Monday, October 15, 2012

Opening a Yoga Studio

Upon graduating from Yoga Teacher Training in 2000, I set out to begin my practice.

Like most new yoga instructors, having to teach a class at various studios, at gyms and the occasional private class is normal. It can also be challenging and more labor intensive than need to be.  But, by 2000 the practice of yoga had become completely mainstream as a work out regime mainly for women.  Yoga studios were popping up as fast as Starbucks. Different styles of yoga were being created. Rock star yoga instructors were finding name and notoriety.
Because I lacked finances and a following, I did not have the notion of opening my own studio. As such, I was relegated to teaching at someone else’s studio, and following their practice protocol. I even taught at a few gyms, which I detested. Gym yoga is nothing like studio yoga. In a gym setting the “students” were looking at me like I had no idea what I was doing. And the feeling was mutual. It just wasn’t a good match.  Since I did not have the marketing skills to promote myself, I decided to step out of the practice.

Three years later, more financially sound and better focused, the opportunity arose to embrace a teaching practice and open a  studio for men.

Years prior I had a few challenging moments that made me question my yoga practice and my ability as an instructor. But nothing has been more challenging than opening my own studio.

It made sense to open an all male facility as females mainly attended all the neighboring studios.

For some reason, when yoga hit the mainstream it was embraced mostly by women. Despite the star athletes, male movie stars and other media worthy men that have embraced the practice of yoga, it has stayed mainly a female dominated practice. It did not help that the Americanized yoga became fashion conscious and somewhat materialistic with its accouterments. Yoga was also viewed as part of the “self help” movement and that in itself detracted men from jumping on the mat. Not that men are deterred from engaging in self-help, but that and the “stretchy” part of yoga with the limber females may not be the most enticing aspect of the practice.

Years ago a friend and I joked about teaching a naked yoga retreat. Shortly after, during a workshop we were approached by a fellow student and were asked if we would be interested in assisting him in teaching a naked yoga class that he had started a few months prior. The classes were growing, and he felt the need to expand. We accepted, and I ended up teaching for a few months.

Unfortunately I had to drop out as the classes and the space had too much of an erotic over tone. Not that I was teaching that but the original instructor allowed that essence, and I did not want to teach yoga with an erotic or sensual approach. Quite the contrary, I wanted to teach a naked yoga class without the essence of eroticism or sexual energy.

I do not identify as a nudist, but I enjoy being naked, and I have always scoffed at the belief that nudity is erotic or sexual. Yes, of course it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. Such a view of nudity can create insecurity and self-loathing.  We are barraged by the media with pictures of the “perfect” body and socially worship them. With naked yoga I wanted to approach the idea of being naked in a communal setting and have the attention drawn to something other than where the eye is drawn. I wanted to prove that people could be naked together, engaging in a physical, mental and spiritual practice and putting aside any insecurities and inhibitions. And to date, it has been successful.

Of course I offer clothed classes as well. Yoga is yoga with or with out clothes.

So why practice yoga? Why men’s yoga? Why naked Yoga?

I began yoga 27 years ago looking for something that would help me get in touch with my body and spiritual growth. At the time I had enjoyed working out at a gym but it seemed to lack something.  A few books I had read introduced yoga to me so I looked for a class.

Throughout the years the practice was many different things to me. At times I felt it was breaking me down, other times I felt it was building me up. With more study I realized that was what the practice was all about.  Similar to the practice of Zen Buddhism, in order to fully realize ones self, one needs to release preconceptions and accept that everything and everyone is connected.  Despite my personal insecurities and self-imposed limitations, through my yoga practice I began to “lighten up” and began to accept others and myself.  Of course this is still a process and always will be as long as I draw breath.

Being a gay man or, as I usually put it, “a man who happens to be gay.” I never found my place in the male society. I didn’t feel that I fit in with the gay community and even though at times my social circles were mainly heterosexuals, I didn’t feel at home there either.  I was confused for a long time. I felt like I was supposed to be on one side of the fence or the other but, I didn’t want to choose just one. I didn’t see why I had to.

Opening a yoga studio gave me the opportunity to embrace that challenge and combine the differences. I had experienced so much growth through my yoga practice, and I wanted to share that with as many men as I could.

Many men use sports or weight lifting as means of identification.  There is this machismo that comes along with that definitely serving a purpose but it doesn’t need to be the end all to our identification. Most of us were raised with media portrayal of what a man is. We could be a businessman, a military man, a policeman, a cowboy, a sports “hero” or even The President. Take any male character from any movie and we had a blueprint of what we could be.  But the one thing we were not taught was to embrace our selves.

Yoga worked for me to bring all that together and through trial, error and success, I have fully embraced myself as a man. Not as a gay man, but as a man.  The yoga I teach is not for just gay men, nor is it just for straight men. It’s for all men and the main intention behind the naked classes as well as the clothed classes is for the students to embrace just that. Shed your clothes, or not, but shed your ego, embrace yourself in a community of men where there is no social challenge or bravado that needs to be won.

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