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Getting more men doing yoga guru's mission

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There's only one thing wrong with yoga.

Not enough men are willing to open their minds to it.

The only thing I've had more trouble getting guys I know to try is a colonoscopy, but even then I've had a way better batting average.

Most of the men I know either think they have to get into one of those impossible pretzel poses -- which they don't -- or they think it's too touchy-feely, granola-girly, which it isn't either.

So, imagine the challenge Jana Webb faces to convince, if not convert, some of most macho men in Canada to her way of thinking and her brand of yoga, one she's adapted for the athlete in all of us, and especially the professional version.

She calls it Joga.

Or, as it's also known, Joga for Jocks.

And over the last few years, the farmer's daughter from Bentley, Alta., has even had some success. She has disciples among CFL running backs, NHL goalies and, even for a time, the Toronto Argonauts as a team.

She did that by doing what they do at rodeos out Alberta way. She's taken the bulls by the horns, which is what she demonstrated for a photographer Saturday at Yoga Public, when she posed hanging on to a prop that, when I took another look, appeared to be a female bovine and not a bull.

In any event, Jana wrestles hulking football players to the yoga mat through the power of her presence and her presentation, and of course, her product.

All of which is what brought her to Winnipeg last week in an attempt to sell the Winnipeg Jets on the benefits of team Joga and, while she was at it, introduce her brand to a wider audience at Yoga Public.

The Toronto-based entrepreneur had a pleasant surprise waiting for her when she met to pitch Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel and others in the organization on Joga for the Jets. What she learned was Noel wasn't afraid of yoga being too soft for him and his tough-guy players. Jana says Noel told her he's done yoga.

Furthermore, she learned that a couple of years ago the Jets even had a yoga instructor introduce the practice to the team.

"That shows that the strength coach and the coaching staff is progressive," Jana says. "Which makes my job coming here easier."

But, as any prospective client should, Noel had a question for Jana about her Joga. The Jets coach wanted her to explain why they would hire her rather than a local yoga instructor. I don't know exactly how she responded, but ideally her practice was created to address the mind, body and lifestyle rigours of a professional athlete and give them that extra edge that helps prevent injuries and prolong careers.

Actually, when it comes to the wider community, that's not all that much different from what yoga can do for guys like me, who have spent years in hunched-over-desk poses.

Not that I didn't need convincing.

My wife, Athina, dragged me out to do yoga last year, but only after I tried a Yoga Public introductory version of what's known as restorative yoga. Basically that's a get-started form that offers props -- blocks, belts and even blankets -- which compensate for any lack of flexibility. Over time, ever-so-gently and gradually, restorative yoga loosened me up.

As I was suggesting, it was flexibility, or rather the search for more of it, that eventually brought me on bended knee to the yoga mat.

I wondered what difference Athina saw when I was going two and even three times a week.

"You slept better," she said. "You didn't complain about your shoulders being tight, your disposition was better and you were just better and healthier."

But there was a bonus, one I hadn't been expecting because that's not why I went there. Yoga offered an emotional release that comes with the spiritual origins of the practice. It was something I never got from jogging or lifting weights; a sense of inner peace.

And, a feeling that -- for the first time in my life -- I was looking after myself.

In every way.

For that I'm grateful to Yoga Public creator Ida Albo, who introduced me to the practice, and of course my wife for leading me there.

Two women who showed me that yoga is for men, too. Even men who can't touch their toes.

I only have one regret about yoga.

Maybe two.

That more men don't give it a try.

And that I didn't start when I was 18. Maybe I wouldn't have injured my pitching arm, and maybe I would have lasted longer as a pro athlete.

Where oh where was someone like Jana Webb and something like Joga for Jocks when I needed both back then?

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2013 B1

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