Can inflexible, old muscleheads be Yoga teachers?

Via on Aug 4, 2011

To see me do a downward facing dog is to see the Hunchback of Notre Dame looking for a fallen quarter.  I’m not sure what to call my triangle pose, but the word “triangle” isn’t exactly an accurate description.  What some call a yoga workout, I would call a comedy routine with me as the headliner.

Surely I am being a bit hard on myself.  After all, it was only a year ago that I thought the ad on elephant journal for “hot yoga teachers” meant

What about "used to be hot" yoga teachers?

you had to be hot to be a yoga teacher.  It was about two months back when I decided it was time to be able to actually scratch my own back.  The time had come for me to bring my spiritual practice into my physical practice.

The interesting part to this is that I am actually pretty strong.  I have lifted weights my entire life, building up an impressive number on nearly all strength lifts.  In the nearly 30 years of most continual weight training, I never stretched and never put much importance on flexibility.  I wasn’t injured often, and frankly never had the nagging pulled muscles that others I knew (who did stretch) had.  “Stretching is for sissies” was my motto.

I used to box when I was in my early 20′s.  My trainers used to scream at us for lifting

Shavasana Anyone? (Source: cagepotato.com)

weights.  “Weights make you tight”, they would yell, as they tortured us for touching the iron.  They would follow that up with “and stretching is for sissies”, just to make sure we got the point that stretching would be unnecessary if we just didn’t touch the weights.  Still, I couldn’t stay away from the iron, I loved the way it made me feel and look.  Ah, the ego and its wacky ways of getting you to see the world!

Today, I find myself laying crumbled on the floor after an hour of yoga saying “weight lifting is for sissies”.  I mean I have done some strenuous workouts in my day, but nothing

Warrior Pose AGAIN?

like the types of postures Vinyasa Yoga has put me through.  It’s pure torture, particularly if you push yourself like you do with iron.  True, the “no pain, no gain” motto, that once defined my workouts, is completely obsolete today, but there is still an inner drive that pushes me beyond where I think I can go.  For some, that may seem appropriate, but for me, in my understanding, it is something I need to work on.

My question to whoever will answer is “can inflexible, old muscleheads be Yoga teachers?”  Maybe I can’t be a “hot” yoga teacher (it still makes me laugh), but can’t I provide others with some insight while they help me gain my body back?  Can’t I become flexible and flowing despite my obvious inflexibility and lack of grace?

Are there others out there who have come from the same place?

Ok, I get it.  I said “question” and have asked four.  It’s just that my yoga instructors are all so flexible and lithe and I am so rigid and “blobby” (my word, not theirs).  Is there

This is a dumb idea...(Source: http://www.sportsjokecafe.com)

a place for guys like me in the yoga teacher world?  You can’t fault a guy for asking.  After all, I feel like a football player, leaving the field wondering if he can teach ballet.  The idea seems ludicrous but the idea is still there gnawing at me like a hamster on an acorn holding a barbell.

Anyway, I will continue to practice.  I do love what it does for my body and how I feel afterward.  I feel stronger as a result.  I can only see me continuing the practice because of what it does for me physically, mentally and spiritually.  My meditations are awesome after a sequence, they spring alive in the union yoga itself provides.  Of course I realize that asanas are just one-eighth of yogic practice, but it is the one-eighth I have been ignoring all my life.

I look forward to any responses out there.  Be well, find peace.

About Tom Grasso

Tom Grasso is a seeker, pathological meditator, a veteran firefighter and rescue tech, a poet, a blogger (new site), and creative wordsmith. More importantly, he is a father of three (meaning he is also a lecturer, teacher, chef, order taker, taxi driver, coach, mentor and aspirin addict) and has found great joy in sharing his life experience to the benefit of others. Tom is an abuse survivor and a reformed (though unapologetic) bad ass warrior who bares the scars of his adventures and the power of transformation in every word he writes. You can follow Tom on Tumblr , and can find his books on Amazon. You will soon be able to purchase Tom's short stories (and erotica) at www.tomgrasssowriter.com. Don't forget to like his "blog page" at Tom Grasso, Writer on Facebook.  

