Men & Yoga – From Apprehension to Appreciation
Men are overcoming their reluctance to step into the “feminine” world of a yoga class. In the US 28% of yoga practitioners are guys and this is increasing year on year (1). Many gyms and studios are introducing special classes and some guys are realising how a body-mind practice opens them up to a new experience of life. We have asked three guys to discuss taking the plunge into yoga and enjoying the all-embracing environment of Samahita.
Why Men Avoid Yoga
More men have been taking up Yoga in the last few years. A 2016 study by Yoga Alliance showed a split of 28% men – 72% women practicing yoga in America (1). The percentage of men has increased on the previous 5 years but still predominantly women and as women form the larger market the marketing follows them. This alone is enough to make some, uninformed, men perceive that yoga is a feminine form of exercise (depending who you ask). And with the yoga industry and related media heavily catering to women it may be easy to overlook for some men. But this is all surface, once we dig deeper and get involved it becomes perfectly clear anyone can participate and reap the many benefits. Attitudes are changing as many more men are taking up yoga and realising the broader benefits that a breath-body-mind practice can bring. Everyone needs, and deserves, the opportunity to relax, focus, develop mobility and strength plus much more.
This gender imbalance also explains another interesting fact: Many men have been persuaded to attend their first yoga class by their wife / partner. I’ve always enjoyed seeing couples in a yoga class side by side or holding hands in Savasana. It’s good for their relationship just as much as it is good for their personal wellbeing and health. Another great reason to bring your partner to your next class or retreat!
Overcoming Barriers and Discovering Yoga
From a personal perspective it never occurred to me that being a man would be a barrier to attending a yoga class, and of course it didn’t. Yoga was not as popular then (2003) as it is now (2019) and there was still a choice of teachers and methods. I had never assumed that yoga was predominantly practiced by women and that being a man would somehow be unusual or intimidating. (Admittedly I was drawn to Ashtanga Vinyasa as it presented me with a challenge and was definitely the most obviously male-friendly option at the time.) There are many reasons that men find it difficult to practice yoga. Firstly, as mentioned above, there is the widespread perception, among some men, that it’s for women and therefore not sufficiently masculine as, say, weightlifting or football etc. Secondly, there is the initial discomfort of working with a stiff, tense body in the yoga postures. Especially a body that may have spent many years training in sports or through a general lack of postural awareness. This explains how guys who may be highly motivated and accomplished in another sport or discipline find the challenge of struggling through a yoga class humbling and it is this sense of humility that tones down the ego, an inevitable and necessary part of development in yoga.
Over the years teaching groups of mostly women, with the occasional stiff guy, it’s easy to understand how some men may find it embarrassing. As a naturally flexible, nimble and energetic person I have not directly experienced this problem. In fact it was quite the opposite. Yoga gave me a way to express myself in a peaceful creative way which was just as important as the physical and psychological benefits. With this sense of fulfilment in the practice I seemed to have found my true purpose in life and everything else fell into place.
The targeting of men for yoga has often taken the form of workout-style practices like hot or power styles as a way of appealing to masculine tendencies, especially in a gym setting. This need not always be the case. The spiritual / philosophical side of yoga is a big draw for many male practitioners not merely to stretch and workout. A significant number of male yogi friends I’ve made over the years are deeply in touch on a spiritual level and devote much time to studying or exploring the philosophical depths and traditions of yoga. Even in cases where guys have initially taken up yoga as a purely physical endeavour they are inadvertently drawn deeper and find themselves on the path of self discovery. Increased levels of “feminine” traits such as empathy, compassion and sensitivity often follow and even the most macho men will find improvements in their health, relationships and interpersonal skills as a result. This is of course true for women too and the point is whoever makes the effort has much to look forward to.
To conclude: Yoga can be practiced by anyone; Don’t be embarrassed you will be accepted and sufficiently helped by a good teacher; The more people who take it up the better; There are many reasons to begin a practice but once there we’re on a new path to better physical and psychological health – there is no turning back. In many cases we are led in unexpected directions where our understanding and outlook on life can dramatically change. Whichever way you choose to look at it men need yoga just as much as women do so bring them along to your next class or visit Samahita.
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