Diamond Dallas Page: Pro Wrestler Turned Yoga Pioneer

Diamond Dallas Page: Pro Wrestler Turned Yoga Pioneer

Much of the focus of StartsWithYou.com is celebrating and encouraging everyone to take control of their own life, whether that's nutrition and exercise, organization, relaxation -- anything that ultimately puts you in a better place. In this series we're calling Self-Starters, we'll be highlighting and applauding those who have taken an unconventional route towards producing something -- be it a product, a mindset, a gadget -- that can brighten the day of others.

It's not often that someone makes the jump from the rough-and-bodyslam world of professional wrestling to yoga instructor. And to boot, it's even less often that the transition happens simply by accident because of injuries suffered from the former career. Then again, there aren't many people like Diamond Dallas Page out there. There probably aren't many yoga gurus who curse as much either, but that's neither here nor there.

During his ridiculously successful wrestling career that essentially never should have happened according to most based on the odds, Diamond Dallas Page (real name Page Joseph Falkenberg) was beat up. Starting later in his career than most pro wrestlers, DDP shot to stardom in his late 30s and early 40s, a tough age for the grueling physical aspects of his sport. "Wrestling at the time was the most watched show on cable television," DDP tells StartsWithYou, adding that "out of the top 10 shows, we had four of them! I was wrestling 280 days a year, and I don't mean traveling -- I mean actually in the ring bouncing and slamming around. You're still a human being no matter how much abuse you can put on your body and how good of shape you're in. The bottom line is you're going to break, especially if you're in your forties."

And break he did. Years of using his body as a human missile and shock absorber left Dallas with two ruptured vertebrae and in need of some serious physical help. Doctors swore he'd never wrestle again, which you should clearly never say to someone with Page's mentality. No stranger to rehab, he was unable to do most physical activities, so his wife at the time suggested yoga to him so that he could build up his core strength and flexibility in order to do "normal" exercises. That went about as well as doctors saying he'd never wrestle again. 

"I said 'Yoga, I'm not f----ng doing that!' That was my mindset. Any guy who has a problem with doing yoga, I get that -- and women too, because there's plenty of women who don't like the whole spiritual namaste thing about it. For me, it was the mindset of ignorance and not really knowing, but I had to try it because it was the only thing I could do physically. It was necessity that brought me to it, and I thank God for it every day because it was the injury that made me go in that direction." 

"That direction" is towards yoga in its most basic form, and then piledriving it on its gentle head -- or, as Dallas puts it, eliminating "the whole spiritual mumbo-jumbo stuff" and making it his own exercise regimen. After seeing major improvements in flexibility and core strength from about three weeks' worth of traditional yoga, Page says he "started mixing yoga positions with rehab positions, and before you know it I was adding in old-school calisthenics to work my upper body and challenge myself. To me, regular yoga was non-invasive and boring. For me, being a lifter at the time, I'd lower down and hold it in the transition much longer, and I had to do it on my knees. Eventually I got off my knees. Then 3 second pushups became 5 seconds, then 10 seconds. So I basically watched the yoga DVDs, took what they were telling me and then just did my own s--t."

With his modified yoga routine helping him recoup, a new discovery came out of nowhere when one day, after working out on a treadmill, Dallas noticed that his heart rate was actually higher when doing his own version of yoga. "I figured out something completely by accident," he tells us. "It was all just to heal my body -- nothing else -- but I realized I developed a workout that was kickass cardio that will dramatically increase your core strength and flexibility with minimal joint impact." The reason it works is engaging as many muscles as possible at the same time, which causes your heart to pump more blood to help fuel those muscles, and hence increasing your heart rate. (Editor's note: Dallas had me do a 1 minute resistance exercise while sitting down in my chair using only my arms, and before I knew it, it was sweat o'clock.)

With a brand-new way of exercising under his belt, Dallas wanted to share it with the world in DVD form. And, being a tough guy pro wrestler, marketing was both as tough as it was key. "Right away I said 'Don't call it yoga because all your buddies are going to bust your balls.' I'm DDP so I can get away with it, so first it was 'Yoga for Regular Guys' ... and eventually it became DDP Yoga. And before you know it now guys who wouldn't be caught dead doing yoga are listening, and women too!"

