What does being a man mean? What does being a male yogi mean? I was struggling with this question. I closed my eyes and asked my dad to write this for me.
I might not have ever wrote such a “hippie dippy” opener (his words not mine) to an essay before yoga…before my dad died. It can be so difficult as a man, to embrace the vulnerability of a yoga practice. Stepping into a studio where you might not be the best in the room. This can be incredibly discouraging. But, my dad always told me to try my best. That’s yoga. Try your best.
My first yoga experience was around the time I was living with my dad in our home in Affton, when I was getting ready to go to school for acting in Northern California. I started working out and running that summer because I was out of shape. I knew my new school would be physically demanding, so I wanted to start preparing before I packed up my things and moved away on my own for the first time in my life. Yoga was anxiety producing for me in those early days of practice. I thought the only point was to sync your breath with movement and that I would be judged by everyone else in the room if they noticed I was failing miserably at this task.
My dad was taken to the hospital in late July after falling in the parking lot outside a Shop N’ Save. While in the hospital he contracted pneumonia, fell into a coma, and died a few weeks later.
A month after his funeral, I packed up all my belongings and drove to California to study at Dell’Arte International: School of Physical Theatre. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning we practiced yoga as an all school daily practice. My mind was so busy during those days, especially in savasana. I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering.
I loved my school. I loved the physical training. I met lifelong friends that were there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, to talk about my dad. Over the next couple years, I also developed a social drinking problem, thinking I was living a stress-filled life--where I ignored my health, both mentally and physically--with no place to call home, and a constant whirlwind of trying to find myself, crashed hard. My anxiety and depression were at record highs.
A year ago, I came back to St. Louis, and at the recommendation of my therapist again developed a yoga practice as one of many tools to deal with my anxiety and depression. Last fall, during my final semester of undergrad, my personal practice grew. I had been reading books on being present, and eventually, I gave up trying to be perfect on my mat. I gave up trying to get it right and just do my best. That meant giving up listening to breathe cues for weeks at a time and breathing as I needed. It meant letting my mind spiral in savasana knowing that I would get through it. Trying my best.
My journey to this moment could be seen as a man’s struggle with grief. Living in a world where openly struggling, being vulnerable, where being emotional as a man is seen as weak. The world of yoga does not hold such norms as truth. Yoga allows me strength. Yoga allows me vulnerability. Yoga allows me flexibility. Yoga allows me safety. Yoga allows me tools to survive — tools to thrive. Yoga allows me love. As a man, no, as a human that’s everything to me.
My dad was the first in his family to get a college degree; I got my BA in Communications last fall from his alma mater, UMSL, and then went to India to get my yoga teacher certification. When my dad died, he had been sober for 30 years; I have been sober for over a year now. My father never tried yoga, or the physical aspect of being on a mat (asana). But yoga is so much more than that. And, my father was so much more than that. He inspired the best in his children and in others. He held space for emotions and vulnerability. He was unconditionally loving. He was a yogi as much as anyone. They say the father lives on in the son. So in a way, my father has now tried asana, too. And I gotta say, he loves it!