Maybe you’ve been thinking about trying yoga. Maybe you’ve tried it before and decided it wasn't for you. And maybe, for whatever reason, you’ve never thought about trying it. In this post I share the story about how I got into yoga and what keeps me coming back to my mat. I’ll also offer six compelling reasons you should make it part of your weekly routine.
This is my yoga story.
I was living in Boston working my dream job as the International Sales Manager for a small privately owned tech company where they paid me to travel the world. I used to joke around with some of my friends who were social workers and worked in non-profit companies, that I was working for my greater good. My how I have changed! But it was true, at that time in my life, I was focused on earning as much money as I could make. I think it’s how I was raised, with the understanding that money gives you freedom and as a sagittarius who loves his freedom, that was all the motivation I needed. Life was grand! I was earning well into six figures, I set my own work and travel schedules. But the dream came to an end when then the company I was working for got bought by a nasty corporate overlord. They didn’t give a damn about their employees, as evidenced by the name for the department that looks after the employees. Human Capital…ugh. I still cringe when I hear those two words used together. And that’s when I began to think about making a change in my life.
Change doesn’t come easy, it took me four years to finally leave that career behind. It was the “easy” paycheck, the golden handcuffs, that compelled me to stick around so long. All the while, I knew deep down inside that I was no longer doing something fulfilling. No longer was I traveling abroad and building relationships with my clients, I was working in the US and Canada and my passion turned to boredom and progressed into discontent. One day when I was on a business trip, I called home to my wife, Malika, and she told me that she was offered a tenure track teaching position at the high school where she taught English and Humanities. That was great news! However, for a couple of years we had been toying with the idea of quitting our jobs so that we could travel and reconnect with our roots. This became our moment of truth. If we were going to embark on our adventure now was the time. So we did it! We decided, on that call that we would quit our jobs at the end of the school year and embark on our trip.
Once all the logistics and prep work were completed, we embarked on our reconnecting with our roots trip. My family is Egyptian and Malika’s father is Algerian so off to Africa we went! And that’s where I found yoga.
Anyone who has ever visited Egypt, and Cairo in particular, knows how chaotic and manic the city is. There is the hustle and bustle of traffic that you would expect in a city of 12 million people, but coming from the West you probably wouldn’t expect to see a single motorcycle carrying a family of five, cars, trucks, bicycles, donkey drawn carts and pedestrians all vying for space on the city streets and not necessarily going in the same direction or obeying traffic laws. It’s all a bit of (mostly) organized chaos.
It didn’t take long for the stress and pollution of the city to seep into my body and mind. I was in need of an escape. And that’s where yoga came to my rescue. Yoga Benefit #1: Yoga helps calm the mind. By focusing on your breath yoga requires you to live in the present moment as opposed to thinking about how bad the traffic is and how late you’re going to be to your appointment. Back home in the States I would turn to basketball, tennis or flag football to release that stress and tension from my body and to free my mind by focusing on the immediate task at hand. I had tried yoga a time or two in Boston, but it didn’t click for me and with all the sports that I was playing, I didn’t feel like I had enough time in my life for yoga. Now that I’ve experienced the benefits of yoga firsthand, I understand that even a 15-30 minute yoga session once or twice a week will allow you to begin to reap the benefits of yoga. Meanwhile, back in Cairo, I wasn’t a member of any of the sporting clubs and thus didn’t have access to tennis or basketball. Malika and I tried a gym and that was okay, but we found it a bit of stale and boring. A few days later, Malika suggested we try a yoga studio that was a short walk from our flat in Cairo. Our first class at The Breathing Room was with Sue, an American from Boston (such a small world!) who had been living in Egypt for decades. We enjoyed the class and were encouraged by other students at the studio to come back and try a class with a Canadian named Robi who was teaching Moksha, Moksha Flow, Yin and Sivananda Yoga.
It was in that first Moksha Flow (know as Modo Flow in the US) that “woke me up” to the powers and benefits of yoga. I really enjoyed how Robi made yoga accessible, even to someone like me who had never really tried it before. After his class I began to realize how important it is to find a teacher with whom you connect. I didn’t stick with yoga in Boston, and looking back on it, I think a lot of it had to do with the teachers/styles in those first few classes. I encourage you to try different instructors and different styles so you can find the one that works best for you. Take the time to read up on the class, or better yet chat with the instructor prior to class to make sure you’re in a class that is appropriate for your fitness level and goals. Robi was great at breaking down poses and showing them in their simplest form. In other words, he taught me how to do yoga. I also liked that I got a great workout. My heart rate would elevate, I would build up a nice sweat and forget about the bedlam of the city streets just outside the studio. It was my oasis in the sandstone desert metropolis. I know a lot of men who think that yoga is not a good enough workout. If you’re looking to be challenged physically and mentally, try a vinyasa flow or power yoga class and you will likely be surprised by how demanding it can be. Yoga Benefit #2: Contrary to popular belief, you can build strength through a regular yoga practice. So just know, there are many different styles of yoga to meet the needs of different people.
