Excuses to get out of yoga? Yep, we’ve heard them all. That’s what makes us love these stories from the new book The Yoga Man(ual) so much. Here, 10 guys share how they came around to embracing the practice—and what keeps them coming back to their mat.
Waterman and Big-Wave Surfer
Like most guys in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my conceptual understanding of yoga was that it was soft, wussy stretching full of emotional yada yada. My first exposure to yoga was at a Quiksilver training camp that focused on the physical side of the practice. It kicked my butt. In fact, I pushed myself so hard that I hurt my back. That turned me off from the practice. But three years later, Laird Hamilton asked me to do yoga with him. He seemed committed, so I thought it was worth another try. This time the experience was much closer to what I expected yoga to be about—breathing, focus, balance—but the physical exertion in simple movements really blew me away. I was sweating so hard during that first session with Laird that when I left the studio I looked like I’d stepped out of a swimming pool. It wasn’t even a heated class! Of course, I approached it like a typical young man with no yoga experience, muscling through every pose with no acknowledgment of my body’s limits and trying to overcome every situation with bravado rather than breath. Breath instruction was foreign to me. To breathe during these very intense movements seemed impossible. I was so winded I had to huff and puff to get air in. It was a very humbling experience and completely changed my perception of yoga—and it got me hooked.
There’s nothing wussy about yoga. It’s very tough and very physical but leaves you feeling somewhere between euphoric and relaxed. I immediately noticed a difference in my paddling. In those days, there was this one guy who was just a bit faster than me. Eight times out of ten he’d beat me. But if I did yoga the morning before we raced, I would absolutely smoke him. That was the tipping point for me, and I started practicing yoga regularly. I’d never been that fast on a paddleboard. Yoga really translates to sports. With all of the water sports I do, whether surfing or paddling, I’m in a very fluid situation calculating data—speed, time, distance, and how I relate to a wave—at a subconscious level. When your subconscious is relaxed and free from stress or outside thoughts, you can make better decisions. Basically, you get in the flow more easily. The hardest part for me is finding time. But even if I do just 15 minutes of yoga, it helps me so much.
My real yoga breakthrough came when I signed up for a four-session yoga workshop for runners. I average 50 miles per week when I’m training for a 100-miler, and figured I should do something that didn’t beat up my body. Classes were elementary slow flows. We spent a lot of time in postures and moved slowly between them. My first impression was, “This is really hard for me.” I didn’t have the upper body strength for a lot of the poses, and I wasn’t able to control mybreath. But I liked how there was this crescendo to build yourself up to your edge and then slowly come back down. I also liked the routine of coming to a quiet place for an hour so I could relax and hit the reset button. The running-specific classes made regular classes less intimidating for me, and I started going to a more intense, heated vinyasa class. It was fucking hard. I looked like such a rookie next to these girls effortlessly flinging their bodies around. That’s when I really started to appreciate the breathing aspect of yoga. I knew my body had reached its limit when my breath broke down. The quality of my breath was a signal to ease back or try a different variation, and I’ve learned to channel that when I run. I haven’t gotten injured in years, and I think yoga has a lot to do with that. It counterbalances the tightening that running creates in my muscles, and it’s taught me more innovative ways to stretch. Lizard Pose helps my tight hips, standing forward fold stretches my lower back and hamstrings, and legs up the wall is restorative for my legs. I try to do these three poses every day, even if it’s at home while watching TV.
The summer before I joined the Minnesota Wild, I attended a summer development camp. Our trainer mentioned that there was a yoga studio down the street and offered to set us up with classes. It wasn’t mandatory, but I figured that there had to be some benefit. It was tough, hot power yoga. The amount of sweat that poured out of me was unbelievable. I felt so good after class. Me and some of the guys on the team started going twice a week. We’d skate, hit the weights, then go to yoga. I felt the best I’d ever felt on the ice that summer. Finding my comfort zone in poses through my breathing helped me on the ice. I learned to slow my heart rate down before going back on the ice. In the weight room I can focus more on my breathing when I’m lifting because of yoga. The flexibility aspect of yoga is huge for hockey players. I don’t know if humans are made to skate. Our hips are so tight. Pigeon Pose has done wonders for my hips. The more you use your muscles, the tighter you get—all the more reason to do yoga.
