An unconventional yogi offers life lessons

  • Article by: MARISA HELMS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2012 - 11:22 AM

A self-described "old goat who does yoga", Ken Schweiger has inspired others to try it -- and teach it.

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A former executive, Ken Schwieger, 63, now draws a crowd to the hot yoga classes he teaches at CorePower Studios in St. Paul.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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After 63-year-old yoga teacher Ken Schweiger was profiled in the Star Tribune in January, a 51-year-old man came up to him and said he had always wanted to train to teach yoga but thought he was too old. Schweiger's story, he said, was the inspiration he needed to take on teacher training.

Schweiger got a lot of "nice feedback, and a lot of inspiration" after his story was published. People attending his classes have said, "I read the article, and I've decided to try yoga."

Schweiger is living proof that, as he says, "You don't have to be 25 years old, beautiful, and female to teach yoga."

At Schweiger's hot yoga class at CorePower Studios in St. Paul, the room is filled nearly to capacity. The dress code is the bare minimum. Schweiger follows suit, wearing nothing but big wire-framed glasses and spandex shorts. He adjusts the thermostat to make sure the room will reach 105 degrees, then glides to the back and, for the next hour, calmly talks the class through a series of breathing exercises and 26 yoga poses.

"Dandayamana bibhaktapada janushirasana," Schweiger calls, without stumbling over the Sanskrit. His effortless pronunciation, along with his gray hair and folksy manner, lend him an air of credibility, even though he's been teaching for just two years.

At the end of class, Schweiger bids the students all "namaste," a salutation often used in yoga.

It was a conventional class taught by an unconventional man.

Schweiger, who describes himself as a Catholic conservative, is the first to admit he stands out in the hard-body CorePower crowd, where the demographic skews female and young.

"I'm an old goat who does yoga," Schweiger said with a smile. "I'm not a stereotypical yoga teacher. I'm a typical 63-year-old with a little gut."

Well, maybe not so typical.

Until he retired in 2003, Schweiger was a high-flying corporate executive who dedicated his life to his work in banking and insurance products. He worked long hours, cramming in meals between business meetings. His only exercise was an occasional round of golf.

"At one point I was probably 30, 35 pounds heavier than I am now," said Schweiger. "My cholesterol was a little high, in the 220 range. What got me going is my doctor wanted to put me on Lipitor. I asked him what the alternatives were, and he said I could try diet and exercise. That's when I started to work on my health."

His 40th wedding anniversary is in July and he said he'd like to lose another 40 pounds by that date. "It will be a good challenge," he said.

It all began when Schweiger's adult daughter, Chris, invited him to take a hot yoga class with her.

"It was a long shot," said Chris. "Not every guy in their 60s wants to try something as 'out there' as yoga."

While he was eager to try it, Schweiger admits that he hated his first yoga class.

"I thought it was absolute insanity!" said Schweiger. "Halfway through the class I was pooped out. I was sitting on my mat; I needed a break."

Still, he came back the next day, and the next. After two weeks of classes, he was hooked. Soon, he noticed improvements to his balance and flexibility.

"One day when I was getting dressed, I was able to put my pants on without sitting on the bed," said Schweiger. "I hadn't been able to do that in years."

Plus, the yoga was helping his golf game.

So, in 2009, at age 61, Schweiger enrolled in teacher training at CorePower. Schweiger's wife, Barb (yes, they've been Ken and Barbie their entire 40 years of marriage), daughters Chris, 38, and Stephanie, 37, and son Kenny, 28, all take his classes. On any given day, any one -- or all -- of the Schweiger clan is attending one of Ken's classes.

"Our family is close," said Chris. "We like doing stuff together and this is just another thing we can do, and it happens to be Dad's yoga class."

Chris said taking a yoga class from her dad was "surreal" at first. Now she loves "listening to his voice, his perspective on the postures.

"You don't hear of people making that extreme of a career change at that age," she added. "There are people in their 40s who think it's too late to start something new. That never stopped him."

Schweiger's fan base extends beyond his family. He's developed a following among students at CorePower. St. Paul student Cecilia Scully, 49, has been coming to Schweiger's Highland Park class regularly for about a year.

"I think he's great," said Scully. "He's consistent and good to learn from. He's patient and calm."

CorePower instructor Kathy Bertram considers Schweiger a cheerleader. "I love Ken. I'm a big fan," she said.

While Schweiger admits he's still "Type A," he says his yoga practice has changed him in many ways.

"I started out for the physical benefits," Schweiger said, "but what's been probably the biggest change in my life is that I've become very non-judgmental. In my corporate career I was great at putting people in a box based on race, gender and age, or anything else. But one of the advantages of doing yoga is I've gotten a lot more open-minded.

"I have a much better understanding that we're all in this together."

How he does it

Ken Schweiger teaches about 10 to 15 hot yoga classes week -- sometimes as many as five a day -- at multiple CorePower metro locations. His busy teaching schedule can distract him from his development as a yoga student, however. "I have to keep reminding myself that I need to go to three classes a week or maybe more, and stop myself from creating another full time career," Schweiger said. "People like me who are used to being active and busy, we just keep adding more and more stuff!"

After Schweiger completed 200 hours of training with CorePower in 2009, he got the credential RYT after his name (Registered Yoga Teacher) from the Yoga Alliance (yogaalliance.org).

He has just received an additional credential of "E" (for Experienced) because he has completed 1,000 hours of teaching. His new credential is allowing him to help with hot yoga teacher training at CorePower. He says he is currently a training coach assisting the lead trainers with a class of about 30 trainees. "I'm supporting the students at this point," said Schweiger. "But, maybe I'll be leading trainings in the future."

Schweiger says he probably will pursue the next level of credentials which would include 500 hours of yoga training (an additional 300 from his current 200 hours of training). He says further training includes anatomy and yoga philosophy.

"It's not necessary, but it's a goal," said Schweiger. "As long as I'm doing this, I'll probably continue to take more training."

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