another One Bites the Dust” or the Smithereens’ “A Girl Like You”.

I think the purpose of using music in any physical routine is that it helps the mind focus. Whether you are trying to relax the mind or you are trying to push your body past the point of exertion music helps us to concentrate. When your mind has a pleasant soundtrack to focus on, it helps to keep you in your present moment to aid in your mental relaxation. An up tempo beat can keep your mind from dwelling on the discomfort in your muscles as you are trying to hold your pose for just one more breath. If focusing the mind is the purpose of using music in our practice then as a fan of rock and roll I believe that rock works just as well as any other type of music.

So I’m coming full circle back to my original question asking if rock and roll is compatible with yoga. I am somebody who likes to think that yoga is compatible with just about anything. If rock and roll could successfully embrace the “power ballad” in the 80’s then I believe that yogis everywhere can successfully embrace Bon Jovi during peaceful warrior. So if that’s the case, grab your yoga mat, meet me in the front row and we can rock the night away.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Can Yoga Defeat the Seven Deadly Sins?

Can Yoga Defeat the Seven Deadly Sins?
I've read quite a few articles dealing with the question of, “Is yoga a religion?”  Most of the articles dispelled the idea and I agree that yoga is not a religion.  A couple of weeks ago, I was reading some texts dealing with the seven deadly sins which are:  lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride.  As I began to think of how we try to avoid falling prey to these sins I was drawn to thoughts of my yoga practice and how I thought some of the yoga teachings help me cope with avoiding these sins.  Even though yoga is not a religion I found myself asking the question, “Can yoga defeat the seven deadly sins?”  These are my thoughts on the seven deadly sins and how yoga addresses them.

1. Lust.  Lust is a sin usually defined by excessive sexual desire although the word is also associated with excessive desire for money, power and fame.  As people, the problem is not that we feel desire:  the problem is that the feeling of desire overwhelms us.  We push other important things aside to devote our energies to try and satisfy our lustful desires. 
Within our practice of yoga we don’t try to purge ourselves of lusting desire and purposefully deny ourselves from receiving pleasure.  Instead our practice tells us to focus inward and when we discover these feelings of lustful desire we acknowledge the feeling without judgment or guilt.   Because we acknowledge that we have these feelings we can then try to understand where these feelings come from.   We learn that excessive desire comes from wanting things to be a certain way instead of loving and accepting how things are.  Yoga teaches us to love who we are right here and right now.  By focusing inward and loving ourselves for who we are and all that we are we learn to control lustful desire.

2. Gluttony.  The word gluttony is derived from the Latin word, gluttire which means to gulp down or swallow.  When we think of gluttony today we think of over-indulgence and over-consumption to point of wastefulness.  Gluttony is mostly associated with food however it equally applies to the excessive purchasing of materials.  Gluttony most often comes from a place of trying to fulfill a need that can never be filled.  In other words we are not living a life of balance.   
Balance is one of the most important aspects a yogi learns in their practice.    The secret in learning to physically balance the body is to learn to maintain focus.   Maintaining balance in the rest of our lives is no different.  We all must consume to live.  We consume air, water, food and material possessions in order to maintain our lives.  When we learn to focus we are able to discern what is important and when we know what is important we can maintain balance.   With focus we can balance our consumption to just meet our needs instead of being gluttonous in trying to meet our wants. 
3. Greed.  Greed is a sin associated strongly with excesses of lust and gluttony.  Greed is most commonly thought of in terms of excessive desire for material wealth.   Greed has its roots in people wanting to demonstrate they are superior to their fellow man.  Whether it is a bigger car, a bigger house, or nicer clothes, excessive material wealth is how people try to satisfy a need to demonstrate they are better than someone else.  This unchecked desire leads people to commit acts which cause harm to their fellow man.  People will steal, lie and betray their fellow man in the name of acquiring more material wealth to satisfy their greed. 
One of the benefits of yoga is we learn to develop a connection to other people.  When we feel this connection we understand that we don’t need to be superior to our fellow man because we need our fellow man.  It doesn’t matter what level a yogi is at, or what the quality of their mat or clothing is, we all draw energy equally from each other during the chant of Om.  The yoga teacher needs the students, the students need the teacher and the students need each other.  With an appreciation of this deep human connection, greed becomes a useless desire.

4. Sloth.  The sin of sloth is usually thought of as physical laziness although it also is defined as spiritual laziness.  This laziness is a symptom of a person loosing the connection with their true selves.  When this connection is lost a person gives up on any desire toward self-improvement.  With no desire for improvement people form connections with things such as food and television which fill large swaths or their time. 
In our practice of yoga sloth is combated by first establishing a connection to your inner self.  By shutting out the outside world we focus on how we feel inside.  When we pay attention to our inner feelings this helps motivate us to want to improve ourselves.  After we have discovered this want, we are motivated to continue our physical yoga practice.  With continued practice we feel better both physically and spiritually and so our motivation to improvement continues to build.

