The first time John Calabria tried yoga, it was in an attempt to score a date with the attractive instructor. He was a busy computer engineer and a long-distance runner who couldn’t even touch his toes, but went to the class and forced his way through the various yoga postures. “I tried to impress her, and I think she got a kick out of it. And she did go out to lunch with me,” said Calabria, who teaches classes in Sudbury, Wayland, Maynard and Concord.
Flash forward to today, 15 years later, when Calabria is a yoga novice no longer but a seasoned practitioner and popular yoga instructor. He’s now able to not only touch his toes but do difficult half moons and headstands, but insists it’s not about the contortions but the mindset. “Yoga is such an individual practice that it’s hard to describe,” said Calabria. “To me, yoga means strength and flexibility, along with the peace and balance of mind, body, and spirit that comes with it.”
Calabria, 46, describes himself as a “recovering engineer” who four years ago traded his suit and tie for a mala (mantra meditation beads), quitting his job to follow his passion. It wasn’t an easy decision, leaving the security of his career, but Calabria said, “I felt like I was standing in two canoes. My income and training were in engineering but my heart was in yoga, and I felt like I was being split apart.” And although he has traded down from a shiny sports car to his trusty 2002 Subaru, he disputes the myth of the starving yoga teacher or artist. “It’s not about being a monk and sacrificing worldly goods but rather living a simpler life,” said Calabria, who grows his own vegan food and traveled around India in a pilgrimage to discover truths about reverence for life.
Q: Why are most yoga classes composed of mostly women, and very few men like you?
A: Women are more open to the underlying ideas of yoga – connectedness and compassion. But I see more and more men coming into the classes. I just got back from a retreat where 30 percent of the participants were men, so the numbers are going up.
Q: What makes a good yoga class?
A: A well-designed yoga class is structured like a bell curve. Students come from their busy lives, and they need to warm up and become present, then ramp up the effort as postures become and more and more challenging, then reach a peak of effort. You ease down to a level of relaxation and meditation, ending up flat on your back. The class begins in a child’s posture and ends in a corpse pose, so it’s metaphoric to the path of life.
Q: Why did you want to become a yoga instructor?
A: With my engineering mind, I wanted to know more and more as I started getting deeper and deeper in the practice. I remember the first breath that I was aware of, thinking, “That is what a breath feels like.” I worked toward certification, but that’s just a stepping stone. You learn how to teach by teaching, and after a while, you can handle anything that comes your way.
Q: I’ve heard of students speeding to yoga class in order to get there on time. Isn’t this a bit contradictory?
A: I’ve solved this problem by showing up sometimes an hour early for class so I’m not running late all the time. We live in a very busy world. I’ve told my classes that the goal is to be centered enough to accept a speeding ticket and a lottery ticket with the same grace.
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