by Monique Parker
Men have been the predominant practitioners of Hatha Yoga in India for thousands of years. That changed when yoga migrated west and women began attending classes in droves. It’s not uncommon to see a 10:1 ratio of women to men in most classes. Many men may have steered clear of Hatha Yoga as a form of physical exercise, thinking they weren’t flexible enough or that it wasn’t a macho activity.
Fortunately, the number of men attending yoga classes and seeking out private instruction is increasing—across the US and in Taos. This past month I met with three men from our community who I’ve known for years and who have at one time or another expressed interest in trying yoga. For a variety of reasons, they are all finally ready to get on the mat.
After ending up in the hospital with congestive heart failure four years ago, Steve Borkert, 60, got a wake up call. “I had a bop ‘til you drop mentality,” Steve says, “until I was in the hospital joking around with some bro’s, and my doctor says, ‘There’s a chance you might not survive this.’”
Since his recovery, Steve experienced several bouts of pneumonia. “I realized how compromised my lungs were,” he says. “I decided to recommit to yoga to improve my breathing, but also my posture and stamina.”
Steve’s yoga practice includes daily pursed-lip breathing exercises to reduce shortness of breath and exercises to help strengthen and mobilize the muscles that aid breathing, such as Dvidpada Pitham or bridge pose, arm raises, and Cat/Cow, which emphasizes spinal extension and flexion.
“I’ve been clean and sober for 20 years,” Steve says. “Since my illness I have reassessed my physical, mental, and spiritual life.” Besides yoga, Steve walks regularly and has recently made changes to improve his diet.
In addition to working as a general contractor for 18 years, Steve volunteered for the Latir Fire Department for 12 years and served as the vice-president of the Latir Neighborhood Association. “I’d like to be of more service to others because of my feelings about being inside this body for a short time.”
Despite living with pain for most of his life, Michael Rael, 63, lives life to the fullest. When he’s not working alongside his brothers at Questa Lumber & Hardware, he serves as the Municipal Judge in Questa, is a member of the Municipal Judge’s Association of New Mexico, is on the board of Roots and Wings Community School, and, for 11 years, served on the board of Community Against Violence (CAV).
An accomplished musician, his band plays at the Midtown Lounge once a month; he volunteers as a DJ at KRZA where he gives air time to “damn good friends who are damn good musicians”; and every Monday afternoon he entertains seniors at the Taos Living Center.
“I’m in pain from AM to PM,” he says. “I’m on the road so much now that my legs have started cramping.”
Like his father and grandmother before him, Michael was born with a genetic predisposition that eventually required spinal fusion of his lower three lumbar vertebrae. “I can’t flex my spine,” he says. “It gets so bad that when I’m not in pain I can’t figure out what to do with myself.”
Michael’s yoga practice focuses on exercises that increase spinal mobility and stretch his calves, hamstrings, and piriformis—muscles that both tighten and atrophy with prolonged sitting. We also added Tadasana or Palm Tree Pose to improve his balance.
“It’s time to untie all the knots in my body,” Michael says, “ to feel better and get healthier.”
Since joining the Northside Spa in December, Affordable Adobe builder Andy Romero, 59, has lost 25 pounds by lifting weights and swimming. He recently started practicing yoga again to help prepare for Jujitsu training. “My body is shrinking,” Andy says. “I know yoga will help me get back into shape and extend my posture to its natural 5’7” state.”
Along with his sons, who are also business partners, Andy made 20,000 adobe bricks ((many of which were donated) to help restore the 175-year old San Antonio de Padua Church in Questa. He started Affordable Adobe so local working people could afford homes. “I’ve got some chronic use injuries from building the last 17 years…left wrist, knee injuries…my posture’s starting to round,” he adds.
Andy practices Virabhadarasana, or Warrior Pose, and Asymmetrical Forward Bend, also called Parva Uttanasana to help strengthen his torso and improve his posture.
For over two decades he’s also practiced one of yoga’s most important spiritual precepts: turning one’s will over to a higher power. “Twenty-three years ago I stopped drinking and broke a 300-year-old lineage,” he says. “It was a life-altering occurrence that shifted my whole mental attitude. Once it shifted I couldn’t operate old patterns out of ignorance anymore.”
He hopes that more men will follow suit and make healthier choices. “You can’t edit life. When you commit to something like yoga—it may inspire someone else.”
**First published in The Taos News on March 17, 2013