It's morning in America, fellas, so wake up and shake your asana! Not your style, you say? You'll take a power-aerobics class and a sauna after work instead? We don't think so.
Come on, Madonna does it. And your instructor is a total stud and way enlightened. Meet Robert Young, one of Toronto's top fitness gurus. Yogi Young's specialty is Fusion Yoga, a unique workout he developed fusing aerobics, Pilates, gymnastics, and dance with different types of yoga.
"I came to yoga like a lot of gay men," Young says, "after years of doing aerobics, weights, cardio, Jane Fonda-type stuff. I reached a point where improving my flexibility was an issue." But unlike a lot of gay men, Young wasn't just looking for a little cross-training add-on to prevent the injuries or boredom so common among devoted gym bunnies. A world-class aerobics competitor, Young had placed as high as fifth in international championships and wanted to break into the winner's circle. Flexibility was an issue. So he took up the Byzantine study of ballet in his late 20s, but needed a more immediate payoff.
That's when he turned to yoga and never looked back. "At first, for me, yoga was the fastest, most efficient flexibility training. You sink into a pose, and the tension just dissolves," he says. "Its yang side was all I was after. But as my commitment got deeper, I began tuning in to its yin, the subtler, spiritual aspects beyond the goal-oriented level."
Out went the bling bling of global competition, in came the om of personal compassion.
But here at RealJock, we know not everyone is logged on for a total life transformation. So let's start slow, with 15 minutes in the morning, two or three times a week. Just try our yoga-for-breakfast program for one month. We're not talking marriage. We promise you'll be back for more.
While there are thousands of yoga poses (asanas), as befits any 5,000-year-old discipline, Young advises beginners to stick with a few basic, classic postures. "These are symmetrical and incorporate each body part, and both right and left sides," he says. "Yoga means 'yoke' or 'uniting,' and you can come to it to develop one capacity—flexibility, say, or strength, balance or breathing—but you quickly learn that you need to develop all the others at the same time. These poses help you feel that."
Young recommended that RealJock contact Ronnilyn Pustil, one of Toronto's top yoga instructors and a professional writer, for a how-to for these four a.m. asanas. Pustil has the prose for pose, and she was all about sharing with her gay brothers at RealJock. Check it out:
1. Cow/Cat Pose (see Photos 1 and 2)
This starter will wake up your spine, centering your body for the rest of your routine. It's actually a combo (yoke!) of two poses, one flowing into the other. This will give you a feel for how to master moving from pose to pose through your yoga breakfast over the month—but first you have to nail each one.
- Begin in tabletop posture on a yoga mat or exercise mat (on all fours, with wrists directly under shoulders, knees under hips). Don't let your shoulders sag. Press into your hands and lengthen, strengthening through your arms.
- As you move through this, let the movement begin in your pelvis and follow through your spine like a wave. Your head is the last thing to move. Now, inhale Cow: Flare your butt toward the wall behind you. Arch your back. Let your belly sink toward the ground. Reach your heart away from your sitting bones, slide your shoulders away from your ears. Your neck is part of your spine, so don't crank it back—leave a little room so if someone wanted to kiss you on the back of your neck they could.
- Now, exhale Cat: Tuck your tail end round your back like the scared cat on Halloween. Tuck your lower belly in toward your spine. Let your head hang. Make it round.
- Do six to nine sets, moving to your own breath. Then, from tabletop, tuck your toes to look into the floor and press your sitting bones up into Downward Dog, coming into an upside-down V shape.
This classic-as-Lassie pose, Downward Dog is another spinal stre-e-e-e-e-etch from tip to toe that strengthens the arms and wrists and the legs and ankles, making it an all-purpose favorite. D-Dog is also part of the Sun Salutation sequence, so why not start the day with a full-body bark to the great ball of fire?
- Start in the upside-down V shape with your feet hip-width apart and your hands flat on the floor at the front of your V. Spread your fingers open and root your palms and knuckles into the floor. Pull up in your wrist, arms. Open and soften your shoulders, creating some space on either side of your neck.
- Lift your lower belly up and in. Lift your sitting bones; feel the sensation of flaring your butt open. Root your heels so that they're yearning for the ground.
- Press the tops of your thighs toward the wall behind you. Lift your kneecaps up toward your thighs, so quads are active. Feel the entire backside of your body lengthen and open.
- Do five to seven sets. D-Dog will eventually become a resting pose once you build the strength in your arms and get the alignment right.
Just as Cow/Cat Pose is a warm-up for Downward Dog, Mountain Pose will get you hot for Warrior—and all of yoga's many standing asanas. So Mountain is a must-do...anytime, anywhere. "You can do Mountain while waiting for the bus," Young says, "and instead of being negative about the wait, you bring balance and awareness into it."
- Standing straight with your arms at your side and your palms facing forward, come up onto tippy-toes. Lift you toes off the mat and spread them wide, then lower them down, one by one, beginning with the baby. Feel your weight distributed evenly on both soles of your feet. Send roots down to the earth's core; send energy up your legs.
- Once you feel grounded down, begin to grow tall, reaching the crown of your head up to the sky. Drop your tail down, lengthening the lower back. Make sure your palms are faced forward so there is an uplifted feeling across the front of the chest. Slide the shoulder blades down your back. Relax your face.
- Do six to nine sets. There should be a whole lot of effortless space between your head and your feet in this pose. You are exerting effort, but your body should not be tense. Note the difference between effort and tension.
Not just any old grunt, this warrior is an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva the Destroyer, who, with his 1,000 heads, eyes, and feet, wearing tiger and breathing fire, may seem a bit much before your first coffee. Don't panic: The spin is spiritual, as in making war on delusion and desire, the source of human suffering. But feel free to substitute your boss or ex-boyfriend as you stretch and strengthen in this pose.
- Stand in Tadasana. Step your right foot back three or four feet and turn your right toes in at a 45-degree angle. The left foot is pointing straight ahead, heel aligned with the arch of your right foot.
- Root your back foot into the floor, sending energy down that leg into the foot, strong back leg. Inhale, take the arms out to your sides in a T-shape, with the palms facing down. Gaze out over your front fingertips. You are gazing off into the horizon, ready for whatever may lay ahead in your day.
- Exhale, bend the front knee. Make sure the knee is directly over the ankle. Your intention is to have the front thigh parallel to the floor. It may not happen, but that's your intention, and sometimes the mental intention behind an action is more important than the action itself.
- Reach through the middle finger of each hand and keep your torso right in the middle. Lengthen the inseam of your front thigh so the knee does not track inward. Tuck your tail in slightly. Lift the front side of your body (your heart) and allow your shoulder blades to melt down your back.
- Hold Warrior pose for six to nine breaths. Come out carefully, inhaling and staying balanced as you straighten your front knee. Now, do it again, same steps, other side. Do each pair five to seven times.
Walter Armstrong is a freelance writer and editor in New York who served as the editor-in-chief of POZ magazine for six years. Armstrong has also worked at Rolling Stone, Men's Journal, Us, GQ, OutWeek and numerous other magazines.