Yoga, Calisthenics and the Journey of a Lifetime

by John Du Cane, CEO and founder, Dragon Door on January 23, 2014

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John, the Yogi who came in from the cold.

John, the Yogi who came in from the cold.

As a teenager in the sixties UK, I was highly athletic. I played wing in Rugby, had a mean long jump and high jump and could sprint like the wind. Two of my track buddies at high school went on to great fame: the iconic musician Nick Drake and Mark Phillips, who went on to marry Princess Anne.

I also loved weight lifting and was drawn to pumping iron. Unfortunately the strength coach/trainer at my school was pretty darn clueless and I would lift away without much direction at all—either from him or any literature on the subject.

What I also discovered, in 1966, was the just-published Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar—which changed my life. I used this seminal and highly inspirational book to teach myself Yoga. Scary, perhaps, but finding a teacher in those days was challenging to say the least. By age nineteen, I could pull off a headstand while in a full lotus, had an eye-popping ability to rotate my abs, as a ridged column, through 360 degrees, with the method known as Uddiyana Bandha, plus a whole lot of other impressive looking stuff.

Uddiyana Bandha

Uddiyana Bandha

Iyenga, “the Michelangelo of Yoga

Iyenga, “the Michelangelo of Yoga”

I enjoyed looking cool, feeling cool and being proud of what I could do physically. If that doesn’t motivate you to practice physical culture, I don’t know what to say…

At the age of twenty-five I finally traveled to India to study Yoga and meditation. Ironically, there in India, I switched my allegiance to Qigong and Tai Chi as my principal discipline for physical cultivation. The Hatha Yoga I had studied had had a transformative impact on me, but it did involve almost solely holding static postures. Qigong and Tai Chi opened up a different world that was motion-based and much more satisfying for me personally.

However, those crucial dozen years where I dove deep into Yoga gave me immense flexibility benefits that have extended to my current age of 64. For instance, without having rigorously practiced the headstand since my mid-twenties, I can still move effortlessly into a full headstand. Same for the full lotus and many other cool poses.

Naturally forty years of martial arts, kettlebells and other bodyweight exercise have helped me stay in nice shape into my sixties. However, I do believe that my years as Yogi John gave me a crucial foundation that I am eternally grateful to have laid for myself.

So, when Al Kavadlo presented his latest masterpiece, Stretching Your Boundaries to me, I was thrilled and immediately impressed by the spectacular way Al tied together Yogic stretching and flexibility methods with calisthenics. Along with Paul Wade, Al has been leading the inspirational charge in a new appreciation for the healing and athletic benefits of bodyweight exercise.


What I also love about Al’s work—and never more true than for Stretching Your Boundaries—is the aesthetic and the philosophy of physical culture he brings to the table. “Calisthenics” means “beautiful strength.” Strong, flexible, healthy, graceful body—with a mind and spirit to match. Al perfectly embodies that “beautiful strength-beautiful spirit” ideal, in my opinion. He brings a Zen lightness and equanimity to his practice. But he also brings the kind of sharp-mindedness and rigor to his physical cultivation that is another hallmark of Zen. We had Zen and the Art of Archery. Now we have the Zen Art of Stretching Your Boundaries.

I love, also, Al’s emphasis on the importance of joint health, circulation and breath work. The older you get, the more you need to move and breathe well. And nothing needs more movement for health and well being than the joints.

Just as Iyengar inspired me and millions of others to take up Yoga, Al is inspiring a new generation to improve their mobility, strength and health by integrating yoga and calisthenics in dramatic new style.

Let’s remember: we have the one body only to work with, a precious treasure that can be abused and trashed—or burnished, refined and transformed into an ongoing piece of living artwork. In Stretching Your Boundaries, Al hands you a priceless set of methods to refine your physical being. I urge you to take full advantage.

Yours in Strength,

John Du Cane

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  • Amber Lee

    John, I really enjoyed this article. I’ve found thanks to years of vocal training that my muscular control through my middle is more articulate, I was able to achieve several complex belly dancing moves with less effort thanks to awareness. I appreciate you sharing your story and look forward to reading Al’s newest contribution to the world 🙂

    • John Du Cane

      Amber, that is interesting! How about an article or a blog post on the subject?

      • Amber Lee

        John, I’ve often wanted to put down some of my thoughts on the subject, as well as how I deal (assisted by my coaches) with being a person of very long torso. An excellent idea! I’ll organize my thoughts.

        • John Du Cane

          Terrific to hear!

  • Sean

    Great article, John, Do you have any plans to release more Qigong DVDs? I really enjoyed Qigong Recharge.

    • John Du Cane

      Thanks Sean! i don’t have any immediate plans to do another DVD but appreciate the nudge:)

  • Karen Lee

    Nice article. Thanks for the insight into your roots! I’m really looking forward to this one by Al!