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30 Responses to “Can inflexible, old muscleheads be Yoga teachers?”

  1. NotSoSure says:

    Size or flexibility have nothing to do with yoga, IMO.

    The best teachers rarely come from dance or gymnastics backgrounds. The best teachers practice and teach mindfully within their own personal physical limitations. Experience, knowledge, enthusiasm and the desire to serve others are the top qualities of a good teacher.

    And if you do go teacher training route very careful about the training program you choose to attend. The market has become flooded with 3rd rate vinyasa flow teachers, the majority of whom have successfully completed 200/500 hour teacher certification programs.

    • Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

      Thanks. I am not married to vinyasa flow, it is just what seems to be prevalent around me. Can you offer me suggestions?

      If I went this route, it would be to benefit students which would, in turn, provide a benefit to me.

      Make sense?

      • NotSoSure says:

        BTW, I am a former gym rat who now only does yoga. And I am stronger now that I was when I only lifted weights.

        Learning proper alignment as a student will serve you well no matter what style of yoga you decide to teach. IMO, Iyengar is the best of the alignment based practices but I am sure that knowledgeable teachers can be found in other styles as well. Anusara is another alignment based style and was created by a former Iyengar teacher who went out on his own.

        From the IYNAUS website:

        "Becoming Iyengar Yoga teacher begins with long term, thorough and dedicated practice. One is a student of Iyengar Yoga for many years before becoming a teacher. Only after three years' study, and after developing a relationship with a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher who agrees to become a mentoring teacher, may the candidate begin the application process. Then comes two years' teaching, exclusively in the Iyengar Method — all before the actual testing begins. In the assessment process itself, candidates are carefully observed and evaluated as they demonstrate asanas and Pranayamas and as they teach a class of students."

        • Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

          Thank you again. I agree with you that weights have become a bit obsolete for me, and I have gotten stronger even though I have stopped hitting the iron. The recovery times are shorter too, and I don't leave the workout exhausted. In fact, I left a yoga class yesterday right to a tough working fire immediately followed by a hazmat incident where SCBA were mandatory and although exhausted I am not sure I could have done that after a normal workout with weights.

          You CAN become stronger without destroying your body!! An amazing concept.

          Peace, my friend, and thank you so much for your help!!

  2. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Hi Tom! Thank you for this! In my opinion, to answer your question, "Can inflexible, old muscle heads be yoga teachers?” I'd say: YES. I believe that if you truly want to be a teacher you can and should. We can truly only teach what we know, right?! Perhaps that's not twisting into Marichyasana D, but perhaps it's a compassionate but strong trikonasana, or forward bend or even child's pose. :-) :-)

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Assoc. Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  3. Yogini5 says:

    Sure, yoga has become more of a "sport" (and much more exhibition-oriented, for some reason) than it used to be. It needs the muscleheads from the weight room. I am plenty stiff, but also nowhere near as strong as I may look. And I can't hold those kick-butt asanas for very long, either.

    It's a different kind of strength from lifting (light) weights repetitively. My recovery time is so much longer from yoga than from weights. Real muscleheads, on the other hand, can thrive in a more competitive yoga environment, such as these days.

    With what I bring to the table, I am glad I am into the more old-school stuff, anyhow …

    • Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

      I get you. It is a much different type of strength needed. It also exposes muscle imbalance. For instance, some poses demonstrate that I have more developed front deltoid than rear. It pulls my arms forward even when lying in Shavasana. Now to look at my shoulders you would not see an imbalance, but I can definitely feel it now. I also feel it when working on opening my 4th chakra in mediation.

      Balancing poses? Well they take a whole different set of muscles than I have been used to working.

      Last week, I had a young buck follow me into yoga class. He didn't last half of the hour, and left muttering something about "I should do this after legs". LOL!

