Adam Stonebraker: Authenticity Is the Best Thing You Have to Offer
One man’s mission to teach people how to find balance through the ancient yet scientific practices of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga.
As early as he can remember, Adam Stonebraker had a passion for introspection, and it has colored his life ever since. Through many years of meditation and study, Adam came to understand that a life lived mindfully is a life lived with intention.
Today, he is a teacher of meditation, yoga, and mindfulness-based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Through sharing these ancient but scientific practices, Adam seeks to empower his students to live fuller lives.
How did you get into meditation?
My mother was a devout Catholic, and I was always a spiritual kid growing up. I had to go to church twice a week but always found it interesting and challenging. I was emotionally moved in mass by the quiet, the contemplation, and scripture readings.
I started meditating without even knowing what I was doing, sitting outside, just watching my breathing or paying attention to my senses. I’ve always had this contemplative side. It was a natural yearning. It just made sense.
What formal meditation training have you undertaken?
I’ve also been on many silent retreats. I love them. The longest retreat I’ve done was ten days. It’s natural for me, but I understand it can be a little intimidating for first-timers. However, once you get there, you should find that it’s a supportive environment because everybody is there for the same thing. The teachers know what they’re doing and make it accessible.
Of course, there’s all kinds of retreats you could go on. Some focus on activities such as painting or journaling. They all have their value, but I prefer the traditional silent retreats. Once all distractions are removed, you learn to take refuge in your own awareness. You have to just be with yourself.
The Tibetan meditation retreats I’ve been on aren’t silent. Not that they encourage you to dialogue with people, but there’s a sense of working it into your daily life rather than seeing it as separate. You’re just living your life but inserted into that are these practices. The idea is that you learn to take the mindfulness with you back into the world when you resume your usual lifestyle.
How did you get into yoga?
I started tai chi around 1999 and then developed an interested in yoga. At the time there weren’t that many yoga studios here. There was just the Cincinnati Yoga School, It’s Yoga Cincinnati, and Shine.
Back then there was no YouTube. You had to buy videos. I sometimes tell people that Rodney Yee was my first teacher because I learned so much from his early videos. I’ve never got to study with him personally, but I still use a lot of the things that he taught.
Back then people taught classes in their homes. Someone I knew was teaching a class in their apartment. I went and liked it. I continued with tai chi and slowly started doing more yoga. Actually, down the street, there was the Kula Center, and I started taking classes there.
I took a six-week workshop at the Miami Whitewater Forest and continued to go to the Kula Center. I also practiced a lot at home. My asana (pose) practice fluctuated, but my meditation practice stayed consistent.
When did your asana practice get more serious?
I got more serious about my asana practice about ten years ago and started doing sessions daily. I experimented with all different types and styles, often learning from videos. I tried Ashtanga Vinyasa, Kundalini, Power, and everything in between. I was just curious about the practices.
I went to a Kundalini class every week for about a year and enjoyed it. It was much more physically demanding than I had expected, with the breath and repetitive movements. The only reason I stopped is because the teacher stopped teaching the class.
Later, I tried Ashtanga at the Yoga Bar and fell in love with it.
How did you become a teacher?
When I was young, I always had a spiritual bent and knew I wanted to be a teacher. It stayed in the back of my mind. I had put off taking a teacher training course because they were expensive; a couple of thousand dollars, which was a lot of money for me.
One day, I had a bicycle accident. I went over the handlebars and was knocked unconscious. When I woke up in the hospital, the first thought I had was, “Do yoga teacher training.” It felt like a slap in the face as if I was being told,
“You know what you have to do. Go do it. Give into your practice, go to teacher training. This is your life. This is what you have to do. This is what you’ve wanted to do. Stop putting it off.”
So I just started working towards it immediately. I had broken my collarbone and had a brain bruise, so couldn’t do anything for six weeks. I was just at home. I took long walks, read a ton of books, and just thought about what course my life was going to take from that point on.
I called Rachel Roberts at the Yoga Bar and said I wanted to sign up for their teacher training even though I had a broken collarbone. She said that since the physical practice was a small part of it, I could still participate. It was a great opportunity that led to where I am now.
That was about six years ago. I’m a full-time yoga teacher now and treasure the opportunity to work at various studios, including the Yoga Bar.
You’re known as a teacher of Yin Yoga. What drew you to that practice?
