Diamond Dallas Page
's DDP Yoga "Wrestlemania"
Workshop Friday night was in a building I've always wanted to explore, the cylindrical Holiday Inn that rises like a stack of poker chips just across the Crescent City Connection. The workshop was on the tower's 14th floor, in a curved room offering a postcard view of the New Orleans skyline as well as a less classically scenic panorama of the stretch of Gretna directly abutting the Expressway.
The two people I went with, my partner and a friend visiting from New York City, were both nervous about trying DDP Yoga, which made me feel less nervous myself. "It Ain't Your MaMa's Yoga" says the stencil-style slogan adorning a lot of DDP Yoga merchandise. My Mama doesn't practice yoga, so really, everything’s not her yoga. But were she to take up the hobby, her favored flavor probably wouldn't be a high-intensity offshoot invented by a professional wrestler, so fair enough. Having settled what DDP Yoga ain’t, what is it?
DPP Yoga, as a practice, seeks to combine the flexibility benefits of yoga, the muscle-building potential of dynamic resistance, the cardio component of a traditional calisthenics class, and make them— along with a dairy-and-gluten-free whole foods nutritional approach — available to new audiences. This means audiences who might find the more traditional versions of those exercises culturally weird and off-putting as well as those who would be unable to participate because of obesity or disability.
DDP, like many professional wrestlers, finished his in-ring career a total physical wreck. There's slightly more awareness than there used to be about the toll pro wrestling takes on its performers' bodies, but I think few who don't work in the business can appreciate the level of physical punishment a dance in the squared circle entails. It's one of the reasons calling pro wrestling "fake" is so egregious: the risks pro wrestlers take and the life-changing injuries they endure and overcome in pursuit of their craft are brutally real, and in some ways realer, or at least longer-lasting, than the ephemeral rewards of fame or money that anyway only top guys ever get a taste of.
Before DDP began practicing yoga he could barely walk; he couldn't separate his fingers and toes. He recounted this as part of a compelling opening statement that used his own extraordinary biography and tribulations as examples of what's possible for anyone, in any area of life. As a writer, I found nothing to argue with in Page's core motivational analysis, which was that a lot of our subjective experience of life has to do with the internal narratives we construct— the ways we tell ourselves our own story. Page, upbeat and cheerleader-limber in his late 50s, is a great advertisement for his own systems: clearly, whatever he’s doing is effective. The DDP Yoga team that he travels and conducts seminars with includes his girlfriend, his daughter and her boyfriend, all of whom are practitioners and advocates of DDP Yoga. During the exercise portions of the evening, they helped Page demonstrate positions and walked around to offer advice to those who were struggling or doing things incorrectly. Everyone was really nice.
There were between 50 and 60 people attending. They ranged in age and apparent fitness level; they were, on average, slightly fitter than the average American pro wrestling fan, in part because a lot of them weren't Americans. At the extra-curricular activities I've attended around WrestleMania, as the ticket price to a given event goes up, so does the proportion of patrons from other countries.
DDP was a top guy in Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling in the ‘90s. Though I was aware of Page's accomplishments, I didn't follow the promotion where he had his biggest run, so I've never been a major fan of his. What drew me to DDP Yoga was DDP's success helping and rehabilitating other pro wrestlers I revere, including two who are entering the WWE Hall of Fame this year, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Scott Hall. Whatever you want to say about DDP Yoga, which among other things replaces traditional yoga pose names with more exciting titles like "Pinfall" and "Superstar," you can't say it doesn't work. Not only did it (and Page's drive to help others) save the lives of Jake and Scott, but DDP Yoga was the route back to health for a non-pro-wrestler named Arthur, a disabled veteran whose transformation was so incredible it got him and DDP Yoga onto Oprah. Ten-and-a-half-million YouTube views later, the video of Arthur's journey is a huge part of DDP Yoga's success.
The Friday night workshop, which ran even longer than the promised "Three Hours of Inspiration and Perspiration!" mixed bouts of exercise with DDP sharing his views on things like healthy eating and positive mindset. "The politicians don't really run anything, in my opinion," he said during his explanation of GMO food. "The corporations are in control." However familiar with DDP's in-ring career everyone in the class might have been, DDP clearly knew how to run a room. When he spoke, the class listened; when he told a joke, we laughed.
Before the seminar's first stretching and movement component, he walked around and had each attendee introduce her or himself to the room. When he took my hand and pulled me up off the mat where I'd been sitting, I stood up into the direct blast-radius of his personal presence. It came off him like heat; he was radioactive with charisma. How to explain it? Though I'm not sure he's a lot taller than I am as far as feet and inches, standing next to Page I felt him tower over me. It wasn't a threatening or aggressive vibe, but I definitely felt a bit like a housecat shaking hands with a bobcat. Whatever you call that star quality, there are people in whom it's unmissable, and Page is one of 'em.
The workout itself was rigorous, although DDP took pains to explain modifications that could render each component more or less challenging according a participant's needs. "That saying, 'No pain, no gain,' that's okay when you're twenty-five," Page said, "but after thirty, pain is just pain. Listen to your body."
Before going to DDP Yoga I’d tried yoga exactly twice, at the newly opened Dancing Grounds on St. Claude, and enjoyed it. My DDP Yoga experience didn't have a lot in common with my Dancing Grounds experience. While the yoga at Dancing Grounds is soothing and meditative, DDP Yoga at the Hilton was set to a soundtrack of AC/DC and involved sessions of "Diamond Says," where we had to match Page's timing on sets of ten punches or else begin the set over. I didn't feel zen afterwards, but I felt well worked-out, and it was fun. Only once did I get the giggles, and I think part of it was the giddiness of exhaustion. Deep into the third hour, while we lay/crouched face-down in “Safety Zone” position, DDP encouraged us to breathe. "Love how that feels," Page bellowed. "Deep breathing in a bad-ass stretch!"
Everyone who attended, including those I came with, had a great time. DDP and his extended family were genuine, generous, and engaging; the workout was exhilarating. I'm not sure I'm ready to buy the DVD set and commit to DDP Yoga as part of my daily life, but I had a blast, and I'd sign up for another DDP Yoga Workshop in a heartbeat. In the meantime, the slower-paced and less bad-ass yoga they offer at Dancing Grounds is fine with me.
Finally, a small detail that meant a great deal: I touched the belt. DDP brought the World Heavyweight Title with him and allowed attendees to briefly hold it. That championship, which he earned back in WCW, is the most storied and prestigious title in pro wrestling history. It's a belt with a legacy stretching back through WWE, WCW and the National Wrestling Alliance, the "ten pounds of gold" Ric Flair bragged on. It's a holy relic. In the moment my fingers brushed its hard surface, I felt something intense and unmistakable, a whisper of the pain and sacrifices countless athletes, names known and unknown, had made over long decades, driven by the dream that belt represented. It moved me. It was real.