    • John Du Cane

      Thank you Karen, you are welcome and enjoy Al’s book!

  • Asatar Bair

    Nice post, John — and congratulations to Al on the new book! I look forward to reading it.

    • John Du Cane

      Appreciate the kind words Asatar and you will love Al’s book!

  • Really great “stuff”.
    I’ve been power stretching for many years myself.
    I call it stretching for stress since I do this while I watch my favorite sports of hockey or BBall.

    Staying “functional” after 55 is for most of us all we want but I like to believe I can still get stronger and more flexible no matter what age.
    Thanks for this great information which allows me to tweek my routines as I go.

    • John Du Cane

      Thanks Nicholas, let us know how the tweaks work for you…

  • Jack Arnow

    I now do calisthenics, bodyweight strength training and yoga, Like you John, I’ve found yoga to be very helpful, though I first started it when I was 60 and injured. 9 months later my shoulders and knees healed and I resumed my strength training. Meeting, reading and working out with Al Kavadlo influenced my workouts and ideas greatly. I can’t wait to read his new book “Stretching Your Boundaries.” He has already stretched mine. And John, your wise words above are always good to hear, especially for me, so I repeat “I love, also, Al’s emphasis on the importance of joint health, circulation and breath work. The older you get, the more you need to move and breathe well. And nothing needs more movement for health and well being than the joints.”

    • John Du Cane

      Really appreciate these comments Jack, thank you!

  • Wonderful post, Boss!

    I urge ANYBODY interested in mobility, calisthenics are just plain joint health to pick up Stretching Your Boundaries right now. It is THE complete bodyweight manual for suppleness and tension-flexibility…old school and cutting edge at the same time. I can’t believe how many useful techniques and ideas I got from the bastard!!

    My new favorite bodyweight manual, for sure….

    • John Du Cane

      Right on Paul!

  • Matt Schifferle

    It’s funny, I love calisthenics and pretty much any discipline that uses my own body as the primary piece of equipment, but for some reason I just can’t make yoga stick. I’ve done a few classes and even took a 3 month long class that met twice a week, yet somehow my body and mind kind of revolted against it. I always felt cold, tired and stiff at the end of a class. Sort of like I just got off the plane on the other side of the planet kind of feeling.

    Could it just be the style of yoga or am I missing something right under my nose?

    Thanks again for everything John!

    • John Du Cane

      Well Matt,
      Finally Yoga wasn’t my preferred discipline either as I indicated, because I like to move around a lot. I suggest corresponding with Angelo Gala about this, as he combines yoga along with kettlebells, running and heavy lifting.

  • Brian Collins

    It’s funny when I feel I’m onto a new progression in my training and fitness the kavadlos seem to have already figured it out!!! Thru Jiu-Jitsu, I’ve discovered and loved yoga and combining it with bodyweight exercises has been a boon to both myself and my clients. I will tear Into this joyfully as I have their other books!

    • John Du Cane

      Brian, excellent to hear!

  • zack

    How many more books do we need on stretching?

    • John Du Cane

      Zach, there are surprisingly few good books out there I think on this subject. This book helps inspire and educate in a novel manner.

  • jpujjayi

    john.. great journey… with more on the way… i like your style of writing…. and can relate to the exploration of yoga, meditation, and martial arts.. i also went to india when i was 25…in 1972, went to hardwar, and stayed for 4-5 weeks for meditation… i settled into yoga and zen/rinzai meditation during the past 20+years and it’s enabled me to continue on thru both hip replacements and two back surgeries… the recup time was quick… currently enrolled in 500 hr RYT program and studying FMS… plan is coming together.. you, ‘coach paul, al & danny kavadlo, along with the dragon door crew have been my 60’s rejuvenation… turning 66 on the 30th this month… i look forward to many years of activity and following the lead you all put forth… i am entirely grateful for the first page of CC that i turned and knew the path was there to follow… we never know the lives we effect/affect and how that will reverberate from and thru alll of us.. (this post sure got a bit longer than i thought it would..) best to all at DD… !@! jim perry

    • John Du Cane

      Jim, thanks for sharing your story here and for all your wonderful comments. It means a lot to me! Would you be up for writing u your healing story as an article or as a blog post?

  • Sean

    Another informative article and I just got my copy of AL’s new book. As someone else has mentioned I’ll take all the info I can get on keeping joints healthy and mobile as a result of the aging process and over zealous training choices made as a young’in. Speaking of books when the new pdf’s and CC3 coming? Paul…..? I get your a free bird now but you have eager learners awaiting LOL. Don’t shoot the messenger you created this monster 😉

    • John Du Cane

      From what Paul is telling me the new book should be with me in a couple of months:)

      • SEAN

        awesome,,, pre-order specials anyone?! LOL

        • John Du Cane

          There will be some kind of deal:)

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