It was 2009 and my chiropractor, at the time, recommended that I try yoga. I had been dealing with chronic back pain for a while and none of the hot, cold, electronic or mechanical contraptions in his office seemed to be having any effect on my L5. Of course, this recommendation came after 15 or so appointments and a lot less money in my bank account, but that’s neither here nor there.
I tried acupuncture instead and got zero results.
So I decided to ‘look into’ the yoga thing. I knew enough to know that real Yogi’s originated in the east, India to be exact and that their ranks were primarily comprised of men. But for some reason yoga seemed like something only skinny white girls did in western countries. The few guys that I’d ever seen carrying around yoga mats where the sort of tree hugging, earthy, bohemian types that I didn’t really identify with <–this is me being PC. So in my mind, and I’m guessing a whole slew of other folks, yoga had kinda become associated with femininity (at least) and whiteness (at best).
BUT….my chiropractor was a young, black (well…biracial) doctor who I generally liked and respected so I figured his word was good for something. Luckily, my gym had free classes so I could try it out with no commitments. Of course, this wasn’t this sorta thing I was gonna mention to any of my boys. That was not happening.
Anyway, I eventually found my way to my first class, making the walk of shame past the meathead section where all the squat racks were. There was only one studio in that direction of the gym and everyone knew it. But I manned up, mean mugging anyone who gave me the side eye the entire way. My face was still tight when I reached the studio door and entered the class just as it was starting. I can only imagine what I looked like to the instructor and rest of the folks there.
Here I was, this bald headed, well muscled, angry faced, dark skinned black guy, with baggy sweat pants and socks on, rummaging around in the back of the class for a mat. I must have looked unsettled as I set up my mat in the back because the instructor broke protocol and extended the “you must me new, please introduce yourself” invitation to me after the class had started.
I looked around and, for the most part, saw what I expected to see. Of the 20 or so folks in attendance, there were 2 other guys besides myself (although one was black). I also noticed 2 black women.
I was happy to respond with my ‘injury’ story as my reason for showing up. I mean, why else would I be there? I wasn’t like the the rest of them. I just wanted to bang this class out, ‘real quick’, just so I could say I had at least tried it.
Needless to say, 15 minutes in, I was sweating through my Nike “Just Do It” tank top. I knew I was in trouble when my legs starting shaking during one of the many Warrior Pose’s (that seemed to go on forever). And by ‘shaking’, I mean violently. Naturally, I had just worked legs the day before, maxing out at 10 reps of 675 pounds on the leg press machine. Bad idea? Never even crossed my mind.
Yep, we weren’t even halfway through class and I was already hurting. Hurting bad. But my pride wouldn’t let me quit so I pushed kept pushing. It was even more of a shock to see, what seemed like, everyone else in the class hitting and holding all of the poses with ease. And then it happened: my shoulders finally turned to jelly and gave out during a Down Dog Split pose.
I had nothing left. I reluctantly slid into Child’s Pose (the I Can’t Take This Anymore a.k.a Loser Pose). The instructor had made it a point at the beginning of class for us to use this pose, should we need it, although I felt like she was really talking to me.
Before I could recover, we had uttered the obligatory Namaste closing, and the 60 minute class was over. I pulled my head off the mat and made my way out, past the meatheads, trying to figure out what had just happened. After eventually dusting off my bruised ego, I decided that I’d be back. And come back I did, twice a week, for the next few months, past the meatheads and eventually from the back to the front of the class. I had started to get a hang of this thing and my back was starting to feel a little better too.
But my life circumstances changed and I decided to move closer to the city. Well they didn’t change as much as me just being tired of making a 45 minutes drive home at 4 am on the weekends. Unfortunately, I ended up joining a new gym…and just like that my burgeoning yoga practice ended.
I had started to dig it, but not enough to pay for it. Nah, not that much. It wasn’t until a few years later that a work buddy invited me to 90 minute Bro Excursion at a studio in the city. The kicker was that this studio practiced something called Hot Yoga, essentially the same practice of various yoga flows in really really hot rooms. Like sauna hot.
Even though it had been a while and it wasn’t a free class, I was game. 90 minutes? 18 bucks? I could swing that. Down Dog Yoga was one of the hotter studios in the area and unlike my first yoga experience years ago, I was sweating before class even started.
But this studio had a different energy then what I was used to. There were more ‘regular’ dudes in this class (even the instructor was a young black guy). And the ladies…well, I’ll just say I was ready to buy who ever invented yoga pants (and shorts) a drink after class. And even though it was a 9 am class on a Saturday, for some reason I was just feeling it. I was in the zone. The flows in this class just seemed more dude-like, I was sweating like a dog, the scenery was on point, folks were hitting crazy inversions and I was competing with the fellas’s I knew. I wasn’t gonna be the first to take Child’s Pose….nope…not today.
If I’m being honest though, this was probably the most intense 90 minutes of my life, but somehow I held out. I hit every pose, and almost every rep (yup..we hit abs too) and when all was said and done, I felt like a BEAST. In fact, that feeling lasted for the rest of the day. It was like runners high on crack and I was hooked.
They got ALOT more of my money over the next year. The combination of the heat, stretching, the crazy balancing skills, uber fat burning and detoxification was something I couldn’t find anywhere else. I didn’t and still don’t really get into the cosmic humanistic or pantheistic aspects of yoga but I’m ok with that.
That was 2 years ago and I’m still a faithful practitioner of “Hot Yoga”. Is there still a shortage of melanin in their classes and yoga, in general? Sure. But I’m doing my part to put as many folks on as I can (regardless of their racial persuasion). My advice to anyone reading this post..CHECK IT OUT. Personally, I prefer the Vinyasa over the Bikram flow but I recommend trying both and seeing what works for you.
So yeah, this black dude definitely digs white yoga. Hopefully, in time, I’ll be able to do a write up with a different title….either way, Im in it for the long haul. You’ll find me at someone’s studio until either my bones or my back gives out.