Just five years ago Jared McCann was a bad-assed party boy, but these days he's a National Yoga Champion, on his way to becoming a yoga superstar – and having lots of fun on the way. “Even if I don’t do drugs anymore, I still like to party....I love good food, yoga, people and connecting.”
When McCann is on the mat, you can't miss him, bright green eyes, boyish good looks, and a focused yet playful energy - and a long lean yoga chiseled body, which has been fine tuned into National Yoga Champion material, in yoga studios around NYC. In fact, he is a two time U.S. National Yoga Champ, although at first he only went because his teacher at the time Tricia Donegan, the owner of Bikram Yoga Lower East Side noticed him, and told him “you're going to the competition”. McCann had no idea what that meant, but he knew one thing - he was going, since he was just a little, or a lot, afraid of her – and he loved it.
While McCann always seems to be a little bit surprised when he wins a competition, what's more surprising is that he is doing yoga at all, due to what some have called his drug-fueled party-boy past, although he has a different take on it. “I was more of a lost boy than anything else” he says. Lost because his hardcore partying was partially driven by what he knows now are excessively high expectations for himself, and an underlying sense of not understanding the purpose for doing anything. “Nothing seemed real to me” he says. All of which eventually led to his bottoming out.
While still drunk and high, he called his grandmother Honey, who he calls a “magic person” in his life, and asked her the question which had been haunting him “Honey what is real? ” In the midst of that call she told him “God is”. The next day she sent him Course in Miracles, he read it, did the workbook, and began mediating “I wanted to experience God”, he says.
Yet, without the booze or the drugs, he was bored and restless when a friend suggested accompanying her to a Bikram yoga class and it was “sweet torture” – a torture because he was out of shape, and sweet because it felt “great and familiar” to him. And it was here where he met Donegan who he says is “a high energy and driven person with no time for bullshit...and I met her at a time when my whole life was bullshit. And she wouldn’t take one millimeter of it.”
That was in 2007, and he did yoga whenever he could because he was turning his life around, and he knew that if he could easily fall into old patterns – “yoga gave me a focus” he says, but there's more - “yoga gave me a reason to remember and respect my body and myself.” Part of that process was yoga competitions, and the first time up he took third place in the nationals. Although when you talk to Jared it's clear that he loves the competitions “I love to push and challenge myself” he says. However, for him there is more to this than just the physicality of it, he found a community there. “I never thought I would win, just loved connecting, having fun and getting inspired” he says.
While McCann started out with Donegan doing Bikram, he has studied lots of different yoga paths since then – next came Ashtanga, and then Dharam yoga where he did teacher training. And more recently studying with Ana Flores, who he calls “the most badassed yoga teacher in the world today,” who he says has helped him stay connected to his spirit during his practice.
McCann spent May getting ready for the International Championships in June, where last year he came in third. Once again placing in the top three actually surprised him, due to he fact he was competing against some of the best yogi's in the world. So to get ready he's working on back bends, while teaching classes at Yoga To The People, where four times a week you can find McCann leading a class called Doorways to a Deeper Practicewhich he says is “basically a class on Scorpion Handstand.”
While you would expect this to be a class geared to more experienced yogi's at McCann’s level, or in a fancier studio -- in fact, this one was sued by Bikram for copy infringement, according to the New York Times-- McCann follows his own rules. Unlike other Bikram champions, he isn’t one of their instructors, doesn’t have an athletic background, made a pop album called The Dungeon and studied classical piano before seriously getting into yoga.
McCann is spiritual, it's just not something you will find him talking about in class. “I don’t subscribe to the spiritual lifestyle that seems prevalent in yoga,” he says. While you wont find him talking about what to eat, or what god is, he does try to create a space where his students can find their own way. “I do try to help my students slow down, drop what’s in their head, feel their body, and go within to find their own answers.”
Along with teaching at Yoga for the People this summer, McCann is looking for a location for a studio of his own, and perhaps running a few retreats. Of course he will be having lots of fun, since it is his trademark - and no doubt his students will too.
--Dar Dowling, for more of Dar's writing and art, click here.