In all honesty, what ultimately hooked me into yoga was that my body began to heal. You see, when I arrived in Egypt I was nursing a number of nagging injuries, including an inflamed achilles tendon in my left ankle, tennis elbow on my right arm and a sore right shoulder from a micro tear in my rotator cuff, just to name a few. I was surprised to learn that many of the yoga poses we were doing in class were the same or very similar to the physical therapy exercises I was doing for my aforementioned injuries. Yoga Benefit #3: The healing powers of yoga are real, just be sure to listen to your body so that you don’t go beyond your limits. I’m 45 years old now and feel like I’m in the best shape of my life! I began to practice 3-4 times a week for my remaining 2 months in Cairo but my yoga journey didn’t end there.
Our next stop was Cape Town, South Africa and interestingly enough it’s considerably less expensive to fly out of Africa into Europe and come back to Africa than it is to take a flight within Africa. So off to Istanbul, Turkey we went. We were only there a few days but we made sure to continue practicing. We had an interesting experience at Cihangir Yoga. We got to the studio a little late considering we had to complete all the new student paperwork so by the time we go into class it was packed! We found our way into the front right side of the large studio which wasn’t ideal. The class was taught in Turkish and we don’t speak or understand any Turkish so it would have been best to be smack dab in the middle of the room so we could follow everyone else’s lead. As it was, we craned our necks and looked around the studio and followed along, half a step and breath behind the rest of the class; it didn’t matter. It’s yoga, so you can go at your own pace and we had a lovely class. I will most certainly return next time I find myself in Istanbul!
We arrived in Cape Town January 31st, 2014, just in time for the month long challenge at Hot Dog Yoga. And as luck or fate would have it, the apartment we rented was just a short walk from the studio. So each and every day during our month in Cape Town (except for a couple of days after I got food poisoning after eating at Thai Cafe across the street. Seriously avoid that place, Hylton Jaggard, the owner of Hot Dog Yoga told me he got food poisoning there as well.) But I digress. I made up the missed days by doing doubles for a couple of days once I recovered. We made new friends at the studio, found great restaurants in the area through those friends. Yoga Benefit # 4: Yoga is a great way to meet people in your community who are committed to improving their health. It was a great month, we were able to escape the hustle and bustle of Cairo and replace it with clean ocean breezes, incredibly tasty fresh fruits and vegetables, walking or taking public transportation almost everywhere we wanted to go. The beaches were amazing, the food and wine were fantastic (aforementioned Thai Cafe aside) and the teachers and staff at Hot Dog Yoga made us feel at home. To top things off, we ended our time in South Africa by experiencing a couple of my bucket list items. I went cage diving with great white sharks in Gansbaai with Great White Shark Tours and fulfilled a life long dream with a wildlife safari at Shamwari Game Reserve where we saw 4 of the Big 5 up close and personal. We were certainly sad to leave and if I‘m ever able to live between two cities, my choice would be to live between LA and Cape Town!
From Cape Town we flew to Spain, spending a couple of days in Valencia, during Las Fallas, and then popped back down to Africa to visit Malika’s paternal family for the first time in Oran, Algeria. We weren't able to find any yoga studios there, but being dedicated yogis, we continued to cultivate our practice at home by following audio recordings of Robi’s classes that he kindly shared with us.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning of my yoga journey. I’m now a RTY-200 Yoga Instructor leading regular group, corporate and private classes throughout Los Angeles. And I’m happy to now be working for the greater good, sharing my love of yoga with others so they too may benefit from this wonderful practice. There is so much more to tell and I look forward to sharing it with you as my journey continues. But for now, I’ll share two final perks. Yoga Benefit #5: A regular yoga practice will make you a better all-around athlete by improving your focus, balance and stamina. Yoga Benefit #6: Yoga, especially yin yoga, helps increase your range of motion and flexibility which will leads to injury prevention, making it more and more popular with professional athletes and weekend warriors alike. In addition to teaching yoga, I practice 5-6 days a week and yoga now takes priority over basketball, tennis and flag football, which is an epic shift given my love of playing sports. I find that calm and peace of mind on my yoga mat where I can truly disconnect with the outside world and tune in to my breath and my body.
Please join me for one of my classes where I hope you’ll leave feeling the same way I did about Robi’s classes at The Breathing Room and with the sense of community I felt at Hot Dog Yoga.
I'd love to hear your yoga story. Feel free to share it in the comments section below.