5. Wrath.  Wrath is a sin of having uncontrolled rage in which people are subject to overwhelming feelings of anger and hatred.  The sin of wrath has lead mankind down a path of self-destruction involving violence, murder, feuds and wars.  Wrath is a symptom of a person who feels that a physical reaction is the only way to correct whatever they perceive to be wrong.  They feel they have been harmed, slighted, embarrassed or disrespected and the only option available is to explode.  These people are slaves to their emotions. 
Yoga helps to control wrath by teaching a yogi to connect to the breath.  The expanse of the chest during a deep breath prevents the chest and the body from tightening when the feeling of wrath is experienced.  Without this tightening of the body it becomes easier to relax which allows the feeling of wrath to begin to fade in the mind.  With continuing deep breathing the yogi focus on their breath which prevents wrath from compelling the yogi to physically react. 

6. Envy.  Envy is an insatiable desire for what somebody else possesses and is strongly associated with feelings of jealousy.  In religious terms it is defined as coveting your neighbor’s property.  People that tend to feel envious suffer from low self esteem.  They don’t like things about themselves and don’t know how to fix them so to feel better they focus on what other people have and they try to emulate these other people.  Fifteen minutes in a supermarket checkout line and you will find numerous magazines dedicated to feeding the sin of envy.
One of my favorite phrases in yoga is, “Loving yourself for who you are and all that you are.”  Even though we learn to have a connection to all other beings, yoga is a very personal practice.  Whether you are in a studio class with 50 people or you are just practicing by yourself yoga is a uniquely personal experience.  I think what makes it personal is that yoga teaches to focus on how you feel during a pose instead of how you look.  When we learn to focus on how we feel instead of how we look it’s very easy to defeat feelings of envy.

7. Pride.  Pride is the granddaddy sin of them all.  The Catholic Church deems pride to be the most dangerous sin of all the seven deadly sins because it is considered a gateway to all the other sins.  Pride is usually defined as excessive love of oneself.  This self-love can be love of one’s looks, accomplishments or possessions.  Pride is marked by a failure to acknowledge your fellow human being due to a feeling of superiority. 
When I am struggling in class I remember a phrase, “Not today, but maybe tomorrow”.   For me, the core of my study and practice of yoga has always been battling my own ego.  I feel that pride has its roots in a person’s ego.  Ego tells you what you should be able to do.  The study of yoga teaches us to look inside and embrace what we can do and not to listen to our prideful egos tell us what we should be doing.  When you learn to control the ego, pride simply withers away. 
So can yoga defeat the seven deadly sins?  I think the seven deadly sins are symptomatic of living a life out-of-balance.  There are many paths that a person can follow to attempt to bring balance into their lives and yoga is just one of many different paths.  Even though I don’t think yoga by itself is a religion, I think it can play an integral part to leading a more balanced, spiritual life which would include avoiding falling prey to the seven deadly sins. 

If you want to live a life that is more balanced I would advise getting off the sofa and getting onto the mat.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Ten Ways Yoga Made Me a Better Dad

Ten Ways Yoga Made Me a Better Dad

In looking at the title of this article I realize that it sounds a little arrogant.  I’m not really sure if I've been a better Dad to my children.  Like most people I've reflected back on my own childhood and have thought of some things I wished my Dad did differently.  I sometimes wonder now when my own kids reach adulthood what will they think of the job I did as a father.  So I’m not really sure I've been a better Dad.  I do know that I always wanted to be a better dad.  I also know that my yoga practice has affected my approach to fatherhood and here is how I think that it hopefully made me a better Dad.
10.  Yoga helped me have a calmer approach to fatherhood.  It goes without saying that raising kids is stressful; so whether it was saying a quite Om chant to myself or just remembering to breathe deeply, yoga helped with the stress.  I don’t think success or failure in fatherhood is determined by whether or not you felt stress but how you reacted to the stress.  When you yell at a child, they never forget it.  I wasn't always perfect and I did sometimes raise my voice but hopefully my kids remember me as someone who stopped to take a breath and didn't let the little aggravations get to him.

9.  Yoga taught me humility so I could say “I’m sorry”.  As I said, sometimes I raised my voice when I shouldn't have.  I made all sorts of mistakes along the way.  Yoga helped me deal with my ego so I didn't always feel the pressure to be the perfect Dad and I didn't beat myself up when I made mistakes.  I hope my kids remember me as a Dad that could admit when I made a mistake and even though I didn't have to, I wasn't afraid to ask my kids for forgiveness.

