I entered the world of yoga through a back door. Not of the yoga studio, but in general. It’s no secret that guys can be inflexible about the ancient practice, in spirit as well as body. Women tend to be more limber than men and that embarrasses us because we like to turn everything into a contest.
What finally introduced me to yoga was a sleep issue. For 339 straight days, I went without REM sleep, and my medical team was stumped. This personal calamity coincided with a new yoga studio coming to town. Dozens of people had advised me by then that yoga might be the answer. Even if it didn’t get me to sleep, they suggested, it would address the fallout of being constantly awake—namely, the twin whammo of anxiety and panic attacks.
Like many guys, I thought yoga was something women did. As miserable as my insomnia was, I still wasn’t willing to explore the activity among that audience. I have my pride. Instead I called the owner of the studio and recommended a class specifically for men like me, a kind of bring me your stiff, your deeply embarrassed, your previously yoga-phobic.
“You could call it ‘Yoga for the Inflexible Male,’” I hastily suggested.
The owner laughed, then agreed. To do my part, I wrote a jokey article about it for the local newspaper under the nom de namaste of Yoga Matt, figuring that most guys needed a little coaxing to get in the studio. The class immediately sold out. Same story when a similar class was added at their other studio. Apparently, there was a fairly large, but latent section of the male population interested in yoga.
Beyond that significant discovery, though, I discovered yoga itself, which probably saved my life. It would eventually take another team of physicians to crack the mystery of my amazing sleepless jag. But until then, yoga kept me sane. My normal exercise routine of cycling was out of the question. I no longer trusted myself on skinny tires. Yoga, thankfully, operated at a much slower speed. In lieu of the typical guy mentality of no pain, no gain, it was mercifully just no pain. In its myriad gentle proddings, yoga nourished the dormant athlete in me, engaging the muscles and making me much more flexible of spirit at the same time.
Now that my sleep crisis can blessedly be written in the past tense, I’ve begun riding my bike again. Yoga remains part of my athletic routine. Every Tuesday and Friday at 4 pm a brave contingent of men put on our yoga pants and file into the studio for the Yoga for the Inflexible Male class. Well, to be honest, nobody wears yoga pants in this crowd. Shorts and T-shirts are the rule. It’s a bunch of guys who look like they might be going to the market for a half-gallon of milk.
When I say now that yoga gave me a new identity, it’s literally true. My alter ego Yoga Matt has written a book about our manly class entitled Yoga for the Inflexible Male. Despite the name, he doesn’t have any more yoga smarts than me. Lucky for both of us, the class is led by an athletic seventy-year-old, named Jerry, who has yoga bona fides up the wazoo.
During the process of writing this instructional manual, some of Yoga Matt has rubbed off on me. Certainly his unbridled enthusiasm for yoga. Also, for better or worse, his puerile sense of humor. Up until now, I’ve largely written somber fiction about dreadful things happening to decent people. Yoga Matt, on the other hand, enjoys a good ball joke every now and then (relax, it has to do with tennis balls).
This whole yoga experience of mine has the quality of a dream come true, especially after the waking nightmare I endured. It’s crossed my mind that I probably never would have written a book about yoga if I hadn’t had a sleep crisis or even discovered the ancient practice in the first place. Sometimes, during savasana in class, I think how odd the world works. Then Jerry, our teacher, gently reminds us to use his special breathing technique to get rid of monkey mind.