practicing yoga for over 20 years

Experiences, thoughts and realisations of a man practicing yoga for over 20 years

I first got into yoga and meditation over 20 years ago, in my early 20’s when I was travelling in Asia. I was just blown away by the experience the first time I tried it (I can still remember it clearly!) – it just felt amazing to do and so ‘right’.

There were difficult periods but ever since then, I have regularly and consistently practiced… it’s human nature to seek the easier option and be lazy but you just feel ‘better’ when you practice regularly. It’s a bit like brushing your teeth or having a shower- you get used to it and just like feeling cleaner, fresher and brighter – I find it just feels a bit ‘icky’ if you leave it too long!

There has been at times scepticism and banter from my male friends about me practicing yoga but I got so much from the practice and could feel the benefits that it didn’t put me off. I really wanted to sing from the roof tops about it but was wary about sounding too ‘preachey’ and making friends feel bad for not choosing to give it a try.

I came from a ‘sporty’ and gym background to yoga (so was naturally tight and stiff and it has taken me a long time to open up but given me a lot of insight as a teacher) and personally have found the sports/gym side dropping away as I devoted myself to the practice and becoming a teacher. But that is not most people’s experience who find a happy balance between the two sides and enjoy incorporating yoga as part of a balanced ‘well being’ regimen. In fact, I am considering joining the ‘dad’s’ touch rugby team at my son’s club as I know I am so much quicker and more agile than my peers of a same age! I am honestly stronger and more flexible in my mid ‘40s than I have ever been in my entire life.

It really is a ‘no-brainer’ now as so many male sports people have ‘come out’ about how they incorporate yoga and meditation into their discipline to help give them an edge both physically and mentally. The likes of the footballer Ryan Giggs, who raised eyebrows with how he was able to maintain and prolong his playing career was a bit of a pioneer in the UK. As well as tennis player Andy Murray, who incorporated ‘hot yoga’ to help build his stamina and ability to stay cool and calm in a gruelling 5 setter in the mid day Aussie heat, and even the recent Super Bowl champions who said that yoga was their ‘secret weapon’.

So I would like men especially to think of the bigger picture and more long term. It’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘quick fix’, more easily quantifiable and accessible world of doing reps in a gym or measuring performance by their scores in their favourite sport. Think longer term and not just working one dimensionally on the body but also three dimensionally on your peace of mind and spirit. The improved mental clarity, focus and ability to stay calm and manage stress gained through yoga are just some of the important life skills learnt that help us to negotiate the lack of time, deadlines, deluge of media and advertising, and general craziness and the fast paced nature of modern life. It is a priceless and invaluable tool to help us cope with the realities of what life presents us with, especially as we inevitably get older.

Yoga and meditation is an exploration of the Self, a real knowing and understanding of who you are, your essential underlying spiritual nature and what sort of person or man you are and want to be. What sort of qualities do we want to work on and develop as human beings? It’s not just about getting a (stiff) ‘beach body’ but a ‘functional’ fitness or strength. And not just the body, but of the mind and character. Can we work on our love and compassion? How about our ability to stay calm, peaceful and centred, especially when life inevitably kicks us in the face and we realise we really aren’t in control but are just floating on this boat on the ocean of life that one day can be tranquil but then the next is hit by stormy weather?

I can truthfully say that practicing yoga and meditation is one of the most important choices I have made and best things I have done in my life. Right up there with being with my wife for 25 years now and the humbling responsibility of having children. It has added a richness and depth to the experience of my life that I am so grateful for.

I sometimes wish I’d been more of a zealot, especially with my older school and University friends. Some have recently discovered yoga and say ‘I wish I’d done this sooner and gotten into yoga when you did’. Others really are feeling their age and that they would benefit but still make excuses like ‘I am too stiff’ or ‘it’s too late to start’. So I just tell them ‘it doesn’t matter – just start from today – you won’t regret it’.

Jeff Phenix’s next workshop on 16th March at triyoga Chelsea is a great opportunity to introduce yoga to a friend or partner in his workshop Bring a Newcomer Workshop, click here for more information and to book. 

Watch out for Jeff Phenix’s ‘yoga for men’ section in the book ‘Everyone Try Yoga’. And visit his website for classes and retreat schedules

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