Ask the yogi: interview with James Loeffler

In the second in the 'ask the yogi' interview series I'm delighted to introduce James Loeffler, San Antonio, TX-based yogi who also happened to be my super-ace base during our Acro Yoga Elemental Immersion at the Yoga Barn in Bali with Daniela Garza Rios and Carlos Romero. James is currently in Germany completing his Acro Yoga Teacher Training and is testament to what the combination of yoga and weight training can achieve...

Hi James! Why did you start yoga?

In a word.. curiosity. 

How did you start your practice? Did you start at home, or in a studio, for example?

The first place I ever took a yoga class was at a gym called Lifetime Fitness. Though, to call it a gym is a severe understatement...It's more of a luxury fitness centre, complete with all sorts of weights and machines, multiple indoor and outdoor pools, steam rooms, hot tubs, rock-climbing walls, basketball courts and beautiful studios. It's been like a second home to me.

 

I think I was 18 at the time, and I had been weight training consistently since I was 15. The yoga studio was down a short hall in the corner of the weight room, and one day I randomly decided to check a class out. I started going from time to time after that, but it took me a couple years to really become consistent in my practice. 

Do you do any other forms of exercise, or just yoga, and why?

I still weight train at least 5 days per week, and mix in quite a bit of calisthenics. Weight training will always hold a special place in my heart. It is what transformed my body when I hated my body, what brought me to love physical fitness... the endorphin rush of pushing or pulling heavy shit and achieving a 'pump' that is orgasmically pleasurable. It is almost like alchemy; an art and science of equivalent exchange, deconstruction and reconstruction. 

The reward for your efforts go far beyond an aesthetically pleasing physique. 

Calisthenics is something I got in to because of yoga. Turns out, mastering your body is pretty damn fun! It's also very practical; you learn to use your body as it evolved to be used: as one integrated system.

How has practicing yoga impacted your life?

Yoga has impacted my life in more ways than I can even begin to imagine. From amazing people I've met to life-changing experiences I've had... yoga brought meditation, Acro Yoga and therapeutic practices into my life. It helped lead me to my girlfriend, and brought me the most rewarding job I've ever had. 

I don't know what I'd be up to right now if I'd never tried yoga, but my life would certainly be very, very different.

What’s your favourite style of yoga and why?

For years, I would have said my favourite style of yoga is Vinyasa. I love the flowing nature of the practice, and how it's designed to gently warm up the body, slowly building toward a complex Sun C. And after all this internal heat is built, the class winds down with long stretches and a beautifully meditative Savasana. I love it, and it is still my favorite style to teach.

The years of attending Hot Vinyasa classes built the foundation for my personal practice, and THAT is my favourite style.

When I practice at home I move in a way that feels good to me, and simply listen to my body. I sometimes combine my personal practice with the use of cannabis, because for me, the plant compliments self-directed movement like chocolate compliments marshmallows. Each strain has a unique effect on the mind and body, so the room for experimentation is endless. It's not for everybody, but I love it! 

That said, I think to get the most out of any personal practice, it's important to have a base of understanding of your own body mechanics. You learn what works and what doesn't work in more structured classes, and then you can take those lessons home with you to build upon. 

What’s your advice for starting a practice?

Check out a variety of classes. For someone who has never practised yoga, "Vinyasa" and "Yin" are as interchangeable as they are ambiguous. These are two entirely different styles and experiences, but for someone who is just starting out, the assumption is that yoga is yoga.

Equally important to mention is that every teacher is different. I've been to yoga classes that I could not wait to get out of, simply because I disliked the teacher's style of teaching. If that was my first yoga experience and I did not know better, my taste for the entire practice might have been soured. In short: find a style you like, find a teacher you like, and practice consistently. 

How can I fit yoga into my daily routine? I don’t have time to dedicate to a public class!

You have time. If CEO's of multi-billion dollar businesses, leaders of nations and full-time parents can make time for some sort of physical practice, you can too. Maybe that time is 5:30 in the morning or 11:00 at night, but somewhere in the 24 hours of a day, you can find time to fit a yoga practice in. So HOW do you do this? You prioritise it. 

You ask yourself: if everyone and everything that I loved in my life were to disappear tomorrow if I did NOT practice yoga today, what would I do? Also, don't think you have to practice every day. Sure, you will probably get more benefit from a daily practice than a weekly practice, but the key is finding a routine that you can STICK TO. 

This is the folly of the New Years Resolutioner. They hit the gym 5 days a week for the month of January, realise that it is completely unsustainable for where they are right now, and drop the gym completely by February. Consistency is paramount. Find what you can be consistent with. 

Can you lose weight from yoga, or is it more about toning up and flexibility?

This is a very complicated question. Weight loss from yoga is possible, but if your primary goal is to lose weight, there are far better tools for you than yoga. Weight loss boils down to calories in < calories out. Put another way, if you want to lose weight, you must burn more calories than you consume. 

You certainly do burn calories practising yoga, but the amount you burn varies greatly depending on the style. Current technological limitations make it difficult to assess exactly how many calories you burn during a one-hour yoga class, but the amount you burn is not nearly as much as you might think because of the energy systems utilised during even very intense practices. Physiology, biology and dietetics are all highly complex sciences, and are all at play when we begin to talk about yoga and weight loss.

So, is it more about toning up and flexibility? First, I should mention that "toning up" is a term that most of the professors I studied under in college (I have a B.S. in Kinesiology & Exercise Science) hated. And for good reason; it doesn't mean what most people think it means.

When most people say "toning", what they are really referring to is "fat loss". Put simply, losing fat so that muscles are more visible. Yoga is a decent tool for this, but as I mentioned, there are better tools for fat loss (such as dietary changes and low-intensity cardio).

And flexibility? Most styles are EXCELLENT promoters of flexibility, as well as mobility and range of motion. There is a certain sense of self-confidence you get when you have greater degrees of control over your body.. sometimes, a concept is easier to understand when we imagine it's extreme inverse.

As an example, imagine being in a full-body cast; bedridden and unable to move. Extreme as this example may be, most "able-bodied" individuals have created inner casts for themselves through years of inactivity. Their muscles (as mine once were) are stiff and rigid. Their bodies are, quite frankly, uncomfortable to be in. But for them, living with aches and pains is normal.. it's really not until you begin practising yoga (or something similar) that you realise, "holy shit, my body can feel like THIS!?" - then, feeling amazing inside your own skin becomes the new normal. The physical benefits of yoga are many, but I believe the psychological benefits are even greater. 

What are the benefits of the ‘spiritual’ side of yoga?

I am not a very spiritual person, but the 'spiritual' side of yoga can probably benefit individuals in a similar way to organised religion. Spirituality is, in large part, about a feeling of connection with something far greater than yourself. Yoga can bring that feeling to some people, but I am inclined to believe it is more the people/community they practice yoga with, rather than the practice itself, that fosters spirituality.

I want to do yoga to build up my core strength but I’m not interested in the spiritual side, is that possible?

That is absolutely possible. Yoga is a different practice to different people. For some, it is their primary form of exercise. For others, it is a gateway to the spiritual realm. For me, it is a supplement to almost everything I do. For you.. well, that is up to you to decide. The only way to know what place yoga has in your life is to try it. 

You can follow James on instagram @james.move where he posts videos of his personal practice for you to be inspired by!