I was drawn to Yin Yoga by its meditative aspect. I think of it as almost as a sneaky way of teaching meditation, but you’re also getting the physical benefits.
When I started my teacher training, I thought I’d become a Power Yoga teacher. But soon I figured out that I could take the meditation practice into yoga. I was given Sarah Powers’ book, Insight Yoga, and from the first page I was hooked because she combined Chinese medicine, Buddhism, and yoga — all the things I was interested in.
I sought her out and found a workshop with her in North Carolina, drove there, and took the workshop. I was sitting up front and afterward connected with her and her husband, who she teaches with.
She asked me if I wanted to study with her, so I started. Then I began to teach yin right away. My first class out of training was “Vin to Yin” [Vinyasa Yoga to Yin Yoga], and I’ve taught it ever since.
I’ve taken workshops in other styles as well, but when you look around, our society is so yang that people need to be out there giving some balance. In our conversations, Sarah said,
“There’s plenty of vinyasa teachers — just leave that to them. What the world needs is more yin.”
If you think of yin as balancing out life, then it becomes a little easier to communicate why people need it. If the world starts getting too yin then maybe we’ll transition to needing more yang teachers. But it’s just so yang and active. So much is required of us that we need to slow down, contemplate, and connect with our bodies. Yin did that for me.
It really changes people. Once they learn to inhabit their bodies, they start to become more interested in meditation and improving their lives with how they act and relate. You can teach both the yoga and Buddhist ways in the context of a yin class.
Yin yoga creates space in the body and mind which builds our capacity and resiliency. In yin, we’re creating tension and stress on the tissues, so it can be uncomfortable, but in that discomfort, you can find space and build resiliency. This translates directly into your life outside of class. You can handle more uncomfortable situations and create space to respond.
Did your deep involvement in Eastern practices and philosophy conflict with your mother’s being a devout Catholic?
Yes and no.
She used to do yoga in the 1970s and really liked it. I would still go to mass every once in awhile because I liked those feelings. I hadn’t been an active Catholic since I was a kid, but she thought I still was.
She passed away in March. A couple months before that we were talking about being Catholic, and I said that I consider myself a Buddhist now. I had just assumed that she knew because I’d been doing all these things forever, but she was hurt by it.
Then I explained to her that I believe what Jesus taught isn’t necessarily what modern Christianity today expresses and that Jesus was probably more like modern-day Buddhism than any other belief system. When I told her that I’d never been happier and more fulfilled, she came back and said, “That’s all I’ve wanted, and because of that I’m very happy.” It was nice that we got to clear that up.
With Buddhism and yoga there’s no dogma, or at least there shouldn’t be, so they’re highly adaptable. When Buddhism went from India to China, the Buddhist statues and paintings started looking Chinese. The adaptation continued as it spread through Korea and then down to Japan.
Now it’s becoming Western and changing again. When there’s no dogma or anything that’s required of people, then the spirit and essence that the Buddha taught can express itself in whatever culture it’s in.
It’s the same thing with yoga if it’s allowed to be that way. There’s a point of honoring tradition and the roots of yoga. Everybody should learn about where it came from and what it means culturally. But anyone who is knowledgeable in the original beliefs and philosophies of yoga would be completely fine with it filtering through any culture because the power of it can’t be caged.
There’s a responsibility of the teacher to hold the broader aspects of yoga and offer them to students. Without that, it’s incomplete. Yoga is great for the physical body, but the body is also meant to be a means by which we reach liberation.
A lot of people I know got into yoga from a gym, and now they’re teachers or practitioners that have changed their lives. As a teacher, you have to trust the practice. When people start, it’s not like they have to go in and chant and everything. It’s the overall respect for the practice and honoring the body instead of using the body as a tool. If you trust the method and honor the body, by doing that, there’s this connection that’s made — that’s the yoga. Then you trust it and let the person find their own way.
We have to live in our bodies because that’s where we are. The longest relationship we’ll ever have is with our bodies.
What advice do you have for people considering taking their first yoga teacher training course?
Unfortunately, a lot of studios are forced to offer teacher training to stay in business, which can dilute their quality.
When you enroll in a foundational 200-hour training, there is a temptation to want to just get through it so you can start teaching. And, the person leading the course has the responsibility to ensure that when you finish it, you can teach a simple yoga class. But, 200-hours is woefully inadequate to become a fully fledged teacher.