I tried practicing vinyasa yoga when I was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and ended up feeling worse. I was too stiff and tight from the inflammation in my body. So I tried restorative yoga and it helped my body calm down. I was able to relax slowly into poses with the aid of blocks and bolsters. As I progressed, I got interested in learning more about the practice. Now I do flows on my own every day. I feel it helps me in other physical aspects of my life. It’s improved my running and cycling. Understanding the breath is huge. We’re not really taught that in sports. I use ujjayi breath when I’m climbing hills on my bike. It helps me control my oxygen intake, and I think that has a direct correlation to clearing lactic acid and recovering more quickly. In cycling, you’re in this hunched position that restricts your breathing, and when you get into uncomfortable situations, like a big climb, you tighten up. Whether you’re on a bike, in the kitchen, in the dentist’s chair, or about to get a tattoo, your whole body tenses when you’re faced with stress. Everything is clenched and you need to remind yourself to breathe.
I’ve tried to apply what I learn from yoga to my daily life. It’s helped me a lot during my bike commute in New York City, where basically everyone is trying to kill you. There is real value in learning to channel your emotion through breathing and to let others’ anger swim past you. Through visualization, I’ve learned to lead with the breath and consider movement before making a movement. This helps me in handstand. I see myself in the position before I move into it. When I’m on my bike and someone clips me, I could easily reply with anger, fire, and fury, but instead I just breathe.
When I was a teenager, my hamstrings were so tight that it hindered my ability to play baseball, basketball, and soccer. I was really passionate about sports and had tried lots of things to loosen up, and then my mom suggested yoga. I was competitive, so I didn’t like that I couldn’t do a lot of the poses and ended up going back to stretching. After college I moved to New York City and started dating a girl who was really into yoga. She managed a really nice studio, Pure Yoga, and I got to take free classes. The relationship didn’t work out, but I grew my practice from there and embraced Bikram. Even if I didn’t know what I was doing with my career, my living situation, or my relationship, I could make it to class and practice. Thoughts would come up and I could let go of them, and when class was over, I could leave all of my worries on the mat and walk out the door with a little peace of mind. I might not have all of the answers to my life figured out, but I have a better sense of direction and self-awareness. There is something very powerful about being able to access that. Yoga doesn’t just give you physical flexibility; it gives you mental flexibility. You become open to other ways of thinking or doing things. Now I teach yoga. I still can’t do all of the postures, but I’ve realized that’s not what makes a good teacher.
The more I practiced yoga, the more my various unhealthy coping mechanisms like drugs and alcohol eventually gave way to healthier alternatives that didn’t hinge on self-abuse. Long, late nights were replaced by early mornings, mind numbing by mind opening. Once I surrendered to the beautiful riptide of yoga and all of its component pieces, I never wanted to return to chaos.
When I first started touring with Maroon 5 almost a decade ago, there were only a handful of artists, like Sting and Madonna, who brought their yoga teachers with them on the road. Now everyone from Kelly Clarkson to Harry Styles seems to be doing it. Musicians are realizing the importance of maintaining a healthy body and mind on the road. Yoga is the one sutra, or thread, of consistency and stability in an ever-changing world of planes, hotels, faces, and time zones. It’s indispensable to touring. The first thing Adam Levine always did, even after a 16-hour flight, was go right to the hotel sauna, then do 90 minutes to 2 hours of yoga. It’s one of the best ways to reset your clock. By the time night comes, you’re just exhausted and will sleep straight through until morning. Yoga is the best cure for jet lag. Once Adam had to fly to New York City just for the day to be on Saturday Night Live. He wanted to practice yoga between skits.
