Yoga is a practice that resonates with each practitioner for different reasons. Others are more interested in the mobility and strength of asana, while others find the philosophy of class to be most appealing. Others come to yoga for community and belonging. In contrast, others are interested in the psychological inquiry ( Svadhyaya), facilitated by the journey of breath, movement, and awareness. Others, including myself, may have been drawn to the mat by combining these factors.
At 18, I felt weak and disconnected from my body, power, and other aspects of my identity. I worked out briefly at a gym in the summer of my 18th year before leaving for acting school in Los Angeles. But I had no experience with fitness protocols.
I remember, as a young boy wanting to grow my muscles and gain more definition. I also wanted to improve my sexual attraction, which would give me an advantage in the entertainment industry. After moving to LA, it was clear that I could not pay rent without a gym membership.
In response to my financial restrictions and fitness goals, a friend of mine brought me to a donation-based power yoga class. I was immediately hooked. The course was an excellent fit for me. It was the most challenging physical experience I had ever experienced. I felt a sense of mental clarity and alignment afterward that helped me achieve tremendous success in life and my pursuits. It was hard work, but it was worth it. I felt great afterward.
Early on in my yoga experience, I was told that yoga was a better and more beneficial form of exercise than weightlifting or traditional aerobics (the primary teacher of the studio I practiced at wrote a blog post stating this). I was told to support and leverage my body weight, which was more effective and healthier than doing reps at the gym.
I liked that I could be self-sufficient in my health and fitness and that I would have a sustainable and respectful relationship with my body by restricting my strength practice to a yoga mat and an occasional prop. It was also believed that weightlifters are motivated by external approval, whereas a yoga practitioner is satisfied and happy from within. My yoga practice was satisfying to me almost from the beginning. It would fulfill all my physical and spiritual requirements in this life.
Weightlifting was not something I considered until eight years after starting my practice. Asanas no longer gave me the satisfaction I used to get from transforming my body into new shapes. The time was a difficult one for me. I was undergoing a strict detox to correct hormone imbalances. This led to me losing my libido, vitality, and mental clarity.
In addition, I had already adopted a vegan raw diet and was doing my best to follow a non-violent lifestyle and food choices. Despite doing everything “right,” I still suffered.
I remember being huddled in a studio on the floor, propped against the wall. I was teaching a vinyasa class to eager students while lacking the energy to stand. They expressed their concern about my declining strength and stamina. I increased my yoga practice, performing more chaturanga and more extended lunge holds to strengthen my body. It didn’t work. Yoga was making me weaker and more overwhelmed.
Alex, an Ashtanga enthusiast at the time, had just joined a gym. She was enjoying the new and exciting learning curve of adopting a weightlifting protocol. I told her that my yoga practice was not helping me reach my wellness goals, and I was tired of trying to squeeze every last bit out of it. She encouraged me to give the gym another try. After feeling desperate for a change, I downloaded an online workout protocol that promised amazing results and signed up at a local gym.
Weight lifting was a similar experience to my first encounter with yoga. I became captivated by the whole process. When I added external weight, I felt the subtle muscular movements and joint articulations that I had explored on the mat more efficiently and with greater feedback. As a yoga prop nerd, I was incredibly inspired by the variety of equipment available to me at the gym.
It was refreshing to be able to focus my attention on something new. This curiosity, combined with a kind of beginner’s mindset surrounding the process, helped me feel like I was learning something completely new. I’d often start my workouts by doing sun salutations and finish with passive stretching. To my great surprise, adding muscle mass to my frame did not affect my mobility as I had been told. The process of watching my body change grew my confidence and helped me to better understand my masculinity, as well as my sexuality. I felt my vitality returning and looked forward to each new day.
Yoga, as it is taught today, often appears to convey contradictory messages. Some teachers encourage us to focus our attention on our inner landscape and away from the outside world, while others urge us to explore our physicality. It took me a while to realize the importance of both directions of attention and that my gym sessions were just as “spiritual’ as my mat practices.
Weightlifting and yoga both required me to pay full attention to what I was doing. They also increased my ability to manage and tolerate stress and discomfort and deepened my relationship with myself by learning how my body functions and adapts.
Self-love, rather than self-hatred, was the most important lesson I learned from my yoga practice. The process of transformation is more sustainable and beneficial when it’s motivated by the love of oneself. I committed to bringing this perspective into my workouts at the gym by practicing deep appreciation of my incredible cells with each set and rep of my exercises.
After a period of weightlifting, I admit to having a temporary identity crisis. After a while of weight lifting, I became so dedicated to my workouts in the gym that I felt like I was a fraud when I taught yoga. My classes didn’t reflect what I did any more with my movement practice. After several years, reconciling the two worlds took me a while. As my interest in calisthenics and other areas of study increased (biomechanics, tissue adaptation, etc.) I began to see my yoga practice in a different light.