ENCINITAS — You think yoga isn’t for you? Zack Carpenter will tell you to think again. North County might be a mecca for yogis, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place in yoga for the rest of us.
Carpenter, the man behind the recently launched Guerrilla Yoga, doesn’t buy any of your excuses not to try yoga. “The people who really need it say, ‘I’m not flexible enough to do yoga,” he said. “That’s like saying I’m too dirty to take a bath!”
His classes focus on individuals who might feel intimidated by yoga. “It’s not about what you look like, or how well you pose,” Carpenter said. “It’s about aligning your body and mind. It’s about your breath and your movement. I want to open it up to people who don’t normally feel comfortable with yoga.”
Carpenter hopes to reach combat vets and others who suffer from PTSD and depression and struggle with alcoholism and addiction. “They don’t feel a very strong sense of community,” he said. “The people who need it the most are intimidated by traditional yoga classes.”
His personal story is the stuff that movies are made of. “In 1990, I joined the Navy and I went to Desert Storm in 1992,” he said. “In 1994 I got out and didn’t realize the depression and PTSD that I had been carrying around.”
Feeling lost, he realized that he was seeking freedom. Carpenter bought his first Harley, and set out to see the country. His love of motorcycles led him to join a motorcycle club. Eventually he ended up on the wrong side of the law, and found himself in federal prison awaiting trial.
“I was held without bond for two years,” he said. “When I was arrested I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to get out.” Having struggled with alcoholism since the late 1980s, he seized the opportunity for sobriety. “I stayed sober,” he said. “I started looking at meditation. I opened up to spirituality.”
When a friend posted his bail, Carpenter was free once again. He continued on his path to sobriety, but a 2007 motorcycle accident proved to be setback in his quest for happiness.
“I broke my legs in 30 places and had steel rods in both legs,” he said. Overweight and unable to do much about it, a dare from his then-girlfriend was the catalyst he needed.
“She dared me to do an hour of hot yoga,” Carpenter said. “I fell in love. Very secretly at the time. But inside, I was really happy.”
Yoga offered him relief from the depression and PTSD he had been plagued with. “Yoga showed me the way back,” he said.
While he loved taking yoga and embracing everything it had to offer, he came to believe that there was room for a different kind of class. His 11 years of sobriety had given him many gifts, one of them being the realization of the therapeutic value in helping others.
He decided to offer a class to help others who are suffering in silence. Carpenter cited a statistic that more veterans die from suicide than in combat. “They don’t know there is a way out,” he said, adding that he knew that feeling all too well.
“Now I’m starting to have a beautiful life,” he said. It’s something he feels he can share with others.
The name “Guerrilla Yoga” has significance for Carpenter, considering his military background. His classes forgo a strict regime, and operate outside the norm of traditional studios. It isn’t about being perfect. “Getting to the mat is a victory,” he said. “It’s a process.”
In a recent class, Carpenter had two unlikely students. “There were these two guys, both overweight, and it was their first time taking yoga,” he said. “Afterward they said, ‘Wow! We are definitely coming back.’”
Carpenter has seen a total transformation in his own life since he began doing yoga. “My experience has been like getting a new birth certificate,” he said. He added that his former way of living seems like, “a whole other lifetime ago.”
To the naysayers, those who still think that they can’t do yoga, Carpenter has a few words of advice. “Give yourself a gift,” he said. “Take it from someone who has been crushed by life and found a way to come back from it.”
For more information about Carpenter and Guerrilla Yoga, visit zackcarpenter.com. Classes are currently held from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Fridays at Yoga Tropics West at 965 Second St.