Several years ago, Bryan Hooten tried a couple of new things in a desperate attempt to feel better about life. It worked.
DANG IT, BRYAN HOOTEN…is a thing we say a lot in the RVANews office. Mostly because everything he does is so inspiring, but also because, despite all of the inner calm stuff you’re about to read, he’s a super fun and down-to-earth person to hang out with. And a professional trombonist. And an all-around productive person.
In 2013, Publisher Ross and I heard Bryan speak at a bill conference. We invited him out to dinner immediately and grilled him for more information on how we could become more like him. Both of us were improved individuals afterwards. Your personal issues may not be addressed by anything yoga-related,1 but if Bryan’s path seems interesting to you, grab a pair of new pants, scarf down a chia bar, and get balanced.
What does “fitness” mean to you?
Fitness means fitting into the flow of life, knowing when to move with it or appropriately against it. Fitness means acting, thinking, and feeling with clarity and compassion. In purely physical terms, being fit means having the capacity to do what needs to be done with the tools you have been given.
How did fitness find you?
My first fitness love was running. I vividly remember being home from college, sitting on my parents’ couch in Alabama, and realizing that it was time to run. I called up a couple of friends of mine and we jogged two painful miles at a local park. I kept running all through college, grad school, and into my adult life. I had brief affairs with free-weights and machines but it was only running that I did with any consistency. During a particularly difficult time in my life, the therapist I was seeing for anxiety and depression suggested I try yoga and meditation. After a couple of weeks of almost daily practice, the same rush of clarity emerged about yoga as had emerged about running. I realized that fitness involved taking personal responsibility for my own emotional as well as physical health. Since then, a daily yoga practice has been my primary means of staying fit.
What’s your personal roadmap for staying fit?
- Sleep: Try (usually fail) to get eight hours a night
- Breathing: Maintain awareness of my breath throughout the day
- Posture: Sit and stand up straight as much as possible
- Food: Eat whole foods, mostly vegetarian, and drink lots of water
- Thoughts: Observe thoughts but do not let them distract from experience
One to two hours of asana (postures) done in a vinyasa style. Vinyasa yoga links postures together through the breath and borrows heavily from gymnastics as well as ideas from turn-of-the- 20th-century body building. Within the framework of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), I practice standing postures, arm-balances, inversions, seated postures and savasana (relaxation), all while trying to maintain relaxed, focused breathing. Since I have a fairly pronounced scoliosis and kyphosis, I target much of my work at the spine to cultivate balance and openness there. In addition to strengthening and stretching, this practice allows me to expand the capacity of my nervous system to safely tolerate different joint positions, leading to an expanding of mental, emotional, and energetic capacity.
Twenty minutes of pranayama (breath work): In this seated practice, I explore forced exhalation and passive inhalation, alternate nostril breathing, retention of the breath, and extending the inhales and exhales, all as means of directing prana (or life force). Most of the work here is in gently exerting control over the passive elements of respiration in order to form new patterns. For example, I have found pranayama particularly effective in learning to manage anxiety.
Twenty minutes to one hour of meditation: I sit on a cushion and release control over the breath, the mind, and the body except for what is needed to maintain an upright posture. Hopefully, new, more healthy breath, posture, and thought patterns emerge without too much effort. Essentially, I just sit still with open awareness and remain present with whatever arises. This usually involves just watching my mind race for a while.
How are you helping to keep Richmond fit?
I offer instruction in asana and meditation in my classes and private lessons at Ashtanga Yoga Richmond. We offer a variety of asana classes that give people an opportunity to explore these practices under the guidance of wise teachers. We’re also hosting an Immersion in January/February that will include additional classes in pranayama, meditation, and text study. I’d like to think that we, teachers and students, all leave that place seeing and thinking more clearly and acting with more compassion.
If you could encourage people to make one change in their lives in order to become more fit, what would it be?
Approach your fitness practice as a means to better serve others by expanding your mental, emotional, and physical capacity. Do this and you will never lack motivation! Be fit so others can depend on you!
- lululemon Great Fit Challenge
- Amy Brachman: Let yourself feel good
- Matt and Austin Harris: Choose to eat better