      • Yogini5 says:

        I have a question for you: when a teacher (who has a large following now in New York City, so I will not say who it is) sees a number of fit-looking, small framed women taking his class, and he busts into some pose in the middle of a sequence: koundinyasana? astavakrasana? – not sure which – and nobody in the class seems to follow him at that moment … and he expresses profound disappointment almost on the edge of censure …

        is that exhibition (with almost no guidance) meant to be intimidating? inspiring? a reproach? A combination of all three?

        THIS is what I'm talking about.
        But inside what I'm talking about remains this unanswered question …

        • Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

          Assuming the first question is not meant to be rhetorical, did anyone ask him what his motivation was? Otherwise, we can only provide an answer based on our own perspective. To some, it could be taken as a statement reminding us that perhaps we are growing stagnant and not progressing? To others, a statement that we aren't near the end of our destination yet, and that practice should be about moving forward? To others it could mean that he was showing off, or a means of intimidation, or of inspiration.

          The real question is "what was the cause of MY response to this act?" I learn from trying to figure out why I react in certain ways then why the other person is doing something. I also learn by then asking the person "why" the stimulus was offered just to see how far off my ideas were from theirs.

          Make any sense?

          What is the unanswered question for you?

          • Yogini5 says:

            Well, I could partially answer that question for myself, I think …

            I think it is his job to put all that out there (ok, the style he teaches is Dharma Mittra Vinyasa—for those and other reasons, not exactly my cup of tea) ….

            That may be the only rational answer.

            I have reacted so irrationally before to exhibitions some times.

            Like (Groucho) Marx and Freud before us all, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar …

            Onward and upward …

          • Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

            Interesting, you are the second person in a little over 12 hours to bring up Dharma Mittra. Hhhhhhhmmmmmm.

            Peace!

  4. YoginBomb says:

    Great Article! Yeah, yoga is so great for you physically, because it builds muscle, coordination, and refines the nervous system–all 3 simultaneously. Mentally, it heightens mind body awareness, and spiritually…well that is limit less!

  5. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    • Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

      :) Wow, that smile pose just keeps on coming!! Thanks Tanya! By the way, you and Diane are creating a new post for me!!!

  6. Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

    Tanya and Diane…this is your fault!!
    http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/08/have-you-p

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  11. Bob Jordan says:

    I'm 55, at age 52 I benched 400 lbs on the Olympic bar. Started hot yoga around the same time. I am as flexible as a concrete lamp post. Can't do any of the poses well, be it Bikram or Power or Yin, but I try! Like you I never streteched, never, and like you really never got any injuries either. A teacher? Not likely for me. A student? Yes, that's me!

  12. Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

    If the "smile" asana isn't part of the pose list, I thank you for teaching it to me Diane! :)

  13. Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

    Sorry, but you are at a -51 at last glance, and only rising! Thanks for your reply, it helps a lot.

    Weight lifting IS a meditation. Most people (even weightlifters) lose sight of that fact. I should say "if done correctly". I remember reading in Schwarzenegger's "Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding" when I was a kid that he stressed that you have to be conscious in every movement, in ever rep of every lift (not his words exactly, but the point is the same). I took that to heart as a young boy, and it meant great results.

    Maybe the weight, they look and the strength wasn't the attraction for me after all?

  14. Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

    In not looking for "acceptance from the masses" you shouldn't be looking for their rejection either, right?

  15. metalyoga says:

    Yeah, it is what it is. I much prefer a straight and truthful, or intuitive approach to things. So what I mean is, if I started a certain way and I stand by my words, this initiating state holds a reference of truth. However, since reality as we perceive it changes from moment to moment, I would not be surprised if I would eventually have the broadest range of reputation over time. A negative reputation does indicate better that there are important views that may not be shared by all, and that is where growth originates, eliminating mediocrity.

  16. Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

    Ohhhhhh…which site is that Yogini5?

  17. Tom Grasso tomgrasso says:

    Thanks. I do wordpress, and believe they have a "mature" setting that allows you some freedom. Does anyone else have any experience with wordpress in this manner?

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