Former Professional Snowboarder & Co-founder of the LoveYourBrain Foundation
The crash that ended my snowboarding career injured my brain, and yoga has been a big part of my healing process. I had tried it once before I got hurt and thought, “This is so stupid. This is not part of my life.” Now it’s the opposite. Any time I can get to class I’m excited. After my injury, there was this girl who was super down with yoga, and I thought, “If she does it, then it’s something I want to try.” I remember feeling so nervous and uncomfortable and totally out of my element that first class. I thought, “I can’t believe people do this every week. It’s such a huge commitment.” Now I practice every day.
My injury left me with double vision. Yoga has really helped to improve that. We all hear about how yoga connects the mind and body. That connection heals. In life, we’re always being judged. With my brain injury, so many things can go wrong in daily life. The yoga studio is a totally safe place where no one is critical of you. Maybe you don’t make it all the way into the pose or hold the pose for five counts. It doesn’t matter. When I first started, I was really stoked on hot, power vinyasa classes. But the longer I practice, the more I’ve realized that I’m not doing yoga to get superstrong or to get a workout. I’m going to chill and relax and focus on my breath. Now I really love yin and restorative classes. The teachers aren’t trying to get you into Handstand or intense postures. They try to get you to be intensely relaxed. I’ve learned that we can’t stop thinking, but we can slow down our thinking, and that relaxes the brain. When I go to slow flow or yin class, I find this trancelike state that’s really peaceful.
In the 1960s I was a hippie surfer attending the University of Hawaii. I went to a yoga class and knew immediately, just by watching the teacher move, that it would help my surfing. I thought that if I could move like that on a surfboard, I could really shift with the wave. Back then there weren’t many yoga studios; you were pretty much on your own. So I bought and studied The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga by Swami Vishnu-devananda. Over the decades I’ve developed a personal practice, which I do first thing every morning, even though that’s when my body is stiffest. Surfing is all about flexibility and core strength. Lying down and paddling on the board isn’t conducive to correct breathing, so having a pranayama practice has really helped me improve my breathing while paddling. I like big waves, and being able to be calm and hold my breath in wipeout situations has been very beneficial. Yoga hasn’t just improved my surfing; it’s improved my life. Being aware, centered, and present is where we all should be. Unfortunately, most of us are not. Everybody needs yoga, but not everyone understands that.
I’ve always been attracted to a holistic approach to training. I started practicing yoga when I was in my 20s and noticed I skied better, so I integrated it into my program. In recent years our team’s trainer has focused on more than just fine-tuning our physical strength. For example, he’ll have us do a fast circuit, then stand on a slackline to train our bodies to balance under fatigue. I realized that this is kind of what yoga is doing. By the end of a class, you’re fatigued but really focusing to stay balanced. That’s probably why I’ve benefited so much over the years from the practice. I think most guys do fast, hot yoga, but I prefer the classic, longer, slower yoga where you hold the poses. It helps with my focus, and I’ll hold poses until I’m shaking. I go to a class in Park City where it’s me and 20 women, but I don’t care. It’s what my body needs.
I had tried yoga once or twice, but the classes were too advanced and I never really got into the practice. Then I found myself going through a breakup and looking for something meditative. I saw a yoga DVD, and perhaps because I was a bit banged up emotionally, I was like, “Meditation, ritual, exercise—and cute girls!” It was a great way to learn the basics and maybe a way for me to safely connect with women on a daily basis. Early on I liked slow vinyasa. I exercise plenty, so I didn’t need an intense workout, and it felt good to stretch my hypertight body, something I hadn’t done after a workout since college. Yoga became a way for me to stay centered in the present moment, kind of like climbing, except yoga healed my body from the beating it took on the climbing wall or crag. Most forms of exercise break down the body but yoga is therapeutic. When my back had spasms a few years ago, I’m convinced that my simple, daily, restorative yoga practice was the true long-term and curative solution—more so than heat and muscle relaxers. I think a lot of guys who do yoga focus on how it can intensify their workouts. We forget how much we can benefit from opening up our bodies.