An honest Guy's intro to Yoga and Mindfulness
Written by Maxwell Barna, a writer in the men's lifestyle space, covering everything from food and booze, to auto, tech, and the Great Outdoors.
It was two weeks ago. I was on a trip to Winter Park, Colorado with a few other journalists and fitness bloggers in the run-up to Outdoor Retailer. We were out there testing out some new gear, and the agency in charge of it all had set up some fun events. Think downhill mountain biking with Winter Park Resort, a trail run with New Balance and, much to what I thought would be my chagrin, some early morning yoga.
Every time someone speaks to me about yoga, the conversation usually begins and ends with a less-than-excited groan. Call it what you will (“Closed-minded” comes to mind immediately), but I really just never thought yoga was my “schtick.” For starters, I’m 200 pounds. I’m a burly-ish guy with tattoos and a beard, and while I spend six days a week in a gym, none of that time is ever— ever—dedicated to centering my chi or doing downward dipping whatever-the-hecks. In all the commercials or Shutterstock image sets you see, yoga people look so politely paternal. They look like the kind of people who put their oatmeal in mason jars and let it sit and get soggy overnight. They wear yoga-specific pants that they also run errands in. They not only eat granola regularly, but they make their own.
Whatever a yoga person was, I was not.
Of course, none of these things really has anything to do with yoga in the first place, but these were the predispositions I brought to the table. Nevertheless, when I was told we’d be waking up early for some kind of yoga class, I promised myself that I’d make the best of it and try to appreciate the experience for what it was. Plus, I had plenty of friends who were into yoga, and I’d been told a million times over that it’s a good way to exercise your muscles, stretch out and even relax your mind. If sitting on a mat for an hour and contorting my body in ways I didn’t think possible would get me closer to Nirvana or whatever, I was all about it.
The class was to take place at 8:30 a.m., at the gazebo near the entrance to our lodging at Winter Park Resort. I showed up just in time for the beginning of class, and took my “seat” in the back row, far away as I could get from the instructor, out of view of the other participants. In that moment, I looked around and took inventory of everything that was happening: We were in a gazebo inside a beautiful mountain town resort in Colorado
There was kombucha (Some good stuff from GT’s Living Foods). There were cute printed yoga mats with sunflowers and other various plants on them. The instructor was soft-spoken and pleasant — too soft-spoken and too pleasant. I kid you not, we were maybe 50 feet from a Starbucks. It was like the joke was writing itself.
At some point very early on, I stopped and reminded myself that someone, somewhere, had spent quite a bit of time planning for this event, and that I owed it to everyone in the room—erm, gazebo—to take what was happening seriously. I turned my focus away from the Starbucks and onto the instructor, and tried to get into the motions.
The class itself wasn’t too strenuous, even for me. We switched from things like Child’s Pose to Downward-Facing Dog. We stretched out in things like Cobra and Pigeon poses. We took deep breaths while extending into (and out of) the Extended Side Angle, Half Lord of the Fish, Intense Side Stretch, High Lunge, and some other peculiarly named ones like Happy Baby and simply Chair. It wasn’t easy. None of it was.
In fact, the truth is, it kicked my ass. And it felt good. And when it was over, I remember laying on the mat in my favorite pose of the day—Svasana, also apparently known as “Corpse Pose” (Where you just lay down on the floor and look up at the ceiling for a little bit)—and I was exhausted. It was 9:30 in the morning and I was ready for a nap.
I think what people underestimate about yoga is how serious of a workout it is. They think that because the people in the movies or videos always look so happy and relaxed, and that because these movements happen at such a slow pace and at such low impact, that there’s no real workout there. Well, like I said above: I won’t sit here and claim to be the pinnacle of male physique, but I can say pretty confidently that I’m capable of looking like I belong in most gyms. I work out hard six days a week, and my workouts include everything from heavyweight training to treadmill running (Or treadmill wheezing, really) for miles at a time. I know what having my ass kicked by my workout feels like, and what we did on those mats was definitely enough to leave me sweaty, shaky-legged and sore the next day.
But more than that, I felt good. In between learning the different poses, regulating my breathing, and trying to keep up with the instructor, I felt like my brain was somewhere else. Once I fell into the groove of what we were doing, my body took on a rhythm—an ebb and flow of sorts. It was definitely a kind of tranquility I’ve heard my yoga friends talk about from time to time, and it felt good to be able to experience that so easily.
And yes, not to be one of those people, but I did feel more relaxed throughout my day, too. I mean, could it have been all the kombucha? Sure, I suppose. But my gut tells me I found a little peace somewhere between Downward-Facing Dog and Chair.
So, there you have it. I stepped out of my own head long enough to give yoga a serious try, and it kicked my ass, made me feel good, and even helped me relax.