An honest objective look at today’s social norms will tell you that following the crowd can be hazardous to your health. Following is easy, as is blindly consuming everything you’ve been programmed to consume. If you want to be healthy, you’ll have to start thinking for yourself as an autonomous individual; you’ll have to listen to yourself and learn to trust what you feel and recognize it as your truth. You can’t do that following the crowd.
I grew up immersed in a refined brand of dysfunction driven by alcoholism and PTSD. Enduring 13 years of moment-to-moment pins and needles nobody-knows-wtf-is-going-to-happen-next family life left me anxious and depressed. When I was 14 I chose to never touch alcohol; that was my first healthy rebellion. My next one was yoga.
Why do people do what they do? As an outlet for anger and a healthy rebellion against the alternatives, I lifted weights and ran and biked and hiked for 23 years. I especially liked the way it all made me look, and it felt good too, at least temporarily. Yet the better I looked aesthetically in the gym, the worse I felt emotionally. I still didn’t like myself. Which was odd, I thought, because when will it happen? When will it be enough?
That question, coupled with the supreme yogic physicality I had seen in books and magazines, compelled me to walk into a Scottsdale, Arizona studio way back in 1999. I told the girl at the front desk my big plan was to be a master yogi, to do handstands and extreme twists and whatnot. She laughed so hard my eyes crossed. Luckily, that studio was selling some of Bryan Kest’s early Power Yoga CD’s, which I bought and got hooked on.
Bryan taught me that Yoga is not about looking a certain way, or getting flexible or strong. Yoga is simply about taking care of yourself, getting to know yourself better, and learning to accept and love who you are. In the midst of all that good stuff, power yoga is also the most potent, well-rounded and safe “workout” I’ve ever experienced. Compared to the gym scene, power yoga is without question a healthy rebellion.
Living outside of Santa Monica, my only access to Bryan’s teaching was through those CD’s and his online downloads. For eight years that’s the only yoga I practiced, until I decided I wanted to share what I’d learned with others. I just woke up one day in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska and decided to start teaching yoga at the local gym. My classes filled fast, even without a teaching certificate. Eventually I completed Bryan’s teacher training, and was fortunate to substitute teach his classes in Santa Monica for a week in 2010. That’s when I met Rudy Mettia, who taught me about alignment and gave me immense creative license.
Of the nearly 4,000 times I’ve rolled out my mat and practiced power yoga, no more than 100 have been in a studio setting. The majority of those were at Santa Monica power yoga with Rudy or Bryan. I much prefer the healthy rebellion and quiet solitude of my home practice, the last 6 years of which has been guided almost entirely by my inner teacher. Learning to listen to that inner voice, and to trust it without question, has been the most fruitful and rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
Teaching power yoga and owning a studio in Omaha, Nebraska is insanely challenging by any measure, as the culture and environment here are neither supportive nor conducive to health and wellness. This is a relatively sedentary town, and I teach unquestionably tough classes. At the same time, Omaha has its own quiet draw of consistent students that are very hardworking and passionate. It’s also a great place to practice, from the perspective that there’s a lot less distractions than bigger cities. Why do I stay? I love my students, and openly fighting a sedentary culture is a healthy rebellion I enjoy.
Zen is seeing things as they are, without concepts or labels. Yoga’s effects on the mind lead us to this state of clear seeing. “Zen Hard” is a sort of paradoxical idiom coined by my friend Yochai that fits my practice and teaching well. My Zen Hard classes are both physically demanding and mentally confronting, framed by deep focus, action according to intention, and unwavering commitment to breath-work. In addition, I take pride in making simple postures interesting and transitions more intricate. I hope you enjoy!
Jeff Beaudoin, Ph.D.