January 21, 2010

Addict Turns to Fitness: Peter Seamans, the Iron Yogi. ~ via Annie Brokaw

Peter Seamans is an easy identifiable figure in the Boulder, Colorado community. After 30 years, he is also a nationally recognized figure in fitness and health. Seamans is an undefeated, drug tested and masters bodybuilding champion. Named National Physique Committee Trainer of the Year in 1996, he’s had the largest spin following to date according to Schwinn. He was voted one of “America’s top 50 personal trainers” by Vogue Magazine and Men’s Journal, and was featured in a six-page spread in Outside Magazine. His clients have included Dr. Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins. Seamans is licensed to teach nutrition, massage, anatomy, physiology, movement studies and exercise science in the California post secondary education system. Combine all this with a list of credentials like Certified Clinical Nutritionist, Certified Clinical Herbologist, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Somatic Movement Therapist, Exercise Kinesiologist, Registered Yoga Teacher and an approved continuing educator for the National Yoga Alliance and the American Council on Exercise…and you have a powerhouse of information and experience balled up in one man..!

He’s not someone you can overlook. A bit more than 5’6”, he’s a muscular man who generally wears spandex and flaunts a rock solid, 190-pound physique. I sat down with Peter to find out what he’s all about and get a better understanding of his unusual and expansive perspective on yoga.

EJ: Please give me your definition of Yoga.

PS: The physical practice of yoga is the process of self-realization through movement and breath. [Self-realization] can happen in a yoga class, it can happen in a weight room, it can happen on a bicycle, it can happen during a marathon—it begins by entering a meditative state and taking all those issues that are dancing around you in your everyday life and putting them to bed for a while and starting with a fresh canvas.

EJ: How did you get involved in Yoga?

PS: I, in 1999, rode my mountain bike off a cliff and almost broke my neck, and did really severe damage to my cervical spine. After I healed up and got stronger again, I was seeking more mobility. I started practicing Feldenkrais and somatics, and that’s what led me into the practice of yoga as we know it. But by my definition, I really started practicing yoga 30 years ago, the first time I stepped into a weight room, which, to-date, is still probably my most profound yogic experience.

I was 21 years old. I was 50 pounds overweight and addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and food. I was clinically depressed and kind of John Belushi without the fan base or the paycheck. And a buddy of mine, who was a CU football player, took me into the rec-center and I had my first workout. My performance was really incredibly poor if you were to grade it. But at the end of that workout I was sitting on the floor in a cloud – a  kind of surreal experience…right then my life changed. Three months later I was 40 pounds lighter and working in a health club. I went from smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes a day, after I worked out that day, I never smoked another cigarette again – never wanted to. I immediately changed the way I was eating and became a sponge for all information about bodybuilding, and health, and nutrition, and whatever. It was definitely a very profound and instantaneous realization about myself, and it changed me forever.

EJ: Do you think having been overweight, drug addicted, and addicted to alcohol gives you sympathy for your clients?

PS: It gives me a deeper level of understanding. I’m not your standard infomercial guy who’s been lean and fit his whole life and has the ideal metabolic type. Everybody in my family is obese with Type II Diabetes. I’m not a mesomorph. I’m not a guy who’s builds muscle easily and is naturally lean. I have to live with a much higher degree of precision and consciousness in order to stay in good shape all the time. I’ve been through everything they’re going through so I can relate. I understand it and I think they sense that I understand it. It gives me an advantage to really help them.

EJ: So do you feel like your current lifestyle is a retribution of sorts?

PS: I live the life I chose. I don’t see anything I do as a sacrifice.

EJ: Teaching Yoga came about [later] in to your career. You were pretty fit before you came into yoga, and fit in a very specific way – as a body builder. How has your own yoga practice enhanced your training?

PS: Yoga has enhanced my training by developing a higher degree and different sense of body awareness. It helps me to be stronger in some areas that maybe you wouldn’t get in weight training. But beyond that it helps you increase your stability and flexibility, which is really important. My training model, it’s a balance of strength, flexibility and stability. The reality is, if you want your body to work and last well, you want to be equal in those three disciplines.

EJ: A lot of yoga teachers practice right along with the class. You do not. When do you fit in your practice?

PS: I practice on my own. Teaching a class is not my practice – it’s the classes’ practice. Sometimes it feels good to do more and lead from the front and sometimes it feels appropriate for me to be more assisting and watching people from different angles. It depends on the nature of that class. I just do what I’m drawn to do.

EJ: What do you see as the future of yoga?

PS: I’d like to see people continue to use yoga as a platform to realize the ongoing exploration of themselves and development of themselves and continue to evolve all the way through their life. That and being able to feel that combined energy of 30 or 40 people in a room and understand that, you know what, we are, really, part of the same thing.

EJ: When people set out to get fit and healthy, what role can yoga play?

PS: One way it should fit in as a platform to begin from. More so than anything, people go to the gym. They go to the gym, they don’t get adequate instruction, they start using machines, which do half of the work for them and make their limbs and major upper body muscle groups strong enough to destroy their spines. They never learn to operate their body first without weight.

It would do a lot of people a lot of justice to start with yoga and gain a better sense of body awareness.

Like I said, with my class, and with a lot of classes, hopefully, developing a balance of strength, flexibility and stability before they set about putting more force through their body, which is something you definitely want to do. Lifting weights is the healthiest thing you can do in your lifetime. It’s the only thing you can do that reverses all ten aging biomarkers and it will change the way your body looks, feels, and operates more than anything else. That’s not conjecture, that’s not my opinion, that’s scientific fact documented by Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Tufts, Duke. Yet, most people set about doing it in the wrong way.

EJ: What do you see as the future of Iron Yogi?

PS: You know what? Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift. So I’ll just have to say it’s a mystery. Right now I’m just really enjoying what I’m doing.

Annie Brokaw is a Boulder native, exercise enthusiast and freelance journalist.

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