If it’s good enough for Colin Farrell, then it’s good enough for Dave Kenny. He joins a growing number of men and puts the downward facing dog to the test at an ashtanga yoga course.
IT’S 10 o’clock on a Friday morning and I am staring at the floor. My feet are where my head should be, and my wrists are creaking under the weight of my body.
I have found myself in similarly-contorted positions on innumerable times in the past. Generally, there has been a lot of booze consumed the previous night. On this occasion, I am not hungover. This is a voluntary experience.
“Move your heels a little higher up the wall.” A set of varnished toenails is giving me instructions. They are standing beside a pink mat. Disembodied, frothy, female giggles wash over me as I struggle like a chubby Spider-Man impersonator.
I am in my first class at Yoga Village in Dalkey, Co Dublin. It’s late October and I have decided to recalibrate my lifestyle. I want to lose a stone, be more limber and start living in my body, not my head — as the self-help books say. I am the only man here and I’m feeling extremely self-conscious.
Real Men, I believe, don’t do yoga. It’s not for grizzly old bear-types. It’s for housewives, lentil-munching vegans and hippies. Real Men play rugby and bond over post-match pints. They hurl, not curl on a yoga mat.
Dee O’Rourke — my 20-year veteran instructor — assures me that “loads of guys” frequent her Contortion Emporium. Later, I meet some of her students and learn very quickly that I’m wrong about Real Men and yoga.
She also points out that Ireland’s top ‘man’s man’, Colin Farrell, has recently outed himself as a yoga adherent.
“It takes you out of your head for a while and just puts you back into your body,” he says.
That’s interesting, coming from a man who’s spent a lot of time out of his head. If yoga’s good enough for Farreller, it’s good enough for me.
I have come to Dee’s class with a gym-bag full of preconceived notions. I think that yoga is just gentle, contemplative exercise. This belief is immediately dispelled when we start ‘saluting the sun’, which involves bowing, push-ups and stretching.
Halfway through, I am a panting mess — and this is just the warm-up. The women still look fresh though.
“Breathe ... in,” says Dee as I attempt the warrior asana (pose): arms in the air, back straight, right leg bent. I groan, expecting to hear my hamstring snap. Beside me, a ludicrously flexible woman is about to disappear up her own bottom.
“Down dog,” says Dee. “Sorry,” I reply, thinking she is referring to me watching the other student. She is, in fact, ordering me to do ‘down dog’: a pose which involves standing on all fours.
This is ashtanga yoga: a fast-flowing form which is very popular with athletes... and Spice Girls. Remember how chunky Geri Halliwell transformed herself from Honey Monster to honey?
That was down to ashtanga. There are other types such as bikram (David Beckham’s yoga of choice), iyengar, hatha, vinyasa... all dreamed up by men. Note ‘men’. Yoga has mainly been taught and studied by men since its beginnings in India in the 5th century BC. It’s a ‘man thing’ in the east.
It took until the 1980s for yoga to become mainstream here after US lifestyle guru, Dr Dean Ornish, promoted it as a way to a healthy heart. Prior to that, many sceptical westerners saw yoga as a predominantly spiritual pastime. It doesn’t have to be.
America now has an estimated 20m yogis, and a host of baseball and football stars all swear by the mat.
“Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Sting, Robert Downey jr and even Harry Styles, are all yoga-heads,” says Dee. “That’s a wide spread of role models. If your husband is unsure about joining up, then mention Roy Keane...” Just before Christmas Ray D’Arcy talked live on air about his new-found love of the discipline too.
Cork-born video editor and documentary maker, Will has had a “love affair” with yoga since 2001.
“I was in Australia, saw a promotional flyer and went along out of curiosity. It was a partner-based class and I didn’t like it. I went back the next night and there was a different teacher. Within 20 minutes I knew it was for me.
“The Aussies don’t have gender prejudices about yoga. It’s all about physical exercise. There were a lot of hardcore surfers practicing it. There were also a lot of burly, Oz bear-types doing it too.”
So here I am, on the floor of a studio, legs up in the air, surrounded by women. (Under other circumstances, this might sound like a scene from a ‘niche’ internet movie.) I am yoga-ing so vigorously that I have little time for ‘excess’ thought beyond getting into the next asana.
“Men don’t generally join yoga classes to calm their minds. They’re too physically competitive,” says Dee. “With training, they can start to relax and clear their heads. Some men tell me they have ‘lightbulb moments’ doing headstands.”
I think of myself doing a headstand with a lightbulb stuck in my butt. It would make an interesting standard lamp for the sitting room… I understand what she’s saying though. During each class, there’s a brief point where I drift off. This fleeting encounter with nothingness is a reward in itself. I’m learning how to focus on one thing at a time: getting a leg into position or taking a breath. This focus can be applied in other areas of life. I am becoming a yoga fan.
It’s now two months since my first class. I’ve stuck with yoga and try to practice it every second day. Have I lost weight? Yes. I’ve shed a stone and feel fitter and more flexible.
I’ve also shed my belief that yoga’s just for pussycats. It’s definitely for grizzly old bears too. Yogi bears, even.
¦ Yoga Village is holding a detox week from Jan 28-31 which includes juicing and daily yoga, and facial and amatsui treatments for half price.
¦ Ashtanga classes are €15 for walk-ins. See www.yogavillage.ie for details or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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