8.  Yoga has helped me live a healthier life.  Life takes a physical toll on the body.  Kids have lots of energy and they are always ready to play whether you are or not.    Yoga helped maintain my health as I have aged.  Specifically it made me stronger while also increasing my flexibility.  A healthy strong back definitely helps in raising kids.  Hopefully my kids remember me as a Dad who was active and was always ready to play.

7.  Yoga taught me that life does not conform to my ideals.  Through my yoga practice I learned to let go of preconceived notions of myself and what I thought I should be able to do and I learned to embrace what I could do.  As a father I think we all have preconceived notions of how we hope and think our kids will turn out.  I always try to remember to practice acceptance while teaching and encouraging my kids without trying to force my ideals on them.  Hopefully my kids remember me as a Dad who gave them the space to be who they wanted to be. 

6.  Yoga taught me not to pass judgment.  In giving my kids the space to be who they wanted to be, sometimes they embraced things I didn't entirely understand.  My yoga practice helped teach me that different approaches work for different people.  Just because I really love a style of yoga or particular poses within a style doesn't mean that somebody else is going to feel the same way.  I hope my kids remember me as someone who encouraged them in whatever they were interested in. 

5.  Yoga helped me balance my life.  Through out fatherhood there are a million different directions that I feel like I am pulled.  Between work, marital relations, housework, taking care of kids and attending yoga classes:  maintaining balance is crucial.  In my yoga classes when I would perform a balancing pose, l learned to keep my drishti constant.  If the eyes wandered and I didn't maintain focus odds are I would loose balance soon.  Fatherhood is no different from this.  When I was with my kids, I focused on my kids and when I was with my wife, I focused on my wife.  I hope that my kids remember me as someone who paid attention to them when I was with them.      

4.  Yoga taught me patience.  No doubt about it, kids will try you.  This really goes hand-in-hand with maintaining my calm but it is a little bit different.  When I started my yoga practice there was a long list of things I couldn't do.  Gradually through the years I've improved, and the thing that helped me the most was being patient with my own progress.  The greatest lesson I was taught was that while something is not accessible today does not mean it is not accessible tomorrow.  Sometimes my kids easily understood what I was trying to teach them and sometimes they did not.  Fatherhood was a learning experience for me in how to teach my kids.  Hopefully my kids remember me as a patient teacher.

3.  Yoga taught me not to be afraid to fall.  Part of learning is falling and part of teaching and raising children is letting them fall.  Yoga helped me accept that in order to learn a pose sometimes I was going to fall.  However, with each fall I would learn more each time until I no longer fell.  As a father, letting my kids sometimes fall was the hardest thing to do.  I hope my kids understand that I protected them as much as I could and I never wanted them to get hurt but I also wanted them to learn to fly. 

2.  Yoga helped me love women without objectifying.  Yoga helped teach me respect for my body and what it could do.  Along that path I learned to view and respect my fellow female yogi’s bodies for what they could do and not just how they looked.  I haven’t mentioned it until now, but my kids are both boys.  Hopefully my kids remember me as a good role model for how to relate to and treat women. 

1.  Yoga made it okay to love.  In my personal experience of being raised, showing emotions and vulnerabilities was not encouraged.  Throughout adulthood, this translated into being guarded with my expressions of feeling.  Yoga provided an atmosphere that exposed me to people who exuded kindness, caring and compassion.  Through my time with these people I've learned that I don’t have to be guarded and I can give and receive a hug from a fellow yogi.  Kids need a father who is strong but is also kind, caring and loving.  Hopefully more than anything, I hope my kids remember me as a Dad who was not afraid to express his love for them and receive love from them.

I don’t have any fatherhood secrets and I certainly don’t think I’m an expert on fatherhood, but I do think yoga helped me be a better Dad.  For anybody that asks me how to be a better Dad I tell them to find a yoga class, get off the couch and get onto your mat.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pretty Woman and the Defense of Oral Sex

Pretty Woman and the Defense of Oral Sex

It seems everybody is writing a sex article these days so I figure why not me.  Here goes.  I was channel surfing the other day and I came across one of my favorite movies, “Pretty Woman”.  I had not seen the movie in a long time and I happen to catch it when it first came on so I figured why not. 

Its funny how you can view something you have seen many times before and then you see it in a new and different way.  In particular a specific scene in the movie really caught my attention because it was like I was viewing it for the first time.  I’m talking about the scene towards the beginning of the film where Vivian has agreed to stay the night with Richard for $300.  Before the night ends the film scene heavily implies that Vivian gives Richard oral sex.

