by: Melanie Klein
Welcome to the second interview in the Gaiam/Yoga and Body Image Coalition “Yoga for Men/Men in Yoga” series. We’re excited to feature world-renowned Power Yoga pioneer, Bryan Kest. Bryan has been practicing yoga for over 33 years and has taught tens of thousands of classes worldwide since 1985. He also leads retreats in Tulum, Mexico annually as well as offering both live and online yoga teacher trainings characterized by his unique style and character. Along with teaching, Bryan is the owner of Santa Monica Power Yoga & Mediation (a donation based yoga studio) that features an online studio component.
|For many, yoga represents a love/hate relationship – we love the way our practice makes us feel, but may hate the obstacles we have to face to get to (and stay on) our mat. Long-time practitioner and teacher, Bryan Kest, has maintained a strong and steady practice for decades – while his practice may change over time, it’s a practice that has remained constant amidst the inevitable changes we all face. And that longevity of practice offers unique gifts to all of us as we grow and change, gifts of acceptance and presence.
“Naturally, my practice has changed over time. Although yoga allows you to age more gracefully, it doesn't stop you from aging. Perhaps a lot of men who feel pressured by the idea of what it means to look like a “real man” are on testosterone therapy, but I'm not. As I age, I feel a difference in my body and the shift in my energy. The thing is, my yoga practice has taught me to trust it. I trust that it's all going down the way it needs to go down. Even though I take good care of myself – I eat well and move my body -- I can't stop the change. It is a natural process and I'm embracing it. But because of that, physically speaking, my practice has mellowed out a lot. It's still there, and it's still consistent, but it's changed and represents where I’m at now in my life.”
Yet, at the same time if we recognize that asana, yoga’s physical postures, are not more important than our state of mind, Bryan explains, you’ll see the practice never changes even as the postures we’re able to do on any given day or through the years do change.
“Meditation continues to play more of an important role for me, which is really the practice anyway. For it to be meaningful, the physical expression needs to be housed around a meditation. In that way, my practice is basically the same as it's always been. After all, like all of us, the practice is constantly evolving. In that sense, my practice has never changed because it's always been based on awareness and has continued to evolve from the day I first started my practice to today. And my practice, like my body and my self, will keep changing and evolving. So I have my practice - it's there - and it's also changing and evolving.”
Eventually, most people find that their yoga and meditation is happening all the time every day – that what happens on the mat inevitable becomes evident off the mat.
“I still practice physically on my mat between four and six mornings each week. Many times, my family and I will all do a shared practice in the evening - a meditation practice. What's important to understand is at this stage of the game is that when it comes to my practice, it exists way, way beyond the yoga mat and the meditation cushion. Now my practice happens every moment of every day where I am trying to bring those qualities cultivated in yoga and meditation to my life off the mat.
Whether I'm dealing with a situation in class or with my children or-- shit comes up all the time -- how you respond is everything as far as your health goes and as far as relationships go and so on and so forth, and I've noticed that change. The practice and the benefits of my practice extend way beyond the mat now.
It's every moment – I feel everything before I act on anything and then I have that moment where I have a choice. Do I want to continue forward or do I want to not react to that sensation that's coming up? And that awareness changes everything. It increases the state of health because you find yourself a lot less reactive. It gives other people in your life a lot more room to breathe because you're not reacting so impulsively.”
And, let’s be real, everybody could use practice in becoming less reactive to the inevitable challenges we face in life. It’s part of being human. But, the reality is, mindfulness practices aren’t taught in most families or schools. So the more people inspired to come to the mat and the cushion, the better!
Bryan offers a few words of wisdom and encouragement to men who may be interested in yoga, but are intimidated by contemporary yoga imagery that often makes the practice appear inaccessible or think yoga is only for women. In fact, Bryan references the cultural lessons we’ve been taught about what a “real man” is to encourage them to come to the mat and give it a go.
“A lot of guys get intimidated by yoga. When I hear people talk about “men,” I inevitably think if the stereotypical 'tough' 'macho guy.' Well, if that's you, then why would you not do something that intimidates you? If you're a 'real man,' then why would you not do that? I mean, it’s about facing your fears, right? It's about conquering your demons. It's about dissolving the barriers. So if the reason you're not practicing yoga is because it intimidates you, that's the very reason you should give it a try.”
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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.