Quick to laugh, and easy in his skin, one would not surmise that life threw Kevin Lamb a few serious curve balls early on. YogaCity NYC's Kathleen Kraft sat down recently to talk about his journey, his profound gratitude toward his work at The Ali Forney Center, which provides transitional housing, food and services to gay and transgender youth; his training as a pre-natal yoga instructor; and the “socially minded” international retreats he leads.
Kathleen Kraft: How did you discover yoga?
Kevin Lamb: I had been drawn to yoga when I was studying musical theater at a very intense conservatory in DC. At the same time there was a lot going on at home—my mom had a nervous breakdown—both of my parents had very rough second marriages. And my younger sister was diagnosed with MS. I took all of this on and began having stress-induced seizures. I had to take time off and was on heavy-duty medications and hated the feeling of that—that was how I got drawn to yoga initially. I don’t talk about this often and I sometimes forget that was how I got started, but I think I should share it more often because it’s so important.
When I finally took a yoga class I realized that a stretch and alignment class I’d taken as a dance elective was very similar. I started taking classes in Ashtanga and Hatha and really enjoyed it. Eventually I decided to train in Hatha to see where yoga led me. A good friend was moving to Hawaii and invited me to come along with him so I decided to go.
KK: Eventually you moved back to NYC?
KL: Yes, I came back to the east coast when my grandmother became terminally ill. I started studying at Stella Adler and left my yoga practice behind. Well contrary to popular belief, it’s really hard to become an actor in New York City! Although I got some gigs, I took things personally… “I’m not good enough,” “I’m too gay”—that was a big one, and so on. Eventually I got back into yoga.
I remember going to my first class in a long while, and the energy was so good. As we sat in meditation I started to cry and remembered an experience I’d had on my mat at college as I was going into a forward fold—the words This is the way literally came into my mind. This is how our lives unfold, right? The concealment and then the revelation… the beauty of the lotus flower…
KK: Your studio classes are a compelling blend of spirituality, detailed anatomy cues, and fun. It’s a great combo--how did your voice develop?
KL: I think that fun is a really important and forgiving part of the practice especially in this culture where we use so many things to punish ourselves. I feel firmly that yoga is for everyone, and if you give yourself the time and take it seriously, but mostly if you respect the play…the lila, you’ll find it deeply valuable and very necessary.
KK: Not many men are certified pre-natal teachers. How did that happen?
KL: It was the biggest surprise of my practice. Two of my clients wanted to continue working with me during their pregnancies. And Jennifer Pettit, a brilliant teacher, kept urging me to take the training, so I did.
My physical practice changed astronomically when I started learning about the pelvic floor. We have so much deep shame and are taught not to talk about our genitalia, especially women. The training gave me permission to explore my sex, my genitals, my sexual energy/sexuality in a physically tactile way.
A mature, scientific, experimental way, one in which I could blend my emotional and philosophical study with acceptance and strength from some old, unrecognized wounds. I don't mean to dramatize it at all, because it was beautifully subtle yet wildly transformative. When we explore the pelvic floor we begin the work resetting our bodies back to their optimal blueprint.
KK: Talk about your work at The Ali Forney Center.
KL: When I came out I was loved and supported, and I know what a gift that is. And I’ve seen the opposite andit’s horrific. The psychological abuse. Ali Forney is there to support these people, which is amazing. I would go and we’d talk about philosophy or sex, and sometimes we’d practice and sometimes we wouldn’t. They’d been told they weren’t worthy and had to earn love. They had been pushed down. Are still being pushed down. They had no or very few role models, and they still get back up and walk strong. I saw strength in those kids that is unparalleled.
Most of them are under 20. I can’t even imagine it—people calling me a faggot when I step out of my door, walking behind me and threatening violence.
KK: When you reflect on it, is there a kid you saw change?
KL: There was a young transgender man who went through a transition and slowly started dressing in a more feminine way and eventually asked to be addressed by a feminine name. Sometimes she would come in and lie down in savasana for the whole class, and I let her do that. Creating a safe breathing space for that community was really important.
KK: You have an upcoming retreat in Nicaragua. Tell us about the non-profit work connected to it.
KL: I’ve been very lucky to work with a brilliant woman, Stacy Clarke who is now bringing people to different parts of the world for yogic experiences with the opportunity to support local communities. For example, we hike upcountry where we have lunch and a tortilla-making lesson at a women’s farm, a rare thing in Nicaragua which is a deeply machismo society. Part of the proceeds from retreat go to them. There’s also a library bus, also started by a woman, which provides fun literature about female empowerment.
KK: You wrote a post about abhaya or living in relationship with your fear, being in communication with that which scares you most. How does yoga help? How does writing support it?
KL: The repetition of the asana practice has brought me the opportunity to see my body and mind-habit in repetition, both comforted as well as challenged. It's in these moments that I've been able to recognize my body's deeper patterns. Having a journal, a space to write these observations down shortly after they occur, has been a wonderful resource in honoring the recognition as well as marking down my process. Being able to read and see my individual path has only aided in the work. Giving concrete words to my journey.
-- Kathleen Kraft
Kevin Lamb and Kathleen Kraft will be guiding a Yoga and Writing workshop at Twisted Trunk on March 28, 2015.