Ben Easter, a yoga instructor based in Des Moines, says yoga can be a vigorous workout as well as a good stretching routine. (Photo © Eric Brockob)
Keegan Boyer had many misconceptions about yoga. When he thought of yoga, he pictured “hippies, positioned like Buddha, ohming.”
“I didn’t think of yoga and sports being practiced together. I thought that yoga was somehow less masculine than, say, lifting weights,” says Boyer, 22, a senior at the University of Iowa.
That perception changed, though, thanks to James Miller. Miller, founder and organizer of the Iowa City Yoga Festival (Oct. 7-9; iowacityyogafestival.com), is a former U.S. Marine whose muscular physique is due to his yoga practice.
“I thought, ‘He’s in a lot better shape than the guys I see working out in the gym,’ ” Boyer says. “I thought I’d just give yoga a try. At my first class with James I remember thinking how my preconceived ideas were far from what yoga actually was.
“Personally, I have benefitted from yoga both mentally and physically. Physically, my muscles don’t feel stressed and I feel looser. Mentally, yoga allows me to relax. When I practice, I feel refreshed and energized for the day. I can’t say I get that feeling after lifting weights.”
Brandon Akamine, 24, can relate. Akamine, who lives in Des Moines where he is studying dietetics, thought yoga would be “counterproductive” to his workout goals. “In actuality, it’s been a wonderful addition,” he says. For example, when he is doing dumbbell exercises, he draws on “tadasana” (mountain pose) to stabilize his foundation. When he does bench presses, he remembers to maintain a natural curve in his lower back. “The other advantage in a workout is that yoga does incorporate a lot of stretching and twists, which actually are necessary for any serious bodybuilder as it elongates the muscles, allowing for a better pump and, of course, the obvious, bigger muscles.”
Like Miller, Akamine is a former Marine. He recalls doing a lot of calisthenics and resistance exercises in the military. “Just like yoga, not a lot of equipment is necessary. Each asana is used to increase either or both strength and balance—and flexibility. Your only challenge is yourself,” he says. “But [with] Marine Corps training, I didn’t end up feeling more alive than when I started.”
When he’s come to yoga class feeling fatigued, he often leaves “with a big grin on my face” and renewed energy. “It is an uplifting workout that I often prefer over going to the gym nowadays,” he says. “It keeps me focused, stress free, and is a great toning workout.”
Jacob Graber, 22, a yoga instructor in Iowa City, first learned about yoga in high school through his mother’s yoga videos. But it was through Miller’s Iowa City Yoga Festival that yoga became “a discipline, not just a stretching routine.” Through training with Miller, Graber learned more about the mental aspect of yoga, “the breath work and the tradition. Physically, I’m more flexible and balanced” because of yoga, he says. “Emotionally, it has helped me in letting things go, not to sweat the small stuff. It helps me feel more calm, grounded, and connected.”
Ben Easter, 32, a Des Moines-based yoga instructor, actor, and photographer, believes that all people can benefit from yoga. He thinks men, though, like Boyer, often have misconceptions about yoga “that it’s either just stretching or that it is only for limber people.”
“Neither are correct,” Easter says. “Yoga adapts to your body. I have clients who are training for triathlons and I have clients who are as tight and inflexible as I was when I started. Yoga can be restorative or an intense workout. I think that men generally lean toward an intense workout, but sometimes lack the flexibility part of the workout. So, unfortunately, they are missing the balance of the two that yoga can provide.”
Easter calls yoga “the most challenging workout” he’s ever done. One of the greatest challenges it provides: staying in the present moment. Yoga has also forced him to face his fears and limitations. Easter was born prematurely with bilateral clubfeet. Throughout his life, he experienced pain in his shins and discomfort in his ankles.
“I was very active and was a competitive swimmer for years, but still experienced pain in my shins due to the short tendons in my ankles,” he says. “Certain yoga poses have been a challenge for me due to my lack of mobility in my ankles. Through hard work and mostly surrendering while in certain poses, I have had a dramatic change in my practice. I have experienced almost no pain in my shins and have had a physical transformation with my ankles.”
Easter says, thanks to yoga, he’s in the best shape of his life and feels more emotionally grounded. “Yoga has affected my entire life, not just my body,” he says. “I feel younger now than I did 10 years ago.
“I will be practicing yoga for the rest of my life. It’s amazing how much I learn about myself as I continue to practice. And it is even more inspiring to see the evolution in my students, both physically and mentally.”