I was terrified the first time I walked into a hot yoga studio. The stifling heat got my heart pumping before the class began. The room was packed and I squeezed my 6'4" frame onto a small section of the floor. My yoga mat felt like an island I was hoping to be rescued from. The class started, and the instructions from the teacher might as well have been in a foreign language. I found some advanced yogis to mimic and surprised myself with flexibility I wasn't expecting. I stretched muscles I hadn't used in years and felt a cleansing detox. Water had never tasted so good. Upon leaving the studio I felt a rush of endorphins and the exhausting yet exhilarating feeling that only intense physical activity can bring. I was instantly hooked and started practicing 3-5 times per week. Little did I know how one seemingly routine decision would cause waves of positive change.
As a former hockey player with shoulder and knee issues, I was longing for a new avenue to exercise, stretch and sweat. Yoga gave me this and was the catalyst for so much more. Stepping out of my comfort zone and into the studio challenged me in new ways and opened my mind to innovative methods for maintaining an active lifestyle. After yoga became a regular part of my life, I found myself seeking new challenges and additional ways to dispel preconceived notions regarding how men are generally conditioned to live.
Power of Plants
Like most people, I always believed that I needed animal protein in order to maintain an athletic physique. Besides, steak and burgers taste good, and what manly man would neglect this primal urge to consume meat?
After becoming a devoted yogi, I was open to considering alternatives and began to experiment with eating more plants, more fruit and fewer animal products. Research revealed many plant-powered topics that resonated with me. I was encouraged to learn of competitive athletes in a number of sports who were thriving on a plant-based diet. Soon after I eliminated all animal products from my diet and felt immediate changes. Consuming a variety of colorful, fiber-rich foods was giving me increased energy and I noticed a glow to my skin. As my body was using much less energy for digestion I was able to increase my activity levels and experiment with new foods and recipes. Eating less sugar and minimal processed foods has heightened my taste buds to the point that peppers and onions taste like candy. With a pressure cooker, blender and juicer the kitchen has become my food lab. As my palate has changed, the food combinations I've discovered inspire me to keep experimenting with new smoothies, soups, burritos and more.
Tri and Tri again
When you live in Colorado, it seems you can't hit any coffee shop or swim workout without seeing high-level athletes. Instead of being intimidated, I vowed to take advantage of the various benefits this playground I live in has to offer. When I registered for my first Ironman 70.3 triathlon, I didn't own a road bike, hated running and didn't know how to swim. Learning to swim was incredibly humbling as developing any new skill as an adult takes an incredible amount of patience and perseverance. Although it took extensive coaching and some mental conditioning, I've come to love swimming and take solace in the small improvements in my stroke mechanics and speed. I attribute this largely to the focus and self-acceptance that yoga has inspired. I've since completed my first full Ironman (140.6 miles) with plans for a second this summer in Boulder, Colorado. I've taken the mantra of "progress not perfection" from my yoga mat to the track and pool as I continue to push my limits.
With all we know about our food systems, the environment and the way animal products are used, it's imperative we consider the alternatives. There are innovative organizations that are doing great things with food, clothing, beauty products and household goods. Why not donate that leather jacket you haven't worn in years. When looking for new dress shoes, check out the stylish faux leather options available through MooShoes or Alternative Outfitters. You will look good and feel good in knowing that no creature was harmed in the name of fancy footwear.
My outlook on what it means to be a man in the modern world now centers on compassion for all creatures and living as sustainably as possibly. Watercourse Foods, an off-the-charts vegan restaurant in Denver, has an amazing statement on their menus; eat the path of least resistance. They do this with a lineup of savory and hearty choices, all free of animal products. Eating (and living) the path of least resistance has resonated with me in many different ways, as I want my food to travel the shortest path possible from farm to table.
It is so easy to keep the blinders on and live the lifestyle of which most of us have been conditioned towards where materialism and consumption are paramount. Adapting to and seeking out change is more difficult yet far more rewarding. My yoga practice took me out of my comfort zone and prepared me for a life less ordinary. I am forever grateful for that first yoga class that has led me to a life where progress not perfection is the daily theme.