Slowly but surely, DDP Yoga caught on big-time, thanks largely in part to some savvy storytelling on the Internet. The biggest success story of the workout isn't Dallas, it's a Gulf War vet named Arthur who was essentially disabled -- walking with the help of wraparound arm canes, knee braces and a back brace, weighing in just shy of 300 pounds. An email to Dallas with some photos asking for help connected the two, and with the DDP Yoga DVDs, Arthur began the program ... slowly. "I fell many times" it says in the YouTube video (which has more than 9 million views) documenting Arthur's story. But with persistence, he kept at it, and in less than a year lost 140+ pounds, and more importantly, the canes and braces and can now do full-on sprints, head-stands and other physical exertions he'd never be able to do in the past. 

When discussing Arthur, Dallas gets reflective and his almost pro-wrestling-interview-esque passion comes out. "To change that cat's life is f----ng incredible. And not just his! I inspired just that one guy, and he has inspired millions. He's inspired a kid who's 29 years old named Slim Gilliam. He was 601 pounds. I was his childhood hero and he watched Arthur go through this transformation, he got the program and told me about it, so I said send me your number. I called him up, and later we'd start to talk and he's lost 203 pounds in the first year -- and more importantly, he can stick either foot over his head while standing on the other. And this workout was never about weight loss! It was about healing my body so I can get back in the ring to live my dream. So how could I not be passionate about something that's changing lives on a monster level? It's f-----ng amazing!"

But if you think he's getting all self-important and preachy, think again. His next words: "On any interview I'm on, when I'm done I say 'Don't listen to a word I've said. If you want to own your life, Facebook DDP Yoga. Read what the people write -- forget what I'm saying. See what actual people are saying about it."

Results aside, what does the yoga community think about a guy who made his living driving people's faces into the mat with a finishing move called "The Diamond Cutter" now invading their turf? Dallas says he's considered "the black sheep of yoga," and that he's happy to admit what he's doing isn't yoga in the traditional sense. In fact, his tagline is "this ain't your mama's yoga." "My friends who are big time yogis, they get it, and the ones that are the snooty ones who talk crap, I don't give a f--k. I'm doing something that's helping and changing lives, and that's all I give a s--t about." It's that wrestler-turned-motivator spirit that draws people in, and has also led not just to Dallas using his exercise program to help the public, but also his former colleagues who are also dealing with years of physical abuse, and have also spiraled out of control both personally and phsyically since leaving wrestling.

For instance, Scott Hall -- who was one of the biggest wrestlers on the planet during his "Razor Ramon" days in the '90s -- after years of alcoholism and trouble with the law, needed help, and Dallas knew it (if you haven't seen it, watch this E:60 story on Scott to get some perspective). He reached out to Scott, told him to come live with him (along with Jake 'The Snake' Roberts, who similarly has lived with big demons) to get better not just physically, but mentally. For wrestlers who made a living high on adrenaline and less natural substances, traveling the world with money and power, it's a tough road to go down in the years after.

"I've got at least 15 friends of mine who are recovering drug addicts and alcoholics," Dallas says, "and my thing is, own it. It's putting in the work. It's the same as the workout -- if you do it once in a while, you're never going to get anywhere. You have to put in the f----ng work." Scott's time with Dallas has been documented through DDP's YouTube and Facebook pages, and for Scott to see the social media response with his fans pulling for him, it became even more of a motivator for him to turn his life around.

"These people care about me," Hall says in a DDP video. "It's amazing that there's people out there who cared about us when we didn't care about us. And continue to. That baffles me, I can't believe it." And so he went all-in and continues to work with Dallas -- and his progress is often posted for fans to see. 

Now hosting retreats that DDP Yoga enthusiasts can attend, Dallas says he's got contests and other initiatives in the works to help motivate his legion even further, and when he takes a step back and looks at what happened "by accident," he's simply baffled. "I'm 57 years young -- this was all just so I could hold back the hands of time. It's how I live my life and it's how I own my life, and being able to help so many people find that shift to get out of the rut -- it's f-----g incredible."

Mike is a news and lifestyle writer, editor, and producer living in NYC. Mike has worked all over the digital media landscape, from hard news to celebrity to television. He is also a new father, and a pretty mean cook who loves fishing on his days off.