I’d advise anyone considering taking teacher training to resist the temptation to just jump in and hand over their money to somebody. Instead, they should spend some time to figure out who they want to study with, how they want to learn, and what they want to get out of the training. Then, study with that teacher for a while before enrolling in their course.
Taking a teacher training course isn’t just about getting a piece of paper. It’s about developing your practice and having something to offer. It used to be that you’d study with one teacher for however long, then finally one day they’d say, “Sub my class next week.” It was a true mentorship.
Does it sometimes feel awkward taking classes or workshops when there are so few men in the room?
At first, it felt weird, but I was also raised by two women, my mom, and sister, so being a minority in the house wasn’t very different for me. When I attend one of Sarah Powers’ retreats or training courses, out of about sixty people, I’m usually one of four guys. I’ve just gotten used to it.
How can we get more men into yoga?
I’ve found that the way in with a lot of guys is to talk about even ‘manlier’ men who are doing it, so it’s almost like a challenge. For example, I’ll mention how athletes are into it and that they say it’s the hardest thing they’ve ever done. I’ll share how some of the studios I teach at are frequented by Cincinnati Bengals players, and they can barely get through the class because it’s just a different way of using their body.
With my friends, it’s been a patience thing. I talk about the benefits and live my life. Then maybe one day they’ll come to a class. I’ve seen that happen. There’s more guys coming, so it’s becoming more comfortable for them.
Any honest way I can get people in the door is fine, but once they’re in my class, that’s when the responsibility comes. That’s an entirely different thing.
What’s it like being one of so few male yoga teachers?
I haven’t specifically encountered anything where there was ever an issue with me being a male. However, overall, I guess you could say that there are both advantages and disadvantages.
On the plus side, since there’s so few male teachers, we stand out more and sometimes people just want to take a class led by a man for a change.
It can be tough in the market if people are looking for the stereotype of a female yoga magazine cover model leading the class. Also, a lot of women just feel more comfortable with female teachers, especially when it comes to adjustments and things like that.
It also depends on the audience. When it’s teaching casual students, they just do whatever’s comfortable for them. When you’re teaching teachers, it’s entirely different. For them, it’s all about what you offer in terms of knowledge and experience.
How can yoga, meditation, and mindfulness help people suffering from ongoing pain or physical discomfort?
Studies of neuroplasticity show that you’re not just stuck with something. You can heal yourself, your brain can change, and you can change perspective. It creates a lot of hope.
For example, your relationship to pain can change. You might be able to create a little bit of space between you and the pain. That’s when you can start to really work with it.
What activities complement yoga well?
Anything that gets your body moving. Variety is important. It’s easy to get stuck in the limited role of “the yogi” or “the tai chi person,” just moving in one way and becoming stagnant. To be able to move in different ways is essential for emotional, psychological, and physical reasons. Your body is constantly adapting and wants to move in a variety of ways.
I’m a fan of having your practice being different every day. I do yang yoga. I like Ashtanga. I like to ride my bike. There was a time where I’d go to the gym and lift weights and get on the treadmill and run. Moving the body in as many varied ways as you can is the best thing.
Even if you do the same yang practice every day, you can approach it differently. For example, if you’re doing Ashtanga every day, you can do a 60% practice one day, where you’re just putting 60% effort in, where it’s much lighter. You can approach it really hard, or you can go much slower.
With yin, it doesn’t require that you do an hour. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling today? Where’s my energy? What do I need?” The goal is to know your body and what it needs on any given day so that you can customize your practice to suit.
Do you have any advice for yoga teachers or students?
Don’t hide from yourself. Don’t try to adopt a persona. Just be honest with yourself and your body. If you don’t have that authenticity, then you have nothing to offer. All we have is our own experience and if we’re afraid of it, how can we teach others to do it?
You can get into trapped in a yoga persona where everything you do and say, even the clothes you buy all have to revolve around this ideal.
Instead, we should take the philosophies, beliefs, and things and allow them to swirl around the mess that we are. Allow them to be our expression rather than feeling obligated to conform to a mold that isn’t us.
The best thing we can offer is our authenticity. There’s as many yoga styles and practices as there are people, so we all have something to give. But, you can’t unless you’re honoring your self.
For more information about Adam Stonebraker and his classes, workshops, and courses, please visit AdamStonebraker.com.