Point of View

Comedian Dave Sullivan learns yoga 'ain't no joke' in men's class

He expected sweaty, muscle-bound dudes. Instead he found regular guys and a different expression of masculinity.

'Confession time: I'm not a yoga guy'

Writer, actor and comedian Dave Sullivan had never done yoga before he joined Jody Williams's class for men. (Submitted by Dave Sullivan)

A lot of thoughts race through your mind when you hear the phrase "man yoga."

Visions of walking into a room full of intense muscle-bound dudes looking for the ultimate stretch. Perhaps an alpha-yogi storming about screaming about how "the first rule of man yoga is to not talk about man yoga!"

Fortunately, what I found wasn't some sort of Chuck Palahniuk fever dream.

Instead, when I walked through the doors of Ocean Yoga, I saw a gathering of men of all backgrounds, shapes and sizes, and walks of life — all of whom were there to study what founder Jody Williams refers to as Hatha Yoga.

Dave Sullivan was expecting sweaty, muscle-bound dudes. Instead, he found a group of regular guys. (Submitted by Dave Sullivan)

Hatha dates back to the 15th century. It was largely used in helping build stamina in preparation for long sessions of meditation.

Tonight, nine strangers have gathered in the centre of St. John's to practise it.

And I am among them.

Confession time: I'm not a yoga guy.

I don't know a mandala from a namaste.

But, in this room that's not important. Williams isn't caught up in teaching Sanskrit. Instead, he's focused on making the practice accessible for as many men as possible.

It's easy to get bogged down in the verbiage, but in reality, if you're first starting out, the most important piece of the puzzle is likely your form and the breathing. Jargon, if it is to come at all, can and will come later.

'On the yoga'

I go to a gym practically every day and lift weights. I've been doing that for a while now. And when I was approached to attend this class, I never really thought too much about the challenge of it. I just assumed you bent in a bunch of different directions — kind of like Gumby — maybe hummed a little, burned some incense, and then called it a day.

Let me tell you something: yoga ain't no joke.

Jody Williams keeps his students on their toes. (Submitted by Dave Sullivan)

As luck would have it, I happened to wander in off the street on the night where the men were setting out to play their "edge." This edge is the tipping point between pain and comfort — the invisible line that exists within all of us.

Tonight's practice focused on leaning into that edge, and challenging ourselves to see how much we could withstand.

Williams rang a bell to mark the start of our practice, and before I knew it I was, as my mother would say, "on the yoga."

'I felt vulnerable'

Each movement was graceful and connected to breath, like a long, slow, somewhat uncomfortable dance. Not at all what I had anticipated. I was expecting movements that allowed your primal manliness to be unleashed. But, clearly this was not to be the case.

There was something about the movements, and their connection with my breathing, that made me feel something strange.

'Yoga ain’t no joke,' writes Dave Sullivan. (Submitted by Dave Sullivan)

Not rage, or machismo, or bravado — but rather, something else entirely.

I felt vulnerable.

And, for the first time in a long, I was OK about that.

For me, that's the essence of Man Yoga. It isn't how much you sweat, or how deep you can sit into a pose — it's about how fearless you can become in the moment.

'Always be the toughest human in the room'

Throughout time, men have made a lot of mistakes. We've marginalized, ignored, and oppressed millions throughout the world — especially women.

Much of this behaviour is propelled by this myth of what manhood is. This notion that we shouldn't feel empathic, that we must dominate everything we come in contact with, that we must fight before love, rage before smile, and always be the toughest human in the room.

This myth is perpetuated and amplified almost each and every single time we get together with one another.

Instructor Jody Williams, front of room, leads the men through a warrior pose. (Submitted by Dave Sullivan)

It's easy to dismiss yoga for men as foolishness, or criticize it for its lack of inclusivity. After all, shouldn't we be bringing people together as opposed to pulling them apart?

Absolutely.

However, I've been in a lot of rooms with a lot of men, and it's rare to stand inside of one for 75 minutes and not hear some bozo say something derogatory about a woman's intelligence or appearance. That's sad. But it's the honest truth.

In the end, the magic of this kind of yoga isn't in unleashing the hulk of a man-beast within. It's about being a human, living and breathing in the moment, stripping yourself of all the silly preconceived notions of masculinity, and allowing your true self to shine forward, without fear of consequence or judgment.

'I don't know a mandala from a namaste,' writes Dave Sullivan. (Submitted by Dave Sullivan)

Is it the solution to the gender gap, or the oppression women have faced for hundreds, if not, thousands of years?

Not by a long shot.

But it's a good step forward.

Men must be honest with themselves, before they can be honest with the world around them. By allowing themselves to tear down their walls around other men, and show one another that they too struggle, they too feel inadequate, and they too feel scared — is key to removing the mask we wear as men.

A mask that has historically caused much more harm than good.