by Stacey Levine
– For The Capitol Hill Times –
Steve Davis, the tall, reserved co-owner of Samadhi Yoga Studio at 12th Avenue and Pike Street is a proponent of nonviolence. He believes that for a better world, we should try to balance extremes. His daily life revolves around Samadhi: he tends to the studio’s business, answers queries from fledgling yogis, and during the four or five classes he teaches per week, he offers his students seasoned advice about the importance of knowing where your food comes from, or handling urban life’s maddening side with a yogic perspective, letting all the noise blow by.
In sum, he’s not the military type. Yet Davis is a former Naval Intelligence Officer who once pursued a military career and spent most of his time aboard aircraft carriers. He supplied secret information to tactical military operations sectors.
“I was a typical male. Which means I was a basket case,” Davis says. “I was very competitive and very one-track minded, out of touch with what I was feeling, and I didn’t do much emotional communication. I was not very empathic.”
A kid from Corvallis who wanted to be an astronaut, Davis went into the military, but a vision problem prevented him from training as a pilot. So he started military intelligence school. After four years of training – this was before 1990 and the Soviet Union’s collapse – he became an officer in the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic, and the Arabian Seas, with extensive knowledge of Soviet military hardware. As an intelligence officer, he had to keep up with relevant geopolitical situations, update his crews on the latest military threats, and brief officers. He memorized Soviet computer hardware capabilities. He worked to keep foreign planes out of U.S. airspace. With his colleagues, he played games with simulated threats. He constantly analyzed data from satellites, keeping abreast of what the Soviets were doing.
If Davis says he’s not the same person nowadays, he credits the change to yoga, which he first tried in 1993, and to Kathleen Hunt, one of his first yoga teachers. The two eventually married. Hunt is the co-owner of Samadhi, and a highly regarded teacher-trainer in the local yoga community.
“From the first class, it was transforming and I was hooked,” says Davis. “One of the biggest things that changed in me was this: I felt a great heart opening,” he says, circling his chest with his hands. “I had psychic knots, or to use the Hindi term, grahnti, in my chest before yoga.
“The way men are socially trained in our country,” Davis says, sipping a cup of herbal tea at Bluebird Ice Cream, “is to be so competitive. Yoga taught me to be a little less that way. Just the physical act of stretching took me away from the masculine dynamic where the side of a person that’s more introspective or feminine gets pushed away.
“I was originally incredibly tight in my personality and in my muscles,” he says. “And so when I first did yoga,” he says, opening his hands, “I physically felt a tearing open in my chest of this thing like armor. It broke open.”
Davis was stunned by yoga’s effect on him, and he still seems amazed by this practice, which for him is clearly much more than exercise – it’s a remedy to the problem of the American male gender role, which among other things, throws a cloak over many men’s individualities in a society that purportedly values individuality. For Davis, yoga is also a point of fascination and a way of life.
“When I first started,” he says, “I got some kind of access to emotional sensitivity, which I never had before. In my early stages of life I didn’t even have the capacity to commiserate with other people. And as a straight man, you act on your hormones rather than getting to know women. You chase after what you want and you don’t ask questions about what you’re doing.
“Actually,” he says, “that is the core of the military.”
Does Davis have any regrets about having been an intelligence officer? He says no, shaking his head. “It was a good learning experience. It was a big awakening to how the whole world works. The beautiful thing about the military is its efficiency at collectivization,” he muses. “You condition the individuals to break away from their individual desires and serve the group. You’re flying for 18 hours, there’s no room for emotion.”
“In yoga, you try to break away from yourself, too,” he adds. “We all know that the military has its many downsides – but it’s the power of communication and unification that’s so powerful in the military, and that made me realize how powerful a collective effort could be. I started thinking how great it would be if collectivization could be directed to something benevolent, not about war. Yoga’s saying there’s a unity already, but we’ve just forgotten it. The core of things is a united consciousness.”