Now, in my opinion the porn industry and our society have ruined the female offering of oral sex.  I think women believe that men’s desire for sexual pleasure from receiving oral sex comes from a dark place of watching pornography that subjugates women and just involves getting-in and getting-off.  But in watching this scene I was struck by what I considered to be the beauty of the scene and I thought this was the perfect defense of this male desire.

For those that might not have seen the movie or are not sure what I am talking about, allow me to describe the scene.  The male character, Richard, is a wealthy business man in Beverly Hills for the week on business.  He has just broken up with his girlfriend and is in a little bit of a funk.  He is driving back to his hotel after a party and has become lost.  The female character, Vivian, is a prostitute living and working in Hollywood.  She is working the street this night when Richard shows up in his car looking for directions to Beverly Hills.  Vivian gets into Richards car and shows him personally how to get to his destination.  Long story short, Richard is intrigued by Vivian’s infectious personality and pays her to come to his room for the night. 

Once in the room Vivian tries to move things along towards sex but Richard resists only wanting to talk.  To slow things down Richard offers to pay Vivian for the entire night instead of just an hour to which Vivian agrees. 

Now that the pressure of having sex for money has been removed, Vivian relaxes with some strawberries and champagne on the floor and is watching “I Love Lucy”.  Richard sits down in the chair in the living room close to Vivian.  Now we get to the good part.  After a couple casual words bantered back and forth between Richard and Vivian, Vivian pauses and reflects for a couple of moments.  She looks into Richards eyes and slowly begins to crawl across the floor towards him.  It’s almost as though Vivian has realized that Richard is not her usual clientele.  He is a nice guy who is lonely and was looking for some type of a connection with another person.  In this moment Vivian decides that she wants to provide an offering to Richard. 

Once she has made her way to Richard she positions herself on her knees between his legs.  While still keeping eye contact, she strokes his leg and slowly removes her outer clothing.  Then a moment of comic relief as Vivian gets off her knees to get a pillow to put on the floor in order to have a comfortable place while she is on her knees.  Vivian mutes the television, pulls Richard into a more relaxed seated position then proceeds to unzip his pants and unbutton his shirt.  She then looks him in the eye and asks, “What do you want?” 

This is of course a rhetorical question; Vivian has already decided that she wants to give Richard this offering of oral sex.  Vivian kisses her way down his chest before pausing one last time to look at the television and smile at the program.  Richard takes a deep breath in as the scene then fades away. 

What strikes me about the scene is the idea of one person making an offering of pleasure to another person.  Vivian clearly did not have to make this offer to Richard.  Richard appeared to be perfectly content just to have her company for the night.  When Vivian realized that she was safe with Richard and that Richard was a nice guy she was overcome by a feeling that she wanted to make an offering to Richard.  This was an offering to show him that she appreciated him.

For men, receiving oral sex from your partner is highly pleasurable on a physical level.  I don’t think most women realize however how pleasurable it can be on a spiritual level though.  For men I think we tend make stronger emotional connections from being touched.  There is no more intimate way of a man being touched than receiving oral sex.  Also what this scene communicates to me is that when one person wants to demonstrate a feeling of appreciation and gratitude to another there is no better way to convey this than through some type of offering. 

I believe that men and women respond to different types of offerings from partners or loved ones.  The offering of oral sex that I have just described here is a beautiful scene to me.   What makes it a beautiful scene is that it demonstrates that oral sex does not have to be a dirty thing; instead it can be a spiritual offering of beauty and love.  I think that is the best spiritual defense for oral sex. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

I'm Spiritually Opposed to Weight Loss

I’m Spiritually Opposed to Weight Loss

Recently I was asked by a group of office co-workers about joining a “Biggest Loser” competition at work.  I respectfully declined citing that I was spiritually opposed to the concept of weight loss.  I got a good laugh out of that comment but to everybody’s surprise I was serious. 

Now, let me start by saying that we all know about the obesity problem in our country and the obesity problems that other countries are starting to have.  In stating that I am spiritually opposed to the concept of weight loss what I am saying is that I am opposed to the idea of reaching for a number like 160 and drawing a conclusion that when I step onto a weight scale that the number I should see is 160 instead of 175.  Why? 

In our society we obsess over numbers and we let these numbers control our thoughts which then affect our mood.  I remember reading a story about how women’s clothing sizes have actually changed over the years because the fashion industry wants women to feel better about the clothing they buy.  The idea is that the better you feel you will want to buy more of their clothing.  A size 8 versus a size 12 dress size is an example of just meaningless numbers assigned by people wanting to manipulate you into buying their product.  Because we are focused on numbers that are just made-up constructs of reality we loose contact with how we truly feel inside which can lead to spiritual demise.

