Welcome to the fifth interview in the Gaiam/Yoga and Body Image Coalition “Yoga for Men/Men in Yoga” series. We’re excited to share the highlights of our insightful conversation with Dan Ward, a yoga teacher at Santa Monica Power Yoga and devoted father of 4 girls.
|Dan Ward was first introduced to yoga at The Theater School, at DePaul University. Practicing with renowned Iyengar teacher, Gabriel Halpern, Dan struggled but found the benefits surpassed the effort.
“I had a lot to work through in the beginning, both physically and spiritually – I’d had some physical injuries in the past, I was stiff, and not very flexible in mind, body or heart. And the whole idea of yoga didn’t really appeal to me at all. But Gabriel was a funny yoga teacher, a cool hippie from Jersey – a complete character – and he introduced me to using props, I learned about restorative practice and I got to hang out with him. So despite the challenges and the various things I had to confront physically, emotionally and spiritually in my practice, I kept going and I felt better. It was hard work, but the more work I did, the greater the benefits.”
|Dan’s introduction to yoga included not just one, but two influential people – people that he resonated with and encouraged him to continue his practice. After practicing with Gabriel as a component of his acting training, Dan and his future wife moved to California where he was encouraged to take class with Bryan Kest. And, as is true for many of us early in our practice, Dan had his practice ignited by the spark of a dynamic and engaging teacher that spoke to him on a visceral level.
“It was 1995 and I went to that first class with Bryan and it was a mind-blowing experience. His class was a huge happening, an event. There were almost 200 people in class and there was Bryan with his radically stripped down and accessible language and class commentary that really spoke to me. Plus, it was an workout that made me feel fantastic. So for the next 10 years, I went to his class and nobody else’s.”
In fact, Dan recommends yoga newbies or those considering starting a practice find someone they want to practice with and learn from.
“Find somebody that you like. There are many different kinds and styles of yoga and a wide variety of people teaching yoga with different things to offer. Given that diversity, people new to yoga should be able to find someone that they can resonate with. Finding a teacher that speaks to you is helpful, especially when you struggle and the experience of the practice isn’t entirely pleasant and the benefits don’t seem like they’re coming as fast as you’d like. Having a teacher you like practicing with can help you maintain consistency (and consistency is key). Consistency and patience are important foundations to establishing a yoga practice. Give it a little time to settle in. It’s not about trying to do it all in one day or having immediate results. They’ll happen in their own time, often when you least expect it (or how you expect it).”
One of the long-term benefits of Dan’s practice was discovering his authentic self and deeply cherishing the gift of being.
“Over years of practice, I’ve learned that love and self-acceptance are the essential things we can work on and yoga makes space for that. Arriving at that place and wanting to share that in my own way, has been the journey of a lifetime. It’s interesting because coming from an acting background, I was always a kind of a changeling. I’d take on a different personas and they might be wildly divergent. One of the reasons I loved acting as much I did because I also felt like a changeling my normal life – I was not really my authentic self. I was always wearing one costume or another through the roles I was playing both on and off stage. But my practice, including finding my unique voice as a yoga teacher, has helped me shed layer after layer and discover my essential nature and own it.
Arriving at this level of understanding in yoga not only helped me embrace the idea that I’m already perfect the way I am, but gave me an entirely newfound appreciation of the miracle of life. Life is an amazing thing – the fact that the universe happened and the earth happened and that human beings happened and that I’m one of them. I’m alive, have a consciousness and the whole journey that goes with it is profound and much more significant and miraculous that the silly constructs of success and failure. Just being and understanding the immense, incredible gift of being, that’s the answer – that’s what yoga helped me understand.”
And who wouldn’t want to share that kind of ecstatic awareness, one of the countless gifts of yoga?
“Sometimes I get sad when I practice and something feels really good. I get sad about the fact that many people have never had the opportunity to practice – they either don’t know about it or have something that’s preventing them from accessing the experience. That feeling of being alive and connected is a gift. And I think that it’s a gift that should be shared with and available for everyone. It may bring a new level and understanding of fitness, perhaps, an increase in health and vitality, maybe some answers will arrive, or, at least, the practice may provide some time spent well focusing on the big questions in life. I think we all need the practice for the variety of gifts it may bring.”
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By sharing stories with one another, we can inspire even more yogis to get started with their yoga practice, and empower one another to keep coming back to the mat. Regardless of who you are, how old you are, what size you are, what color your skin is, and how much experience you have, you are a yogi if you want to be!
AUTHOR BIO: Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker, and professor of sociology and women’s studies at Santa Monica College. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016) and co-editor of the new anthology, Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014.