I have a love-hate relationship with yoga. Growing up, I spent many hours grunting beneath an iron bar at the gym, trying to lift as much as I could in an attempt to be as strong as possible, and truth be told, I did become very strong. The unfortunate side effect was that my muscles shortened to the point that I could not touch my toes while doing a forward fold. My body had become a compressed coiled spring, which resulted in many niggling injuries.
As I grew older and realised that squatting three times my body weight was not the only indicator of a healthy body, I explored many other forms of exercise, one of which was yoga. Now, once a week, I’m usually found in a position resembling the downward dog with the yoga teacher looking down at me and shaking her head at my inflexibility. Believe it or not, these yoga sessions are the hardest periods of my weekly workout regimes.
Rocky Heron, founder of Yoga with Rocky and YOGAMAZÉ Emissary, strongly advocates men such as myself to continue going for yoga, no matter how painful. The much-sought-after yoga teacher was in Singapore recently to lead a workshop at The Yoga School, a new boutique yoga studio in the CBD, so I sat down with him to ask him whether my fingers will ever meet my toes again.
Tell me about your yoga journey.
I started yoga because I wanted to feel better. I was never much of an athlete, and hardly ever stepped foot into the gym. But I wanted to do something good for my body, and I thought being stronger and more flexible would do that. I had some experience in dance, because I grew up doing theatre.
A friend of mine suggested I come take a yoga class, and I was very hesitant to do so. I had taken a class with my mom when I was about 15, and I fell asleep. They told me I had fallen asleep and was just snoring. I thought yoga was just sitting around and very slow, almost meditation-like, which it certainly can be.
But my friend was going to a Power Yoga class, and so I went to take a Power Yoga class in Santa Monica, California. I remember it being so challenging, and it asked so much of me. I had to really pay attention to the instructions. I had thought yoga was just about flexibility, but there was so much strength they were asking from me. By the time I finished, I just felt like I had been wrung out. I knew there was something to it, and it was good for me. I would just go every couple of weeks whenever I could fit it into my schedule, and over the years I would go more and more, and at a certain point I realised it was something I really wanted to dedicate myself to, and that’s when I did my first teacher training.
I keep going because yoga has shown me that feeling better is not just about the way you look and what you can do with your body, but also about the relationship you have with yourself. Yoga keeps me honest with myself. Yoga asks me to be the best version of myself that I can be.
Why do you think more men should do yoga?
Because everybody deserves to feel good in their bodies, and true strength is not the ability to lift heavy objects, but the ability to lift and support your own body in space. Yoga teaches you how to support yourself from the inside out.
What are the most common misconceptions you hear from men about yoga?
That yoga is all about stretching and flexibility. Or that they can’t do yoga because they’re too “tight”. Flexibility is more about leveraging your strength than it is about passively relaxing. If you want to be truly strong mentally and physically, incorporating yoga into your training is essential.
There’s a class here in Singapore called Bro-ga, which is yoga for dudes. And the moves are less strenuous as it understands that most men are generally very tight at first. What are your thoughts on that?
I think anything that gets men practising yoga is a good thing, so whatever you want to call it — it’s good. It’s not that men are more “tight” than women, but often times men feel more “tight” because there are ranges of motion they haven’t explored. Tightness is more about the way you feel in your body, than it is about your actual body’s limitations.
Most men, or most people even, aren’t going to lead a necessarily happier or better life if they can put their leg behind their head and balance on one arm. But I think being able to have a more complete range of motion, so that you can be comfortable in your body; so that you can adapt to different terrain and environments; so that you can live without pain — these are things everyone’s going to benefit from. I think when a lot of these classes say that the moves are less strenuous, it probably implies that it’s not asking you to do a wild range of movements, or movements that aren’t necessarily functional. If Bro-ga is geared towards more functional movement: things that are going to apply to your life often like cross-training, or movement that’s practical to the sentiment of the male student, then I think it’s great.
What do you want people to take away from your yoga lessons? And can I ever touch my toes again?
That they are more capable, and that there is more possible in their lives and their movements than they previously thought. With practice, patience and commitment, they can achieve just about anything they put their mind and body to. That’s what yoga’s taught me. So yes you can touch your toes again.