In order to fight back against this manipulation we have to have a spiritual, meditative and physical practice that allows us to reconnect with our true selves.  One of my favorite parts of yoga and meditation is sitting and quietly scanning the body.  During this quiet time we learn to look inside ourselves for areas of tension, pain and discomfort.  In this time of quiet contemplation there is no scale to look at, there is no meter to get a reading from; all that you have at your disposal is your internal wisdom.  When we scan the body there is only one criterion we have for ourselves and that is trying to answer the question, “How do I feel”?  This is an expression of reality, an expression of our true selves.

Unfortunately for the large majority of our society today we have almost completely cut ourselves off from our bodies because we have tuned into the question of, “What do I think”?  I think 175 is not a good weight, I think I should weight less; I think I need to wear a smaller pants size.  We never stop to ask ourselves, “Why do I think this?”  When we purely rely on these thoughts to determine our self-worth we are vulnerable to being manipulated by a constructed, false reality created by whoever wants to control you.    

The best way to lead a healthy life is to live a life of balance.  When we can balance our mind, body and spirit we become more aware of our feelings and less concerned about our thoughts.  Our feelings come from our spirit and when we can tune into what the spirit tells us about how we feel about ourselves we put ourselves back in control.  When we eat; how do we feel about what we are eating?  Do we feel as though we are honoring our bodies with what we are putting in it?  If not, then change what you are eating.  If you feel like you are hungry, then eat until the feeling goes away.  Why would you keep eating if the feeling of hunger has left your body?  If you feel like you need to exercise then go and exercise until you feel as though you have had enough. 

Don’t sit and think that you have to follow whatever the latest issue of whatever magazine is telling you.  They tell you that you need to count this calorie, and that you need this many minutes of exercise this many times a week with this heartbeat. 

So what am I spiritually in favor of doing?   I’m in favor of getting on your yoga mat or your meditation cushion and following what your mind body and spirit are telling you.  If you do these things there should never be a reason to step on a weight scale again.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Is Weightlifting Incompatible with Yoga?

Is Weightlifting Incompatible with Yoga?

I remember a number of years ago; I journeyed to FEDEX Field to watch the Washington Redskins take on my beloved Miami Dolphins in an NFL regular season game.  During one of the TV timeouts, the players on the field were trying to keep loose and I saw one of my heroes Zach Thomas who played middle linebacker for the Dolphins do something that completely surprised me.  Zach Thomas went into Pigeon Pose, right there in the middle of field, fully dressed in pads, uniform and with a helmet on.  Holy crap!  I couldn't believe it, a man who can bench press God only knows what and regularly takes on 300 pound lineman to then have the privilege of tackling a 240 pound running back was in full Pigeon Pose. 

This reason that this was so incredible to me is that it seems as though for men, weightlifting and yoga exists in two completely different and incompatible universes.  My self personally, I had lifted weights for twenty years but once I started my yoga practice my interest in weightlifting fell by the wayside and I really haven’t been back since.  I notice that within my community when I practiced yoga in a local gym that the male participation was roughly the same as any other yoga class which is twenty percent.  So clearly the large majority of men in the weight room did not feel the urge to come to a yoga class as part of their routine and I had little interest in going back to weight room as part of my routine.

You can "Google" the term, “pro athletes yoga” and you will come up with a myriad of hits.  One in particular that I pulled was this link, that has a list of ten pro athletes that incorporate yoga into their routine.  Clearly professional athletes don’t have a problem integrating a weight lifting program along with a yoga exercise.  This then leads me to wonder:  what’s the difference between the state of mind with pro athletes and us the rest of us in our workout routine?

To start with, I think one of misconceptions that men have about yoga is that it just involves stretching.  While it is true that yoga heavily involves stretching, a well rounded yoga practice will involve many physical and mental facets which benefit all athletes.  These facets include balancing though standing postures, upper body strength through arm balances and inversions and lower body strength through lunges, chair pose and warrior poses.

Myself personally I feel that my yoga practice is enough of a strength workout.  In my yoga practice when I am doing an inversion or an arm balance with a body weight of 175 pounds that to me is quite a workout.  There are some yoga classes that I attend where I can feel a certain amount of muscle soreness the next morning.  The soreness isn't as intense as with a good weightlifting session but still sore none-the-less.

I do have to admit though that my yoga practice has been helped by all those years of weight training.  Weight training does a great job of targeting specific muscle groups and developing and strengthening them.  I feel having strong shoulder, triceps and pectoral muscles is a real benefit to performing some of the various inversions and arm balances.  

