Former wrestler uses yoga to transform lives

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(MCT) ATLANTA − This house in Smyrna, Ga., with its manicured lawn, tasteful Christmas decorations and plush confines, could be a fitting abode for Martha Stewart.

You don't expect to be greeted at the door by a couple of grizzled former professional wrestlers.

Inside, the irony thickens like one of former WCW world heavyweight champion Diamond Dallas Page's biceps. A Christmas tree wrapped in strands of twinkling white and blue lights stands in a corner. A collection of Santa figurines pack a bookshelf.

That air of positivity is necessary. The house is ground zero for the retired wrestler's second career as a fitness guru and, more poignantly, a possible last hope for his friend and former mentor, Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

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  • A way to escape addictive behaviors
  • Page is the developer, CEO, owner and face of DDP Yoga, a growing health and fitness company with a line of instructional DVDs.

    Roberts, who once taught Page the ins and outs of the wrestling business, is now the student, attempting to restore a life battered by addiction and physical and financial ruin.

    He is Page's work in progress, striding forward while occasionally lurching back a step.

    The living room furniture pushed aside, Page, wearing workout gear and a bandana, spreads out yoga mats. Tattooed guns − wrestler talk for pumped-up arms − protrude from a tank top.

    A looming figure shrouded in a bathrobe stands watching. Roberts, his salt-and-pepper curls pulled back in a ponytail, sips coffee and watches as a cameraman prepares to shoot their yoga session.

    "I have a lot of stuff to overcome," Roberts said later. "But I'm not going to go down, and I'm not going to give up." Known to wrestling fans throughout the 1980s and '90s as the menacing Jake "The Snake," Roberts resembles someone's dad or young grandfather. In reality he's both, a job he admits he hasn't handled well.

    Redemption is the reason he is here. The list is long of former wrestlers who have ended up dead or maimed, a fate Roberts is striving to avoid by shedding weight, trying to restore his body and overcoming addiction. Regarded by fans as one of the best performers of all time, his more recent televised appearances had been his intoxicated meltdowns on celebrity TV gossip shows.

    He is featured in a documentary "Beyond the Mat," drug-addicted, trying to reconcile with a daughter and still wrestling small-town venues. YouTube clips feature an out of shape "Snake" rambling incoherently at wrestling events.

    If all goes as he hopes, Roberts' next video highlights could play out as inspirationally as a "Rocky" movie.

    Unplanned yoga fan Page's newfound status as a health guru and practitioner of the smooth art of yoga was not planned.

    "The first 42 years of my life, I was a guy who wouldn't be caught dead doing yoga," he said with a chuckle.

    A potential career-ending injury led him to it. After ruptured discs sidelined him in 1999, doctors told him he'd never perform again. But Page was willing to try whatever it took, even yoga.

    Within three weeks, the pain was lessened, he was becoming more flexible and he felt better. He began tailoring a workout to fit his needs, weaving in rehab exercises, calisthenics, mixed martial arts and dynamic resistance. It morphed into DDP Yoga.

    In less than three months he was back in the ring. At age 43, he became WCW world heavyweight champion.

    Page partnered with pal Dr. Craig Aaron to craft the business and exercise program. Their book, "Yoga For Regular Guys: The Best Damn Workout on the Planet!" came out in 2004.

    After a slow start, DDP Yoga is thriving. Inspirational stories from clients such as Arthur Boorman helped him go viral.

    Boorman's YouTube video, with more than 7 million views, shows the 40-something disabled veteran using Page's system to transform from obese and barely able to walk to a poster child for reclaimed fitness.

    DDPYoga.com has a community of some 12,000 members. The biggest success story may become Jake Roberts.

    As Page's business took off, Roberts' life was fading. The men had remained friends and stayed in touch.

    Early last year, when Page was checking on Roberts by phone, he could tell something was wrong.

