I started going to Easton Mountain in 2009.  It was Memorial Day and Hot Nude Yoga was having a retreat.  I had been attending the (Washington) DC's Men's Yoga classes and decided it was time to challenge myself and be BOLDER.  Could be I be bold enough to practice yoga in the nude for a whole weekend? I didn't know until work ended on Thursday night that I would have Friday off and would be able to attend.  I called Easton Mountain, paid for the retreat, and drove up on Friday.  Yikes!  I didn't have GPS and got lost.  I was the last one to arrive, missed dinner, but was focused and determined to try.  My goal was to try to shake off my shyness, to speak to everyone, to be friendly, and if nothing else, to laugh at everything, including myself.

What an experience!  There were more than sixty guys attending, and we were jammed into the main room during every yoga practice.  There were some amazing yogis; and sometimes I wondered, "How do you get your body to twist and move that way?"  Yogi Aaron was the leader and his compassion and sense of humor compelled me to give my all in each practice.  There may have been just three yoga practices each day, but it felt as if there were five.  Yes, I slept very well each night.

Yogi Aaron divided the attendees in groups of five or six men.  We met in these groups once or twice a day, and these were the best parts of the retreat.  Each man in our group was given the opportunity to do self-inquiry and self-discovery with fierce honesty.  All these years later I still state that I'm a "quiet encourager," as I learned in my group.

Since that first yoga retreat I have been back to Easton Mountain a few times.  Each visit has left me stronger and more empowered.  For example, I changed my diet after one visit because all of a sudden I knew that I could.  I stopped going to a popular gossip website because I was asked, "How can you be free and a better man when you're laughing at others and their struggles?"

The last trip to Easton Mountain might just have been the best one yet!  I went to Gay Spirit Camp, and it was as if the "pieces finally came together."  They told us during the first meeting that Easton was a "safe space" and gave us a simple directive, "Please ask the other guy for permission before anything."  As I moved in that "safe space" I learned that guys can show each other love and affection and it wasn't sexual (or leading to sex).  We could kiss each other hello and good-bye, and it's a just a greeting.  We can hug and it's "nourishing" and not a sex act.  Or when I held a guy's hand during a workshop it was a  "bonding moment" and not leading to us getting naked.  Others may have already known these things, but it was all new to me.

Yogi was my introduction to Easton Mountain.  Since then Easton has been a place I return to over and over for enlightenment, fun, growth, and those things that help me to move forward in my spiritual journey.  I will always be grateful and thankful for Easton Mountain for the opportunities it has given me to learn, listen, and become a better man.

Ken Dean is one of the facilitators of Gay Men of African Descent, April 22-24.

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