When a new student enters my yoga class, sometimes I catch him or her doing a double take. They come in expecting a long, lean, Zen-looking yoga instructor, and instead they get me: a muscular powerhouse with a slightly dirty mouth. Suffice it to say, I’m not your ordinary yoga instructor. Although I’ve been teaching yoga for over a decade, I’m a Marine, bodybuilder and head knocker by nature.

Back in 1978 I was a skinny, 170-pound teen who had survived foster care and worse and to be honest, I was tired of getting kicked around – both literally and figuratively – by life. I remember seeing a picture of bodybuilding legend Casey Viator, and thinking, “Man oh man, if I looked like him, I’d be the one kicking up some sand.”

Of course, the road from puny kid to bodybuilder wasn’t a straight (or easy) one, and it took a detour through the Marines and some serious inspiration from Arnold Schwarzenegger to get me there, but I made it. By 1986, I was a regional-level bodybuilder, who won (and retired) after my first competitive contest. I made it up to 235 pounds of pure muscle and never looked back.

Yoga 5

After moving to Los Angeles, I started using my new brawn to moonlight as a bouncer. While breaking up a bar fight one night, I seriously injured my shoulder. Even though I couldn’t work out like I wanted to, I still headed to Gold’s gym. But instead of going straight to the weight room, I took a look around and discovered a group of people (okay, beautiful women) “stretching” in a back room. My life hasn’t been the same since.

What I thought was stretching, was of course, yoga. And I’ve been practicing ever since. You’d think bodybuilding and yoga have nothing to do with each other, but you’d be wrong. Bodybuilding is a very precise art, and you have to know every inch of your own body to make it work. That knowledge served as a perfect foundation when I started practicing yoga more seriously. When my yoga instructors would say, “Hug your muscle into the bone,” or “Draw your right hip in,” I knew exactly what he or she meant.

The Power of Yoga

Regardless of your background or typical workout, yoga can serve as an important supplement to your routine. When you practice yoga, synovial fluid gets circulated throughout your body, which is essential for joint health. Happy joints mean fewer injuries. Yoga is especially good for your spine. When you practice yoga, spinal fluid migrates up and down the spinal column, keeping it biologically youthful, regardless of your chronological age. Many professional athletes like Kobe Bryant have already realized that yoga is their best bet for extending their primary sport due to its ability to prevent and heal injuries.

So take it from this former (and current) gym rat: yoga is the best secret everyone knows about.

Rudy Mettia is the creator of Yoga Warrior 365 and founding teacher of Udaya.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.