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March 13, 2013

Yoga for Blokes. Just for softies?



Misconception #1: Yoga is for skinny chicks who eat mung beans and don’t wear lipstick

Misconception #2: Yoga is for ‘girly men’ who really just need to HTFU.

You can just picture it can’t you? Bronzed and buff tradies down tools for a quick chakra before smoko [OMM], then back to work with a nail gun blissfully attaching a cross beam like Arnie with an Uzi.

Real blokes just don’t do yoga. But why not?

Paul van Bergen
Paul von Bergen

Paul von Bergen was a bloke’s bloke. Cool as all get out, money to burn, fast cars, trendy pad and all the trimmings. Then something went wrong.

“I spent my twenties and early thirties living the London life, running a youth marketing agency and organising glamorous parties on yachts in Ibiza, getting paid very well, living in the penthouse, driving the convertible BMW and partying very hard. Yet it still wasn’t enough money for the $2 million yacht I dreamed of.”

Now what is wrong with this picture, chaps? It’s everything we dream of. But even when we get it all, it’s still not enough.

“So I sold my business and all my homes, put $1 million into a new business which was meant to make me richer and sexier - and I lost it all in 9 months! Yes, all of it.”

Paul did a little reassessment, actually a big reassessment. He went to Thailand and stumbled into yoga.

“I rented a beach house and lived down the way from a health retreat and learned about fasting, diet and health. At the same time my mum had become a chronic alcoholic and was numbing herself to life. She had all the material trappings too but still wasn’t happy. I knew I would go the same way as mum if something didn’t change.

During that time, Paul’s mum died after a messy battle with her demons. It was the catalyst he needed to make a radical change to his own life.

“I got serious about yoga and it cured my ten years of chronic back problems and stopped my addiction to alcohol, cigarettes and recreational drugs.”

Then he and wife, Tory, bought land outside Sydney and created Billabong Retreat, an 18-bed eco getaway that enabled Paul to practice his new expertise.

Bush cabin
Within easy reach of the CBD, it’s a perfect location for busy city folks to de-stress over the weekend and return to work with a fresh perspective. Kind of a re-boot for the brain. There’s healthy food, massages and lots of bush to just wander in. Heck, swim in the billabong too.

Massages at Billabong Retreat

Now for the tricky bit. Time for this middle-aged, portly writer to join a group of lithe females for a yoga session. I’m feeling very self-conscious as Basia, our disturbingly blissful and smugly serene yoga teacher, sits cross-legged in front of us. The only ‘cross’ I can manage is a cranky look when my weary knees won’t comply.

Was I paying attention when Paul explained the benefits of yoga to our assembled group some hours prior?

“It is important to define what we mean by yoga because most people have a completely incorrect perception,” he said patiently, “It’s not about wrapping ourselves into pretzel-like positions, it’s about mastery of the mind and in turn, mastery of the breath, the body, the emotions and the senses. It is about living, as much as possible, an evolved life. The physical postures are merely one aspect or technique where we can practise self understanding.”

Paul also went into some detail about the history of yoga, the 195 sutras and the fear of death. But I won’t spoil things by clumsily paraphrasing him here. Suffice to say that Western routines teach us much about physical preparedness, fitness of body, but sod-all about fitness of mind. That's where the spooky Eastern stuff comes in, controlling thoughts, actions and habits.

Basia does tea
Our class with Basia continues. We’re breathing – in … out – and stretching (ouch!) “Just hold it there”

Am I feeling any benefit? Well, yes, even if the initial pain is off-putting.

“Most blokes I know have back problems, way too much stress and while they might be strong,” says Paul, “they’re tight and inflexible. All these things can be addressed with yoga and gentle exercise.

“Men like to act all tough but deep down most men want meaning and purpose to their life too - the connection through yoga meditation gives us that.”

Ironically, yoga was originally for men only. For 4000 years women weren’t even allowed to do yoga and now within the 60-or-so years it has been in the West, it’s all changed big time.

“We men have a habit of being pretty un-tuned to our bodies,” says Paul with a look of authority that comes with experience, “but the danger is that we are numb to the damage we do to ourselves through drinking, stressing or getting angry.”

Now I’m wondering just how many of our top footy and cricket players are closet yoga freaks. With the kind of battering these guys get, yoga sounds like a ‘secret weapon’. I can just see Fatty Vautin and Sam Newman now in a lotus flower.

So blokes, next time that 12th vertebra reminds you of that bag of cement you shouldn’t have lifted or that little old lady changes lane without an indicator, breath in, breath out. Ommm.


The Good Oil:

Billabong Retreat Sydney‎
41 McClymonts Road
Maraylya NSW 2765
(02) 4573 6080
www.billabongretreat.com.au‎

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