Men in the movement: Yoga steps outside the gender box
Special to the Weekly
Local yoga featuring male instructors
You & Me Expansion Project
For teenage boys and their mentors. Led by Bobby L’heureux, Tom Kiddoo, Chris Jewell, Brian Dahlen, Sri Mahadev, Erik Williams and Kyle Weiger. The program is Thursday nights for six weeks, starting Sept. 18. Visit http://www.revolutionpoweryoga.com or call 970-748-3176 for more information and to register.
Eagle Yoga Fest
Three-day yoga festival in Eagle, Oct. 3-5. Featuring male yoga instructors Jim Keegan and Dave Farmar. Visit http://www.eagleyogafest.com, or call 970-328-9642 for more information and to purchase tickets.
Africa Yoga Project Tour
Six teachers from Africa are on the Handstands, Hugs and Highway Fall 2014 fundraising tour, and two of them are stopping in the valley to teach. Kevin “Acha” Owino will be one of the instructors teaching a class at Revolution Power Yoga on Monday, Sep. 23 from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m. Visit http://www.africayogaproject.org/pages/ayp-tour, or call 970-748-3176 for more information.
Start a conversation with Kyle Weiger about yoga, and it may turn him upside down.
“Handstand is how I trick guys into coming into yoga for the first time,” Weiger said. “When they say they think that yoga is all stretching and woo woo stuff, I’m like, ‘No man, check this out,’ and I’ll go into a handstand and then say, ‘I teach that in class.’ The guys will show up and I do teach handstands, along with about 55 other poses.”
Weiger is a yoga instructor based in Denver, but he has come up to the valley to lead several workshops, which have mostly been based on the art of inverting the body through arm balancing. Weiger didn’t grow up doing yoga or even practicing gymnastics (which he currently does); he played baseball through two years of college and “lived and died in the weight room.”
When his girlfriend in college suggested he attend a yoga class, he responded, “I don’t do yoga. … Yoga is for chicks,” and went back to pumping iron.
“When I look back at it now, I didn’t go to yoga because I didn’t want to be bad at something,” Weiger said. “I was very comfortable in the weight room.’”
When he finally attended his first class, Weiger said he thought it was going to be easy —it was just stretching, right?
“Then I got in there and was like, ‘Holy crap, there is something else going on here.’ I remember looking down at my forearm in my first yoga class, and there had never been that much sweat on my arm before,” he said.
First time’s the charm
Eagle-Vail resident Tom Kiddoo said he finally ran out of excuses as to why he couldn’t try yoga. His wife, Julie, had been doing yoga since 2007, and she started Revolution Power Yoga in Eagle-Vail with her business partner, Rachel Nelson, in 2012.
“When Julie and Rachel opened up the studio, I finally went for the first time, and I walked out with such a rush,” he said. “I felt great physically and mentally, and I knew I’d be back.”
A year after he began taking yoga, Kiddoo went to his first teacher training.
“All of a sudden, I was teaching yoga and signing up for Baptist Level Two training to become certified,” he said. “It was really quick. … When I finally put my pride aside, and just went and did it to see what it was like, I really enjoyed how physical the practice was, as well as how it made me feel mentally. I think a lot of men internalize their stress, and it provided a great outlet for me to really deal with stress.”
Kiddoo grew up swimming competitively, which he said continued halfway through his college career. Later years brought on physical work in construction, as well as his three-year stint on Vail Ski Patrol. For the past 15 years, Kiddoo got back in the pool to swim a few times a week. He said he feels better in the pool since he’s been doing yoga and is stronger all around.
“I used to think yoga was just stretching, but the strengthening that I have found through yoga has blown me away,” he said. “I have found that it has increased my strength and flexibility in the pool, which you always strive for with swimming.”
Physical benefits and beyond
What many men don’t realize, Kiddoo explained, is that a lot of professional male athletes do yoga to complement their sports.
“It’s a part of their regimen because it makes them stronger, makes them faster and (helps them) perform,” he said.
Brian Dahlen, of East Vail, was a hockey player through college and picked up running post-college — sports that resulted in surgery on both knees. His curiosity about yoga led him to his mat for the first time, seeking what he thought might be a safe and joint-rejuvenating activity.
“I thought yoga would be good for my knees, for stretching and for strengthening, so I tried it and quickly found all the other benefits as well,” he said. “It’s amazing how much strength you can build by working with your own body weight.”
Dahlen has been doing yoga now for about four years and is just finishing up his first yoga teacher-training program. He said while yoga can be humbling, especially at first, the physicality of it is “fun and super engaging, as well as difficult and rewarding.”
Dahlen will join six other male instructors to lead the You & Me Expansion Project, a program to build strength, confidence and connection in teenage boys, who will attend the program with a parent or mentor in their lives.
The group will meet every Thursday in Avon for six weeks from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for yoga, meditation and group activity.
“I taught yoga to the seventh and eighth grade during P.E. last year, and the boys seemed to love it,” said Amy Archer, founder of the You & Me Expansion Project. “I would run into their parents later and they said the kids had really enjoyed it.”
Men, meet your mat
Walter Mugwe is from Nairobi, Kenya, where he has been a yoga instructor for five years since his training through the Africa Yoga Project. He said that a lot of men attend his power yoga classes, as they are drawn to the rigorous movement, as well as the peace of mind.
“The students enjoy the whole practice, especially the pushups and the abs, because it’s a full-body workout,” he said in a recent phone interview while on tour with AYP in New York. “My experience with yoga as a male has given me more compassion to everyone else. I am able to express compassion and realize my purpose through the practice. I think a lot of men can feel that through yoga.”
While Mugwe heads to Estes Park on the AYP tour this month, male AYP teacher Kevin “Acha” Owino was one of two instructors teaching a class at Revolution Power Yoga earlier in September. Arizona yoga teacher and studio owner Jim Keegan said he has been teaching for 15 years and practicing for 20. Keegan is a featured instructor for the second annual Eagle YogaFest, held the first weekend of October in Eagle.
Keegan said on average, his classes are filled with half male, half female practitioners. He said people come into the practice to “feel their tissues and their issues,” and to lighten their load both physically and mentally.
“I used to be 210 pounds and would lift weights every day,” Keegan said. “I trained as a hockey player and body building type of guy, and I needed to soften. Yoga brought me the opposite of what most men are looking for — yoga brought me a balance to my personality; that real softness that I needed. My heart was hard, as I had gone through a lot of emotional things with my family.”
Weiger explained that because yoga is low-impact, men often see it as not challenging — at least those who have not tried it yet.
“You’re not hitting each other like you do in football or boxing, and you’re not lifting heavy weight like you do in CrossFit, so because it’s low-impact and has a softer nature, there’s resistance around it,” he said.
The humbling nature of the practice is what makes it so powerful, he said.
“I think it’s fun to go from the state of not being able to do something to being able to do it,” he said. “For me that’s handstand — when I first started I couldn’t do it, and I practiced and practiced, and something that was out of my control is now in my control, which feels like some level of mastery over my body.”
Dahlen said programs like the You & Me Expansion Project are a perfect way to change the perception of what yoga can be for males, especially for teenage boys, who are at a time in their lives when they can really use the guidance and support.
“Yoga can be fun, as well as an opportunity to do some real work,” he said. “With how much it has changed my life, I want to plant the same seed into the lives of these kids. Even if it doesn’t take right now, maybe later in their lives they will be able to come back to it.”
Kim Fuller is a freelance writer for the Vail Daily. Email comments about this article to email@example.com.