By: Melanie Klein
Photo: Robert Sturman
Welcome to the first interview in the Gaiam/Yoga and Body Image Coalition “Yoga for Men/Men in Yoga” series. We’re proud to introduce Todd Leach. Todd is a yoga teacher at Hollywood Power Yoga where he specializes in Rocket Yoga. Todd’s primary goals is to help educate and bring yoga to people and communities that could benefit from its many healing properties.
While there is more and more emphasis on the meditative aspects of yoga practice as well as push against the often relentless focus on acrobatic poses, sometimes it is the purely physical practice that serves as the gateway to something much bigger (and unexpected). A self-described “gym rat,” Todd was looking for a physical exercise to compliment his weight-lifting routine.
“I’ve always been a ‘spiritual person’ and had my own personal spiritual beliefs. I had said that I wanted to give yoga a shot for quite a while, but just kind of dragged my feet on actually giving it a try. Once I bought a mat and found myself in a studio in 2010, I went in with no expectations. I knew the idea of yoga was strange to some guys who saw it as some sort of stretching and, even I didn’t elevate yoga to the level of weight training or ‘traditional’ fitness. I figured I’d try it for a while and then move onto something else, like Pilates.”
As it happens for so many, the first experience of yoga can be a hook and lure us into something much deeper and well-rounded than a purely physical practice. As Todd quickly realized, yoga provides benefits that the gym usually can’t deliver.
“I was in such bliss and felt so amazing after that first class that I wished that my body wasn’t as tired and depleted as it was or else I would have done more classes that same day. That’s how good I felt. I was actually going through just some personal issues with family and ending relationship I was in at the time and all of that seemed to go out the window after that first class. Not only did my body feel good, my spirits were uplifted – I felt good inside and out in a way I had never experienced before. I knew immediately that yoga was going to be something that I was going to continue to do moving forward in some shape or fashion.”
Not only does the practice provide transformative and healing benefits, the space along with the community or practitioners and a yoga teacher that resonates with us can prove to be life changing and nourishing – and everyone could use a dose of that!
“I started my practice at InYoga Center, a studio in Valley Village, and Clio Manuelian was one of the first teachers I took. She became “my teacher,” if you will. While I have taken many teachers at a variety of studios since I first started practicing, I credit her for teaching me the most. She would weave in messages in to her class that elevated it above a purely physical experience.
Even though I felt spiritually uplifted after my first yoga class, I still equated so much of yoga to a physical practice and just the physical movements. Everything Clio shared was not about the physical at all, though. She talked about yoga and how you treat people on a daily basis, as well as yourself. She’d talk about the practice as a self-care regimen, that in learning to treat yourself kindly you’ll, in turn, treat others the same way. In the end, it will improve your interactions with people and your surroundings. You’ll still have challenges, but you’ll have newfound compassion and inner strength to deal with those challenges.
I’d never been exposed to anything like this before and it was revolutionary for me. Those messages sunk in and have continued to impact me even though I have not practiced with her on a regular basis for years. The time and care she took in teaching me the fundamentals and he words are the foundation of my practice today.”
And the physical practice along with yoga’s other limbs, principles and philosophy, coupled with the inner journey it leads us on, can allow us to weather many storms with a renewed capacity.
“Shortly after I started my practice, I lost my job and my girlfriend and I split. On top of that, I was in the process of grieving my father’s sudden and unexpected passing. At first, I’d hop on the computer and make calls looking for work before I practiced. Eventually, I’d get up and practice first then hop on the computer and make calls. The more I practiced, the it helped me get back on my feet. The practice made me so much more relaxed and confident in the things that I was doing. I credit yoga for helping me through that time, allowing me to rebuild and renew myself and the course of my life in so many ways.”
For many of us, yoga becomes a necessary life tool – something that continues to nourish and replenish us even in the most challenging of times. It’s this constant gift that keeps us coming back time and time again as the years pass. Over 6 years after Todd found himself in his first yoga class, he continues to practice as a basic need in his life.
“Yoga is just part of life for me now, my regular routine. I don’t have to think about it. It’s not a chore. The gym was always something where I thought, “Ow.” I would have to muster up the energy and get mentally prepared to go and do my workout routine. Whereas yoga is just as important, if not more important, than getting up and going into work. Because it’s taking care of myself. It’s self-care and it’s a practice of self-love. That’s what keeps me going. It’s part of who I am now.”
For men who are interested, but may feel intimidated or think yoga is something for women, Todd offers these words of advice.
“Be open to the process and don’t feel like you need to start on some ‘advanced’ level. It’s not about the physical practice. Go in with an open mind and open heart. Know that if you just show up and practice, you will see benefits in some form or another. That’s my simple message — show up and amazing things will start to happen that I can’t really explain. It’s personal for everyone, but the benefits will show up.”
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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.