Bryan Kest has a shtick and he’s working it (into the ground).
In Massachusetts, where I’m from, we like to refer to ourselves as Massholes. It sounds mean, but we say it with a sort of love. I’d like to propose a new word: YASSHOLES.
I’ve written a lot about my breakup with yoga after a long monogamous affair, and how I stopped teaching yoga when I realized it was killing my inner artist. But in my heart I still do love yoga, and I come crawling back time and again.
Which is why I recently found myself at a Bryan Kest 3-hour “master class” in San Francisco, with about 100 other yogis.
I’ve studied with a lot of the master teachers in this country and even worked for a few of them. I’ve been to countless yoga conferences and had a lot of opportunities to sample the various different styles and philosophies. But until now my only exposure to Bryan Kest was on an old ’80s-ish workout DVD on which he instructs yoga in denim cutoffs. Sick. I had a hunch I would like Bryan. I knew enough about him to expect an irreverent, potty-mouthed stud with no regard for the yoga mainstream. That’s right up my alley.
In these things I was not disappointed. Bryan Kest has clearly made a name for himself by being a bit of a renegade in the U.S. yoga world. He’s got the credentials (at least, according to him) and he can teach a mean class with just a few simple sequences. He doesn’t buy into the Sanskrit and the yoga-speak, and is partial to making up his own names for poses like “lean-forward-and-touch-your-toes-asana,” which is cute — the first 50 times. He swears. A LOT. And he is pretty keen on normalizing the aging process and emphasizing that modifying is okee-dokee as you get older. In fact, he brags about how he can’t even do a chataranga anymore.
(Then again, dude is still using promotional photos from about twenty years ago, which is kind of curious. For someone who claims not to care about getting older, he sure isn’t stepping in front of a camera these days.)
Regardless, Bryan is from a posse of old-school teachers who learned straight from the gurus in India and are, therefore and in their own minds, above the fray of the consumerized Western yoga movement. Bryan founded and operates one of the first donation-based yoga studios in the U.S. (Power Yoga Studios East and West in Santa Monica) and is therefore walking his talk.
But you can’t deny that Bryan’s got a shtick.
His shtick is that he’s just a crass, uneducated, unassuming guy from Detroit who happens to totally get yoga. He doesn’t really seem to care what people think of him, and he obviously doesn’t hold many people in high regard himself. His entire monologue (yes, there was a monologue, and it was veeeeeery long winded) was one big “fuck you for even being here.”
This did not actually offend me. I thought he was irreverent and funny.
But I’ll tell you what. He’s kind of an A-number one yasshole. Also, a bit of a phony. You can’t brag about having never graduated from high school in a faux-modest way and then immediately start throwing around four-syllable words just for the sake of it. We get it, you bucked the system, but you’re still smart. Yawn.
His shtick gets old real fast. The hyberbole, the repeated phrases, the comedy-club-worthy monologue, all reminded me an awful lot of another Master Yasshole I used to work for—Baron Baptiste. I think these two probably get compared to each other a lot.
On the other hand, I loved his class. It was basic, and still hard. It was so refreshing to spend almost two hours focused on sun salutations, and yet never get bored. I wish I could bottle that Bryan Kest flow class, boil off his shtick, and pour it all over my life.
Oh and the swearing? Doesn’t bother me whatsoever. Doesn’t impress me either. It takes a lot to impress me when it comes to swearing. Sorry, I’m from blue collar Massachusetts.