Physical aspects of yoga aside, I think the mental aspect of yoga is the most appealing aspect to a professional athlete whereas an amateur doesn't think that much about it.  The practice of calming the mind and scanning the body helps the athlete to maximize his potential while helping to avoid injury.  The calm mind helps give greater focus towards reaching competition goals while at the same time teaching us to slow down and listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us.  This helps define that point when the body has had enough and effort and struggle cross over to pain and injury.   

Maybe the answer is just purely that amateur jocks just don’t have the time to do a mixed weightlifting yoga routine as part of a practice.  Women like to talk about their busy schedules but truth-of-the-matter is that we men are pretty stressed with our schedules as well.  Maybe we feel that we only have so many hours in a week to devote to exercise and so those that like yoga stick with yoga and those of us who like weights stick with weights.

So is weightlifting incompatible with yoga?  One thing that I have learned from my practice is that whatever you do, balance is required.  This is something the professional athletes all know.  In order to hit peak performance you need to draw from multiple disciplined routines.  Weightlifting develops the individual muscles and yoga teaches how to make those individual muscles work together.  All yogis could benefit from sometime in the weight room and all the people in the weight room could benefit from sometime in the yoga studio.  I think all of us benefit from a balanced approach in everything we do.

So to be the best you can be, get off the mat and into the weight room and get out of the weight room and get onto the mat. 


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Yoga and the Male Ego

Yoga and the Male Ego

I wanted to start this article with one of my favorite lines from the movie “Top Gun”.  The line is at the beginning of the movie when Maverick is being chewed out by his CO who tells Maverick, “Son your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.” 

There are so many ways that the male ego can get us in to trouble.  From spending too much time at work because we are being driven to outperform our coworkers, to spending too much money to buy that bigger car or that bigger house.  In the gym we push ourselves too far too fast which leads to injuries.  The drive to perform to be number one can be a tremendous asset if we can control it and if we can’t it can lead to our destruction. 

The society that men live in tells us that bigger is better, we need to be able to last longer and crush the competition.

Our existence is dictated with an outward focus because the ego demands that we constantly compare ourselves to our competition.   This outward focus can lead us to insecurity, anxiety and worse of all, overcompensation.

A dedicated yoga practice teaches us to look inward instead of purely focusing outward.  One of the most difficult lessons I learned was the concept of not being afraid to be a “C” student.  When the focus is inward we learn to concentrate on how our effort makes us feel in and of itself instead of an outward focus that concentrates on how we look.  Our mind and spirit only feel good if we think our pose is better than our fellow yogi. 

When we try to perform an arm balance or a challenging inversion we have been working on for a couple of weeks it’s easy to become frustrated if we still can’t perform the pose.  Our ego dictates that we should of mastered that arm balance by now, the girl on my left can do it, why can’t I. 

The concept of being a “C” student doesn’t mean that we accept mediocrity and give up on trying to improve our practice and thus improve ourselves.  It means that we acknowledge and appreciate the difficulty of the pose.  In the acknowledgement of this difficulty we understand that our yoga practice, just like life is a journey and not a destination. 

It is the journey that we go on in our yoga practice that gives us meaning, not the culmination of the effort and the perfect, “Grade A”, performance of the pose.  The ego says you should already be there and pushes you into a place you are not ready for.  In our yoga practice when we learn to control the ego, the body communicates this is where I am at in the pose, the spirit accepts this and the mind envisions where we will one day go in the pose. 

When we can practice in this calm accepting frame of mind, our minds become free from the ego.  When we are free from the male ego, we reduce our anxiety, we become more secure and confident and we avoid overcompensation. 

And with this secure, confident frame of mind always remember, “You can be my wingman anytime.”

Friday, April 12, 2013

Sex and Yoga

Sex and Yoga

I wanted to start this article with one of my favorite lines from the movie, “Enlighten Up”   The main character Nick goes to California to practice yoga with former wrestler Dallas Diamond Paige whose philosophy about yoga is summed up by the statement, “You say Namaste, I say more T and A”.  So much of what we men see in society today bombards us with images of overt and superficial sexuality.  In this intense environment, it becomes difficult to overcome that appeal to our base male desire instead of developing a deeper relationship with a lover that can lead us to greater sense of peace, calm and yes, sexual satisfaction. 

One of the benefits that I find in my practice is the concept of being nonjudgmental.  Being able to observe and acknowledge what exists without judging it.  So much of what society feeds the male mind is exactly the opposite.  The clothes are flashy and revealing, the bras push up, the magazines air brush and so on and so on.  All of this done in the name of providing men with what is judged to be the perfect image of sexuality. 

