South Florida's Yogis

By Ramananda Das (Richard Brookens) - Enlightened Practice Magazine Column, Oct - Nov '03

Having been part of the South Florida yoga community for the last 6 years, I have gotten used to sometimes being one of the few and often the only male present-whether it be in a yoga class or some other type of yoga event. In both the Sivananda and Kundalini certification courses I've taken there were one or two other men and between 15 and 20 women. Although I have only experienced positive reactions and acceptance from women, yoga is still thought of in many circles as primarily an activity pursued by women. One student recently related to me his experience in the early 1980s at a YMCA yoga class. When he entered the room, the women looked at him, then at each other, and back at him. One lady said, "This is a yoga class." He responded, "I know that. It's OK isn't it?" Another lady asked, "Does your wife know you're here?" "Of course," he said, and sat down to take the class. Thankfully, acceptance of men in yoga has increased immeasurably since the 1980s.

Over the last few years, as yoga's popularity has grown in the west, more men are starting to show up to classes. Most of the studio owners I've talked to say there is a marked increase in the number of men in class. In my own classes I've seen an increase in men's attendance, and every once in awhile there is a bump in the numbers. One day at Yoga Connection my class had five men-and no women!

Rather than feeling their territory is being invaded by men, I hear many positive reactions from the women I know. They often comment how nice it is to have a balance of female and male energies. They also tell me they appreciate the sensitivity of male yogis and are trying to get their male friends to class. Although the numbers at some yoga studios are still heavily weighted towards women, I think that the trend of more men becoming involved will continue. While a few studio owners still only see about 10 to 20%, others I talked to say they are seeing 30 to 40% men in their classes.

Of course, in India men have always been at the forefront of yoga. Most of the major schools of yoga that have established followings in the United States have been led by men: B. K. S. Iyengar, Swami Satchidananda, Patabois Jois, Amrit Desai, Bikram Choudury, Yogi Bhajan. The list could go on and on.

Although men might most often find themselves in the minority in classes, they are well represented in the role of running studios or being teachers of yoga. There are some men who have been leading figures in the local yoga community for a long time.

Yogi Hari is a master of Hatha, Raja, and Nada Yoga. His ashram is located in the heart of Miramar in South Florida, amid 7 acres of lush tropical landscaping. Yogi Hari comes from the Sivananda Hatha Yoga lineage. He met his gurus Swami Vishnu Devananda and music master, Swami Nada-Brahmananda in 1975, where he spent 7 years at the Sivananda Ashram. Sampoorna Yoga integrates Hatha, Raja, Karma, Bhakti, Jnana, and Nada yoga to purify and harmonize all aspects of the human personality so that the light of the soul shines forth in all its divine splendor.

Jimmy Barkan (who was Bikram's senior teacher until recently) now teaches his own Hot Yoga at both his Yoga College of India in Fort Lauderdale and at Yoga Connection in Plantation. He has taught yoga to many male sports figures, most notably the Miami Dolphins. He is a knowledgeable and inspired teacher.

Mark Roberts, in Fort Lauderdale at Holiday Park, is another well-known name, teaching Hatha and Raja Yoga for many years. All three of the above men have been teaching students and training teachers for a number of years and have contributed to the growth of the community.

Other male yogis who have contributed a great deal, and who have their own studios, include Stuart Purdi, who has been teaching Sivananda at his Fort Lauderdale Yoga Warehouse for the last 5 years. Stuart says the men he sees are often interested in immersing themselves in the complete practice of Asana, Pranayama, Meditation, and Mantra. Other studios led by men include James Kieger, at Yoga South in Boca Raton, who offers Astanga classes; Amrit (Andrew Levinson, M.D.), who teaches Kundalini at his Amrit Yoga Shala-with two locations, one in Aventura and one in South Beach; and Paul Toliuszis and Fred Bush at Miami Yoga Shala, also in South Beach. Yogi Nasser, who runs The Center for Yogic Science in Fort Lauderdale teaches Petra Yoga, a style of Hatha Yoga he named for where he was born: Petra, Jordan. He also has classes on the beach, and an Anti-Aging Yoga class, where he uses singing bowls in Nada Yoga to tune the Chakras.

A list of teachers at local studios includes Andy McAusland (Astanga) and Eden (Vinyasa flow), both at Red Pearl Yoga (formerly Inspire Yoga) in Fort Lauderdale; Jason Mastrian (Sivananda Flow) at both Red Pearl Yoga and Yoga Warehouse in Fort Lauderdale; Kundalini teacher Deva Singh at Yoga Source in Wellington; James Kieger at Prana Yoga in Coral Gables; Mano (Universal Yoga), Sergio Medena (Iyengar), Steven Herbst (Dynamic Yoga), Joey Corona (Open Yoga), Sarkis Vermilyea (Astanga through level 4), and Alan Malcolm (Sivananda) at Synergy in South Beach. I teach Integral Yoga at Barry University in Miami Shores and at Spa Atlantis, and Vinyasa classes at World Gym in Pompano and at Yoga Connection in Plantation.

Many South Florida yoga studios have also hosted men offering a variety of yoga workshops. Red Pearl Yoga recently had David Keil for a Yoga Anatomy workshop, and Synergy Yoga has hosted Rodney Yee, Rod Stryker, David Life, and Tias Little. Something Yoga had J. Brown for a "Vinyasa Journey," Michael Moses for a Drum workshop, and will have Alan Finger for an ISHTA workshop in October and musician Russil Paul in December. Yoga Connection has had Amrit Desai (founder of Kripalau Yoga-now teaching Amrit Yoga) for a 3-day yoga workshop titled, "Embodying the Spirit of Yoga." Yoga Warehouse had Sivananda for a Sanskrit workshop and Bharta for a workshop for teachers on giving adjustments to students with your hands. Although not a yoga instructor, Ed Thrall has offered "Transformational Breath Workshops" at both Yoga Connection and Jimmy Barkan's East Fort Lauderdale studio.

During the last 2 years in South Florida we have also been blessed with the presence of several well-known and accomplished Bhakti yogis. Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, and Durga Das (David Newman) have all traveled here to share their musical and devotional energies. All three of these men are devotees of Neem Karoli Baba, a Bhakti yogi from India who has passed on. I've had the pleasure of accompanying both Bhagavan Das and Durga Das on tablas at many of their local appearances, called Kirtans (see my column in this issue about Kirtans).

Obviously, there are many men who have a lot to offer the yoga community, and plenty of men showing up for classes. It can no longer be said by anyone who takes the time to research the subject that yoga is only for women-to the contrary, men have been increasingly present. In fact, the balance inherent to the yoga lifestyle is seen in the balance that men bring to yoga today, making the experience richer and fuller for everyone.

Ramananda Das (Richard Brookens) is certified in Sivananda and Kundalini Yoga. He currently teaches Yoga at Barry University in Miami Shores, Spa Atlantis in Pompano, and Yoga Connection in Plantation. He also plays woodwinds (saxophones, flutes, and clarinets) and hand percussion (tablas, clay pot, et al), and regularly performs professionally in the local area. He has also performed throughout the United States, the Carribbean, and in Panang, Malaysia, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and Europe. He has released two CDs of original World Fusion Music, and three meditation/relaxation CDs on his Yellow Bell label. Contact him, listen to free samples from his CDs, and view pictures of some of his performances and World instruments at www.yellowbellmusic.com.

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