Yoga for men? We’re missing the point

Here is DC yoga news that I feel qualified to comment on:

Washington Post Why yoga is still dominated by women despite the medical benefits to both sexes
Akula is like many women who do yoga and want their spouse or partner to give it a try. But the many myths about yoga stand in their way: Yoga isn’t a decent workout; it’s too touchy-feely; you have to be flexible to do it; men’s bodies just aren’t built for pretzellike poses.

Yoga requires a lot more skill that just doing repetitive exercises or jogging so it’s not something that someone is going to get a solid handle on in a few weeks. Plus, most males are coming from jobs where they have limited physical activity and their bodies are patterned into alignments (hunched over a keyboard) that resist yoga’s streetches. Most would not be in shape to play a touch football game. There are a lot of cultural barriers preventing men from joining the crowd at the neighborhood studio, as well.

The Post article also contains a photo gallery showing yoga instructor Adrian Hummell in a variety of advanced, even dangerous poses that would intimidate most practitioners, not just novice men. The visual evidence contradicts the main point of the article: that men should not be scared off by yoga. As a stiff, elderly male, I’ve been doing yoga for nearly 10 years, and I have not attained any of those poses. But that does not keep me from going back to the mat and the studio. If I’m in an advanced class and the instructor asks us to do a challenging pose, there is usually a process with some prep work and modified poses to build up to that challenge. I stay with the prep work and admire anyone who can reach the “peak pose.”

Cover art of Yoga Journal
May 1999

No where in the artilce does it state that beginner or intermediate classes do not require unattainable asanas (pretezel-like contortions). In fact, if a dude walked into a class and obviously could get into a pose, the teacher would modify the pose so that the dude could at least aim towards the full expression of the asana. Frankly, most of the women in these classes have their work cut out for them, too. During my yoga teacher training, I’ve come to appreciate that even simple yoga poses do not come easy when you’ve had no previous exposure to them, Detailed instructions for down dog can seem as if you are in an Olympic sport and you’re being judged for points.

During yoga’s long history in India, it was and probably still is an activity predominated by men. When transplanted to Western settings (United States, Canada and Europe), the first adopters were also male, but with a larger participation by women. The expansion of yoga over the past two decades has been due to women’s endorsement. I pointed out that in History through the covers of Yoga Journal, that the first male featured on the cover was Rodney Yee in May 1999. Yoga is now being used to market products to women so the media is reinforcing the stereotypes. We should not be surprised that most men don’t feel drawn to the practice.

This article,  A First-Time Yoga experience in Men’s Fitness, does a better job of giving guidance on taking up the practice: It’s one of the most intense and holistic exercises I’ve ever experienced. The story also had pointers to related yoga articles for men.