Now, a man going to yoga class to counteract this can seem a little confusing these days.  Society’s overt marketing of sexuality is steadily making its way into the world of yoga.  The most popular video on is the Playboy video of a very attractive all nude women performing yoga.  I will admit I watched the whole video but only for the purpose of research for this article.  Believe what you want. 

We also recently had the humorous incident with Lulemon and the see-through yoga pants.  Quite a lot of comments were generated with the Toesox adds in Yoga Journal featuring nude photos of Kathryn Buding wearing  nothing but Toesox while performing some very impressive yoga poses.  Of course the photos of Kathryn are at camera angle that don’t reveal too much but the viewer is aware that she is nude.  The photographer of those ads is Jasper Johal who does take fully nude photos of women in pilates and yoga poses that are a lot more revealing than the Toesox ads.  And of course, there are some women in yoga class that are very revealing in what they wear.  Yoga women are definitely not wearing baggy sweatpants and tee-shirts to class.

So as I said, this bombardment of imagery can be confusing to the male mind.  For me, the practice of being nonjudgmental has helped calm my mind.  So much about sex in today’s society is about judging.  We learn to place value and make judgments on certain physical aspects of a woman’s body. 

The practice of yoga is one in which we turn our minds inward and focus on ourselves within our yoga mat.  With this inward focus, our practice teaches us that thoughts will come and when they do, we acknowledge that they exist but we resist the urge to pass judgment.  We learn to accept and love ourselves for who we are and all that we are instead of expecting perfection. 

As we begin to experience freedom from the expectation of perfection in the performance of our poses.  We can then appreciate how the pose makes us feel instead of how it looks to others.  Once we have mastered this in our yoga practice, we can then start to translate this deeper appreciation of ourselves and other people to different parts of our lives.   Our new-found appreciation helps us to stop judging and stop finding value in women for only how they look.  If we can continue this practice it leads to a calmer mind which makes it easier to master self-control and thus we cannot be easily manipulated by society’s marketing of sex.

When our minds experience freedom from manipulation we become more in tuned to a deeper value in ourselves and a deeper value in what a women has to offer us in a relationship.  This is our path to achieving a deeper satisfaction within ourselves and with our partners.                

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Rutgers Coach Mike Rice is Why Men Need Yoga

I’m sure everybody has seen the video of former Rutgers Coach Mike Rice utilizing his various techniques to motivate his players. 

I don’t really know if you can call it motivation.  I don’t consider using fear, physical intimidation and homophobic slurs as motivation.  Mike Rice wasn’t motivating; he was just out-of-control.  I think we see way too much of this in the hyper-competitive world of men’s sports and I’m not surprised at the line up of people defending Mike Rice.  We live in a society that places an extremely high value on male competiveness which easily morphs into a win-at-all costs mentality.  This win-at-all-costs mentality becomes to overtake us, clouds our judgment and before we know what has happened we have lost our balance. 

My favorite defense of Mike Rice is that they say he is “passionate” about winning.  If you truly think about the word “passion” you realize that Mike Rice is not passionate.  Passion is not mindlessly flailing about screaming obscenities and physically assaulting people.  Coach Rice is just simply living a life out of balance.  Physical competitiveness without discipline of the mind and the spirit will only take you so far and what I saw on that video was a man who has no discipline over himself. 

This example more than any thing demonstrates why men need yoga.  One of my favorite yoga sutras that I take from my yoga practice and continually apply to other areas of my life is the concept of “effortless effort”.  Effortless effort is the exact opposite of struggling or forcing the effort.  My yoga practice has taught me that you can not struggle to overcome your difficulties for entering into a pose and you certainly cannot struggle to overcome your difficulty in maintaining the pose.  In trying to master an inversion or sit for extended periods of time in lotus, screaming a homophobic slur and throwing a block is not going to get the job done. 

Yoga teaches that when we reach the point of struggle we recognize it and back off.  We learn to recognize it by focusing on the breath.  We start breathing heavily through the mouth instead of steadily breathing through the nose.  Once we have identified this, we can then say with the pose, “Not today, but maybe tomorrow.”  The physical body has reached a limit, the mind recognizes the limit and the spirit accepts the limit.  When these three things come together a man has mastered himself and therefore can accomplish great things. 

This is unfortunately where I think men loose their interest in yoga.  So much of male mystique is built around the macho idea that men power their way through challenges.  If you can’t drive the nail you get a bigger hammer.  What Coach Rice shows us is that men need to learn a better way.  We need to learn to control and calm our mind, body and spirit by accepting what our limits are.  Now this doesn’t mean that you are giving up on accomplishing a goal.  Instead you are recognizing that a limit exists.  When you recognize and accept your limit your spirit is calm and you mind is free to develop a strategy for either one day overcoming the limit or choosing another path to lead to your success. 

