If there were a royal family of American yoga, Baron Baptiste would certainly be the prince. Baptiste's parents, Walt and Magaña, opened the first yoga center in San Francisco 50 years ago and helped bring yoga into the mainstream. But Baptiste fought his destiny for years, telling his parents he would never be a yoga teacher. "I resisted for a long time, but teaching found me," he says.
You grew up around a lot of legendary spiritual teachers. Do you have any vivid memories of them?
I remember [Sant] Kirpal Singh initiating me into the Sikh tradition in 1972 during the Kumbh Mela festival in India. He was like a grandfather to me-really protective. I would swim in the Ganges every day and he would send one of his assistants to watch over me because he was worried I'd be eaten by alligators.
You met a lot of gurus as a child. Do you follow a guru now?
I'm so not into gurus. There's so much the East can offer to the West, but now I see how much the West can offer to the East.
Christian mysticism is a great light in my life. Not the church per se, more of Jesus' example as a teacher. I also took to Gandhi, who formed his life around Christianity.
What were your hobbies as a kid? And what are they now?
I started tai chi when I was about nine. Later I competed in surfing and martial arts. I was California state champion in tae kwon do when I was 18. Now I love to snowboard. It's challenging but so playful and free.
What's the biggest misconception about you?
That I'm arrogant and that my classes are overly challenging. But I'm really pretty gentle. I give people space to be themselves and adapt the practice to their needs. Also, that I'm controversial because I refer to Jesus or Gandhi and don't always quote from the yogic scriptures.
Why did the Philadelphia Eagles hire you to teach yoga?
Out of 30 teams in the NFL, the Eagles had the second-greatest number of injuries. After my second season of working with them, they
became the second-to-last in injuries.
Were they open to it when you first showed up?
No, not at all. They just rolled their eyes.
Did you feel any pressure to act more macho?
No—I'm already a manly man.
So, you're macho, but are you a metrosexual?
Well ... I had my first facial last year when I turned 40.
Did you enjoy it?
It was so painful! But I did enjoy it, kind of the same way you enjoy a painful hip-opening class.
Sometimes the outer work hurts as much as the inner work.
That was it. I had to put all my yogic principles into action-staying when I wanted to run, being poised in a painful moment...
If you could choose, who would play you in the movie of your life?
Mel Gibson. He's funny but also strong, serious, and masculine. And he's
controversial—he loves Jesus, too.