Yoga may seem intimidating or just plain girly, but instructor JohnMark Robbins keeps it relaxed, fun and manly.
By Megan Russell, Photo by Maverick Shaw
With the new year upon us, it’s time to start thinking about getting back in to shape, or rather, fulfilling those 2014 resolutions and getting in shape in general. How do you get your body in peak condition with all the aches and pains that come with months or even years of not working out? If your back can’t handle the impact of weightlifting, your knees are too unhealthy for running or maybe you feel general aches and pains from the stress of a normal workout, yoga can help. It may not seem like a manly approach to fitness, but with practice, it will help build strength in both your body and mind.
That’s just what yoga instructor JohnMark Robbins was going for when he created his Big Boi (and girl) yoga class. With five years of yoga under his belt, this Texas native is passionate about his practice and bringing yoga to the masses. Robbins practices Hatha flow yoga, the most popular practice in the U.S., combining postures and breathing to help with strength, flexibility, focus and relaxation.
“I was introduced to yoga in massage school and I didn’t like it at all. I was 21 and just not open or ready for that sort of discipline,” Robbins reminisces.
Fast forward three years and during a visit to Seattle, Robbins fell in love with what was soon to be his life’s passion.
“It was in a big group setting of about 100 people,” Robbins says. The practice, connection and spirituality presented in the class opened him up to new possibilities he had never thought of before. “Yoga really helped me overcome a lot of stresses on my body.”
With a background in gymnastics and football, he’s always been athletic, but as we age, we inevitably suffer growing pains, something this yogi is all too familiar with.
“I did gain a gut growing up with drinking and eating poorly. But yoga taught me to use my core and move from my core,” he says. “Through that, I’ve been able to build upon my previous athleticism and enhance it.”
Robbins is not shy about those enhancements either, showing off his eight-pack abs.
“My stamina for running has increased without even trying,” he says, attributing this to the attention to breathing yoga demands.
He also notes that yoga has helped physically with back pains and opening up his legs. For men, hip and hamstring flexibility can be limited. Yoga helps lengthen and stretch the leg muscles while strengthening them at the same time. Other benefits of yoga include an increase in core strength and improvement in balance, both of which can be immensely helpful to athletes and weightlifters looking to improve their game.
These results are great, even for a longtime athlete. But what about the guy who’s overweight and needs a little push, or the guy without a naturally athletic build? These are questions Robbins asked himself as he developed his first classes after his yoga teacher training. What he came up with was Big Boi Yoga.
Big Boi Yoga is a customized form of Hatha flow yoga in which Robbins has created modifications that cater to an overweight person.
“First, just come to a class,” he says. “There’s a lot of fear involved with getting in shape and getting real with yourself, and the best way to go about it is to just do it.”
Robbins suggests starting with small goals for yourself and your workout, and expanding from there.
“We live in a society where you can do yoga on your phone, on your computer, in a class,” he notes. “Just try it.”
Don’t get discouraged if you’re not seeing physical results right away. Eventually, you will see results, and you will definitely notice a change from the very first class you take.
About his newest clients, Robbins says, “You see changes in that they’re able to breathe better and not struggle through the class.”
But the possibility of struggling in front of a large group of strangers is what can turn a potential yogi away quickly. That, along with the stereotypes of pretentious yoga teachers and studios, can lead to a bad experience for first-timers.
“It’s easy for me to tell someone to not feel the way they do about yoga and being uncomfortable with a class, but I would challenge them to look at what’s under that feeling of discomfort,” Robbins encourages. “Is it that this class is really difficult or is there something deeper going on, as in, is yoga confronting something inside of them? A lot of people come in and they can’t bend down and touch their toes. They think, ‘I’m in this body 24 hours a day, seven days a week and I can’t even do something as simple as touch my toes?’ But there are steps to get there and there are modifications to help you.
“My classes, whether it be a Big Boi class or a regular Hatha flow class, is a warm environment that’s welcoming and playful. We’re very relaxed and uncritical. There’s never a judgment on you or your ability.”
Robbins also offers one-on-one yoga classes.
“Yoga was meant to be taught one-on-one, and we have made this class setting as more of an American thing,” he says. “But everyone’s body is different, so when you’re being taught yoga one-on-one, you’re getting all of the attention. Everything as far as the body and alignment, any injury can be addressed more attentively. And it’s a delight because you’re learning how to cultivate your own practice with a teacher.”
For additional yoga resources, Robbins recommends Sadie Nardini’s The 21-Day Yoga Body.
“She takes a very realistic approach about diet and cultivating a practice of your own at your house,” he says. “It’s a very good read for beginners.”
For more information about Robbins’ classes or to book a private class, visit dawgyoga.com.