They may not be smarter, but the gay men who meet weekly in Oak Cliff to practice yoga are definitely more flexible than your average bears
Yoga and it practitioners suffer from many misconceptions, not the least of which is: To be good, you are required to twist your body into seemingly impossible contortions.
Tom Boyd-Lloyd knew that didn’t describe him. Still, the bearish gent was on a search for a fitness regime that suited his needs. He disliked gyms and wasn’t built to be a long-distance runner, and yoga, it seemed, was the answer — even if he wasn’t as flexible as those rubber-bone yogis he’d seen in National Geographic.
“It was something I’d wanted to do for a while, but a lot of guys don’t wanna do yoga because they can’t bend over and touch their toes,” he says. “They’re not flexible. I know I wasn’t.”
Wasn’t. He can touch his toes now — and a lot more.
Boyd-Lloyd, 48 years old, was always fine with being a bigger guy, but he wanted to be a healthy bigger guy. He opened Studio 4 in Oak Cliff eight months ago, and every Tuesday night he’s hosted Bear Yoga. An introductory class with a comfortable, encouraging atmosphere, it’s been a success in the bear community.
“It took off right away,” he beams. “We have up to 15 guys on a regular basis, and we continue to grow.”
Boyd-Lloyd says the camaraderie that has been created there has been crucial to his students. Bear Yoga isn’t just a class, but a group of guys hanging out and supporting each other’s fitness goals. With a focus on basics, the class is learning about the body and the breathing with an emphasis on meditation. Those basics then become building blocks to a higher-level practice.
“This is an introductory class, and so while practicing simple yoga, we’re building a solid base of knowledge and getting people to pay attention to their bodies,” he says.
Tom and his partner Patrick Lloyd-Boyd have both become yoga fans while maintaining their bear status. But within that community, there tends to be a lack of conversation on health and weight. Boyd-Lloyd hopes that Bear Yoga can push some of that dialogue to a more prominent place.
“We both like bigger guys, but we also like bigger guys to be healthy — they need to be,” he explains. “There are some guys who purposely gain weight, and sometimes we should ask them about that. Perhaps it’s a conversation closer friends can have, but we should make sure that our guys are heart-healthy and have a low risk for diabetes. Being big can be great, but let’s make healthy decisions.”
People underestimate yoga as a demanding form of fitness because there is no heavy weight-lifting or cardio overload. Don’t expect to build huge muscles worthy of A-list attention on Scruff, but Boyd-Lloyd stresses that his class is no less of a workout — just of a different kind.
“I’d gone to gyms for years, and I hated it. I hate running. I hate lifting weights,” he says. “Since doing yoga, I’ve just had a great feeling about myself, and I have energy, and it feels very goal-directed.”
That’s not to say it isn’t strenuous. The focus isn’t on burning calories, but that happens along with increasing the heart rate. The process involves focusing inward, but in doing so, the body nonetheless sweats. But intention is important to practicing yoga.
“When you move your body in yoga, you set that intention,” he says. “I have to do that the night before. I tell myself I’m going to wake up, throw on my yoga clothes and go to my 6 a.m. class. But also, it’s just focusing on yourself and your life. I never felt that way about going to the gym.”
Ummm … about “yoga clothes:” What’s a bear to wear? Don’t fret. Lululemon see-through pants are not required.
“Oh, it’s easy,” he laughs. “All people need to wear are T-shirts and gym shorts and bring a sweat rag. We have all the supplies like mats, bolsters and blocks. And everything is barefoot.”
Boyd-Lloyd stresses that Bear Yoga is a comforting environment for everyone whether an experienced yogi or a novice, a muscle bear, teddy bear, otter or wolf … or even a straight guy! (That’s happened, too.) Although instructors and leaders are there, classmates have come to help each other. As its base continues to expand, he’s considered adding a second session.
“I’d love to see it grow to two classes,” he says. “You know, I’ve seen people really encourage others, and feedback has been amazing. I think people come out of curiosity but come back for the camaraderie. And there’s no reason to be self-conscious. We’re hugging each other, being friends and supporters. Sometimes we’ll even go out after to Hunky’s.”
“We get salads, of course,” he chuckles. Bear Yoga, Studio 4, 518 Davis St. Suite 4.
Tuesdays at 6:30. $12–$15 (first class free).
WHERE TO WORK OUT
Exclusively serving gay men for more than 30 years, this institution actually has one of the largest gyms in the city, and is open 24 hours, 365 days a year. 2616 Swiss Ave., 214-821-1990, TheClubs.com.
Located on the third floor of the Centrum, it’s right in the heart of the gayborhood. 3102 Oak Lawn Ave., Suite 300, 214-219-6400, DieselFitness214.com.
This gym in the West Village has a reputation for affordable memberships and solid service. 2901 Cityplace West Blvd., Suite 100, 214-219-1900,
Located in the old Park Place Motorcars location, it offers a full range of fitness services, and a Greenz location. 4023 Oak Lawn Ave., 214-443-9009, Equinox.com.
Locations are throughout the city, but the one in Uptown serves a fit, very gay customer base. 2425 McKinney Ave., 214-306-9000, GoldsGym.com.
Multiple locations, but the ones on Lemmon and a new Signature on Haskell are popular with gay clientele. 4540 W. Mockingbird Lane and 2690 N. Haskell Ave., LAFitness.com.
Trophy Fitness Club
With five locations, one can be found in the downtown Mosaic and in one Uptown. 300 N. Akard St. and 2812 Vine St., Suite 300, TrophyFitnessClub.com.
24 Hour Fitness
Popular locations include one Downtown and one at Mockingbird and Greenville. 700 N. Harwood St. and 5706 E. Mockingbird Lane, 24HourFitness.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 14, 2014.