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Men and Yoga

Men and Yoga

 

The other day on Facebook someone posted a link to this article from the Washington Post about the low number of men in yoga classes:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/why-yoga-is-still-dominated-by-women-despite-the-medical-benefits-to-both-sexes/2013/10/21/a924bed2-34f5-11e3-80c6-7e6dd8d22d8f_story.html

The top picture tells you a lot. Most men would not care to try a pose like that, even if they could do it.

Being a male yoga teacher this topic is of regular interest to me. The two other men in my yoga teacher training addressed this topic in their final papers. But I think the most obvious reasons yoga is dominated by women seem to get unnoticed.

I had a kind of point by point response written out to parts of the article but I think that would violate fair use laws and honestly I think I’m the only person who really likes to hear me go on, and on.

Within a day of reading this article a friend on Facebook posted an image that showed actors who have played super heroes in movies that do yoga as an attempt to encourage men to try it out. I think this touches on one of the main points of why men don’t do yoga.

The public image of yoga is concentrated on the physical practice. Not only that, but the many pictures of people in yoga poses always seem to be the most extreme or advanced postures. The need for great flexibility to reach these is something that most Western men lack.  So the public image of yoga is due to the fact that it is presented just as that, women in contortionist poses. Poses that most men would not care to even try.

Now this article talks about yoga as a workout and that seems to be the main angle which yoga is promoted, as a physical fitness practice. The problem with that is that men who want to work out want to do so to gain muscle mass (it’s about looking strong like a man should). And there are better ways to do that then yoga. The physical practice of yoga does require strength in the more advanced postures, but it’s not a brute force strength like lifting weights. It requires a listening to and working with your body, and this goes against what we’re taught it means to be a man in this country. Men don’t give in, they fight. Men don’t listen, they conquer.  I may be taking it to an extreme, but this is the image of what it means to be a “man” in our society. This can be seen in the fact that most men who practice yoga end up in systems that lean more to the physical practice and in a vigorous way, like power vinyasa or Bikram.

So to sum it up before I go on for so long that I put you to sleep, in my humble opinion the two main reasons men don’t do yoga are:

  1. The public image of yoga (go look at any issue of Yoga Journal) is dominated by women and advanced poses that most men can’t do, or maybe wouldn’t even want to.
  2. You can’t go into a yoga practice and just muscle through. And a class that encompasses the larger body of yoga (meditation, looking inward), is something that goes right up against the image or idea of what a “real man” is in our society.

I’ll tell you right now it is intimidating to be in a room full of women and stay in my practice and not be worried about whether my manly image will be tarnished. Whether I’ll look like less of a man if I can’t do so many of the poses I can not do. It is not easy, and it is I think the biggest hurdle for men in yoga.

I have no idea what solutions there are. We can’t really have a wings and beer yoga class.  But maybe classes just for men is an idea. I hate to try and be exclusive and not inclusive, but creating a space where men can try it out without having to worry about how they look in the eyes of women could be good first step for many.

I think about this kind of stuff way more often than is probably healthy. But as a fairly tight man who can’t get into advanced poses (I think more experienced teachers would characterize my physical practice as intermediate at best), and focuses on the more meditative inner workings of yoga, I often wonder if I belong in an industry dominated by women and poses for more flexible bodies than mine. But I’ll continue to fight the power.

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