When I was fifteen years old, all I wanted was a set of weights.
A bench with a barbell and maybe a dumbbell or two. That’s all I wanted. At the time, that was what I thought would make my life complete. Although we didn’t have much money back then, my parents somehow managed to buy a set, wrap them, and place them under the Christmas tree. On Christmas morning when I saw the large box under the tree with my name on it, I suspected my dream had come true. When I tried to pick it up, I knew it had. Little did I know, that this first set of weights would start me out on a path of religiously working out three times a week until I was forty two years old (one year after I started my yoga practice).
When I turned sixteen and began to work part time after school and on weekends, I earned enough money to join a gym. It was one of those private key gyms where they gave you a key to the front door, and you could work out any time you wanted. This one in particular was located in the seedy part of town, where I suspect most of them were. At the time, I assumed the location had been chosen because the rent was low, but now I wonder if the run from your car to the front door, trying to avoid being mugged was intended to be some kind of cardiovascular exercise.
Although there wasn’t a policy against women members, there weren’t any females. This was a real Man’s Gym. There were no fancy chrome machines or treadmills or TV’s tuned to MTV. No, sir, this was a gym where men could swear and scream as they tried to lift impossible weights. The floor was covered with a one-inch thick, dense black rubber mat, perfect for throwing the weights down after an aborted lift. The locker room was always wet, and the floor near the trash can was always cluttered with spent syringes used to inject the latest steroid cocktail.
In my late teens I was almost six feet tall and weighed almost two hundred pounds. I had a huge chest and a waist so small that it was impossible to purchase a dress shirt that didn’t look as though I borrowed it from my father. Although I can’t imagine weighing that much today, back then, I thought it was a great look.
Due to a nasty bout of pneumonia at the age of twenty three, I lost twenty pounds within a couple of weeks and another twenty within a year. After many trips to different specialists, they assured me all was fine, but suspected my metabolic rate had somehow sped up, thereby abandoning me at one hundred and sixty pounds.
I continued to lift weights, but also enrolled myself in a Kung Fu school. I attended two to three times a week and practiced every day at home. (No, it never occurred to me that maybe I was increasing my own metabolic rate).
Within eighteen months I had begun competing in Point Sparring competitions. Although I could kick a man six feet backwards, I lost every match I entered for the next year or so. Finally, I noticed something strange - all the winning competitors practiced Karate. I joined them the following week.
For the next five years I practiced and competed under the Karate flag and didn’t do too badly. In fact, I can remember winning a few fights. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I didn’t really fight to win as much as I fought to hit someone and feel the rush of standing over another man after I had knocked him down. Although this is not the place to discuss it, I guess I had a lot of pent-up anger in me back then, the result of a painful childhood, which I can honestly say, only yoga truly addressed.
At the age of thirty-seven, I somehow wound up in Malaysia, married a beautiful woman, started my own business, and although I continued to carry a lifetime of pent-up anger deep inside, I managed to, or thought I did, conceal those demons from everyone. But with the stress of a new country, a new wife, and the insecurity of my own business, the cracks began to show.
I was working seven days a week, trying to bring the business god to his knees, but I was failing miserably. With the onset of the Asian crises in the late nineties, he won. I quickly closed that business down and started another. This time I had some help, which I will never forget, and with this help the business took off. Still working hard, my wife thought I should take up some sport, other than lifting weights at the gym. That way I could meet people and make new friends, or probably what she actually intended was for me to get out of her hair.
Because golf is the sport of choice in Asia, I decided to give it a go. I had an old set of clubs that I had purchased a half a dozen years earlier but I think they were somehow defective. Every time I hit the ball, I would slice it to the right. Of course, there was only one thing to do - buy another set. I purchased a new set, which utilized the latest technology. Oversized heads, perimeter weighting, graphite shafts, you name it. These clubs did everything except hit the ball themselves.
I decided to start things out right, and I hired a professional trainer. I would go to the range twice a week for my lessons where the instructor would video tape my swing and then compare it to the likes of Tiger Woods or Ernie Els and point out how miserable my swing was in comparison, but if I signed up for another two thousand lessons, he was sure we would make some progress. Of course, I thought two thousand lessons where a bit much, so I naturally switched trainers.
My next trainer was the sole professional at a local golf course and didn’t ask me to buy a package. All he said was when I thought I needed some help, I should come in for a lesson. Of course what I understood this to mean was I should have a lesson with him at least twice a week and then practice until the blisters on my hands bled.
At the end of my sixth lesson, I reached into my pocket to pay him and he quietly said, “Please, no need to pay me. I don’t think I can help you. Maybe you should look for another professional.” In other words, Since I am the best in town, and I can’t do anything for you, then you sir, are way beyond help. Next, please.
At the time I didn’t realize it, but all that pent up anger and frustration caused me to abuse that poor little golf ball. Every time I would tee it up, I would hit it with all my might, sending it well over the rear fence but always in a different direction. Business was difficult, life in another country was a strain, and I was so stressed out I became ill.
Every day I would struggle with a bout of volcanic diarrhea. After a week I went to the doctor, who prescribed some medication, which of course constipated me. When I was finished with the prescription, the volcano begun to erupt again. Back to the doctor I went for some tests, but she did not find anything wrong. She said it was possibly due to stress, and like any good doctor, prescribed additional medication and some rehydration salts, because by that time, I was dehydrated.
After six months, that’s right, six long months of volcanic diarrhea every day, I was dehydrated, exhausted, and tired of being sick. About the same time I had fallen ill, my wife had begun taking a Ashtanga yoga class and continually tried to get me to join as well. She said I would feel better and it would help me deal with my stress. But for six months I turned her down - always giving an excuse about being too busy or tired, but the real reason was because I knew, yoga was for women only.
Finally, being too tired and weak to refuse her any longer, I told her the truth, and said, “No man in his right mind would be caught dead taking a yoga class.” However, my wife, being the clever woman she is, proceeded to tell me that two of the men I admired the most, Tiger Woods and Sting, practiced yoga and with these two fine examples of manhood, she signed me up for a private lesson.