    "He sounded like he was near death," Page said. "I was horrified." A series of concussions Roberts suffered while wrestling had causing synapses in his brain to misfire. As a result, his hands and feet were stiff and curled. Roberts had ballooned to 305 pounds and fallen deeper into addiction, numbing his pain with alcohol and crack cocaine.

    He said he didn't want to live.

    Page offered him a way out. Without pushing, Page suggested DDP Yoga. If Roberts was willing to do the work and help himself, Page was there to aid him along with way.

    "I agreed to do it just to get him off the damn phone," Roberts said. "It's hard to hear the truth when you're an addict." Roberts received the DVDs and the accompanying dietary plan in the mail. But his damaged body wouldn't allow him to go from standing, down to the ground and back up again. He stuck to the diet suggestions, however, and lost nine pounds in 10 days.

    Page, who had documentary filmmaker Steve Yu in tow, visited Roberts at his Texas home and, with his permission, began to chronicle Roberts' progress. The first session showed how far they had to go. Huffing and puffing, Roberts was in such poor physical shape he could not do the exercises. After five minutes, Page ended the session.

    Roberts' shame tuned to anger.

    "Whether it was by design or not, it put me in a rage," Roberts said. "I was going to do it if it killed me. That was the magic moment." Roberts persevered and gave Page hope. The pair struck a deal. If Roberts agreed to do DDP Yoga and lost 30 pounds, Page would move him to Atlanta, help Roberts with his bills and film his transformation for a documentary. This would be a godsend for Roberts. He was physically, emotionally and financially broken.

    In six weeks, Roberts shed 30 pounds. He came off drugs cold turkey. Though he continued drinking, that would soon change.

    Into recovery Flying to Atlanta after a personal appearance, Roberts downed four beers and blacked out. He doesn't remember arriving at the airport, muchless finding Page and a camera crew filming the setback. Humiliated and furious, Roberts contemplated leaving.

    Instead, the next morning he called his doctor to request a prescription for Antabuse, a drug that makes the user violently ill if he drinks alcohol. Roberts also began attending recovery meetings.

    "I'm an alcoholic and drug addict," Roberts said. "I don't do things in half-measures. If I have a million drinks, it's not enough, yet one is too many. I know I can't drink." Roberts continues in the DDP Yoga program and has lost 50 pounds in total. The stiffness in his hands and feet are gone.

    Page said he knows the old Jake, "but I don't know this guy. This is a new one, a guy who wants to own his life." If this happens, Page is willing to make a place for Roberts in the company. The hope he could provide other potential DDP Yoga clients suffering from addiction would be invaluable, Page said.

    "Page, for whatever reason, is doing this to help me," Roberts said. "Maybe it's because he feels like he owes me something from the past or that it will help his program. I don't believe that. I believe it's because he loves me." Roberts' eyes moisten and he begins to weep.

    "This is the toughest thing I've ever done in my life," he said. "But it's also the one thing in my life that I really want. I would trade my success in wrestling in a heartbeat for sobriety and the chance to be a man."

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    FACTS ABOUT YOGA

    According to Yoga Journal's 2012 "Yoga in America" survey, Americans spend $2.95 billion a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment and clothing. Harris Interactive Service Bureau collected the data by contacting more than 4,700 people.

    • 16.5 million people practice yoga, an increase of 5.6 percent from the prior year and 43 percent from 2002.
    • The fastest growing group is 18 to 24 year olds, which increased 46 percent in one year.
    • 77 percent of practitioners are women, 23 percent are men.
    • 29 percent are 18-34, 42 percent are 35-54.
    • 36 percent, or 5.9 million people, have studied yoga less than a year.

    Yoga is a form of exercise that incorporates movement with stretching and mind relaxation.

    Yoga has its roots in Hinduism, and some studios include religious training along with the exercise. Others do not.

    Consult with a doctor before adopting new forms of exercise. Talk to yoga teachers about their training and certifications.

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    (c)2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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