If you think I don’t make a compelling argument, consider the career of Phil Jackson.  Phil Jackson represents the opposite of Mike Rice.  During his career as a coach, Phil Jackson had earned the nickname, “Zen Master” for his following of eastern philosophy.  Phil Jackson had said that one of his biggest influences on his life and coaching was the book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.  Now I know that Coach Jackson was surrounded by talent but when things went wrong did you ever see Phil Jackson screaming obscenities and throwing objects.  Of course you didn’t, and Phil Jackson won 11 NBA titles as a head coach. 

Which man would you rather emulate, Coach Mike Rice or Coach Phil Jackson?  If you want to be a great man, get on your yoga mat and learn to master yourself before you attempt to master the competition. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why Don't More Men Practice Yoga

This is a topic that you always seem to hear the same amount of chatter about.  Why don’t more men practice yoga?  I have been practicing yoga now for about six years and the percentage of men in the classes has remained about the same.   In a typical class 20% of the yogis are men.
With yoga being a multibillion dollar business I’m actually surprised there isn’t more push by some of the companies that are in the yoga business.  It seems as though the market for women has tapped out and the prime area for growth are men.   Even with this gold mine that we men represent however, I don’t really see anything changing within the industry.  When I look at the fitness/workout industry as a whole, there are magazines that cater to men’s fitness exclusively and there are magazines that cater to women’s fitness only.  Considering this it’s surprising to me that some savvy investor doesn’t start Yoga Men’s Journal.
You have fitness clubs, Curves for example, that cater exclusively to women.  Some gyms, like Gold’s for example, have a harder edge that caters more towards men’s exercise interest.  Within a mixed patronage gym like World Gym, there are rooms with more machine and pulley weight lifting devices that women tend to favor and then there are free-weight-rooms that men tend to favor.  The weightlifting/fitness industry seems to have figured out that men and women have different interests when it comes to pursuing their fitness goals.
For all the articles I have read about this subject of men and yoga this simple point gets missed.  Men and women have different goals and different approaches when it comes to  exercise  and yoga is no different.  After practicing yoga for six years, my impression is that yoga is about 80% dominated by female interests which not surprisingly is the percentage of women is a yoga class.
Now, let me say, this is not a blog post about bashing women in the yoga industry.  I remember attending a workplace training class on diversity and the instructor said something very interesting.  His quote was, “Diversity in higher levels of workplace management is very important because ducks tend to favor ducks”.   So that if you are Caucasian, you will subconsciously favor Caucasians over other races, if you are male you will subconsciously favor other males over females.  You are not a bad person for doing this, but it is within our nature to favor those that resemble us.  And that brings me to my point about yoga, the vast majority of yoga instructors are women and therefore subconsciously the yoga classes with the various routines are going to favor, guess who, women.  Everything from yoga clothing, to the design and decoration of the studios to the music picked for the class is subconsciously dominated by women and therefore favors women. 
 So if you want more men performing yoga, yoga is going to have to introduce some type of affirmative action program to introduce more of a male presence into the industry.  I think this has to start with more local yoga studios training male yoga teachers.  Male yoga teachers will start teaching classes that will tend to favor male interests.  In my mind it would be a class in which we didn’t do quite so many lunging poses like Warrior One, Warrior Two, Peaceful Warrior.  Seriously male yogis don’t care about developing “yoga butt” to show off in a pair of $120 Lulemon see-through-yoga pants.   As a male yogi my driver has always been poses like arm balances and inversions that develop upper-body strength.  Finding a yoga class that focuses on arm balances and inversions is tough to come by.  If you want an awesome male centered yoga workout then look to see if you can attend an arm balance and inversion workshop with Simon Park.  That guy is awesome.   I personally go to for a lot of classes that I think favor male interests more with work on the upper body involving some very tough physical poses.
In conclusion, for you men reading my blog, if you want more of what you care about in a yoga practice, don’t be afraid to speak up when the teacher asks, “What does everybody want to work on today”.  Get interested in teacher training so that in the future more men are leading yoga classes.  For you women reading my blog, I know it’s very difficult to go against our nature as people, but try to think about a man’s perspective when you are choosing your routines.  Try to think about what a man wants to get out of a yoga practice.  I’ve spoken a lot about the differences between men and women here but putting things in perspective there is really not that much of a gulf between male and female yogis.  We just need to get that 80/20 split closer to 50/50 and the yoga world will be much better for it.