If you have been to a yoga class recently, you may have wondered: Where are all the men? It is a surprise to see one or two men in a yoga class. The way the advertising industry has portrayed yoga, it is a wonder there is even one man in a class. Yoga is marketed towards women to sell everything from mattresses to yogurt to candles. It is always a woman seen rushing off to class in a chic outfit with matching accessories. The celebrities touting the greatness of yoga are usually women: Madonna and Gwyneth Paltrow. When Madison Avenue uses a picture of someone (a woman), the posture is always a ballet like super flexible out of reach for most mortals yoga posture. It is easy to understand a man’s reluctance, or anyone’s reluctance, to sign up for a class. But if you look behind all the salesmanship, the true picture of yoga emerges.
Yoga is a physical and mental discipline that improves flexibility and balance, increases strength, as well as calming and focusing the mind. In fact, the postures, breathing, and philosophy of yoga were designed by men, for men. In the 5,000 year history of yoga, it is only in the last 50 years that women began to study and attend yoga classes. In the last few years, as the news of the unsurpassed physical and mental benefits of yoga spreads, more men are reclaiming their space on the mat, and enjoying a yoga practice. These men have discovered: real men do yoga.
Two of these real men shared their reasons for beginning yoga, why they like it, and what advice they give to other men about yoga. Pete is in his early sixties and has just retired. He has been taking yoga classes for about a year now. Pete faithfully attends class once a week and has steadily progressed into an advanced class. Bob is in his early forties, and is the head of the health education department for a school district. He also coaches a hockey team and is active in many sports. He has been coming to mixed level yoga classes once a week now for almost 6 months.
Why did you decide to try a yoga class?
Pete: I decided to take yoga classes as a means of improving my Tai Chi. My first experience with yoga was a result of my Tai Chi classes. My teacher and I would first practice the form, then do sparing, using the Tai Chi postures for offensive or defensive moves. Typically, after beating each other up for an hour or more, we would do restorative yoga postures so we would have enough energy to drive home. We would also do a series of yoga positions for core strengthening, stretching and balance. When my Tai Chi teacher moved further into the city, and it became impractical for me to get to his classes, I decided to take my wife’s suggestion (She has practiced yoga for 5 years and credits it with keeping the symptoms of her fibromyalgia at bay.) and take yoga classes.
Bob: I decided to do yoga because my chiropractor/physical therapist recommended it to me. I was probably going to see him 8x a year mostly for my neck. I played 4 sports in high school and 2 sports in college and still remain active in sports today. However, stretching was something I never took serious enough. My lack of flexibility can probably be attributed to this, and causes most of my aches and pains.
Do you feel yoga is helping you? In what way?
Pete: Yoga has helped me with my core strength, my flexibility and my balance. It has also helped in my breathing, and with my ability to look inward and be more meditative. In addition, since I am the only male in an advanced class of all females, it has also taught me humility.
Bob: Absolutely, I notice the difference every week. I really noticed when I missed 2 weeks how awful my body felt. This was the reason why I joined up again.
Would you recommend yoga classes to other men, your friends?
Pete: Yes I would, and yes I do.
Bob: I tell my friends all the time that I do yoga and I swear by it. Of course – you get that look when you tell a guy that you do yoga – it’s that stereotype that it’s a woman thing. I think most men don’t know what yoga is all about. It helps me relax, improves flexibility (still have a long way to go), and if I wanted to focus on strength, it would help with that as well. I am always willing to try anything new. My chiropractor kept telling me you should try yoga – Finally after a year of him telling me this, I decided to give it a try. I haven’t seen him since May.
What would you tell men specifically about yoga? Why they should take it, what it is like, etc…
Pete: I would first tell men that yoga is not just for women. I would also tell them that doing yoga will certainly make them better at any endeavor (sport or life activity) where they need core strength, flexibility or balance. If they doubted that yoga is for them I would say, wouldn’t it be great to be able to reach into the dishwasher first thing in the morning without putting your hand on your knee for support.
Bob: It can help you relax if you have a long day at work. It definitely helps you improve your flexibility and core strength. You get what you want out of yoga – everyone in class is at a different level and has different reasons for taking the class. If young athletes realized how much they could improve their performance by increasing their flexibility and core strength, you would see more males taking yoga. Yoga and core strength training are closely related, and the emphasis in training athletes today is on the core. So, athletes are doing yoga moves in core building exercises, but not realizing its yoga.
Why do you think men seem a little reluctant to try yoga?
Pete: Most men think that yoga is just for women. I think this is in part because men do not realize the physical strength needed to do many of the asanas (the poses). In addition, more women do take yoga than men so it takes a pretty secure man to go into a yoga class that might be all females. Yoga is also very much about getting in touch with yourself, something that men are missing the gene for.
Bob: Guys won’t buy into yoga until professional athletes and/or trainers start singing its praises. When an athlete like Tim Thomas (goalie for the Boston Bruins) comes out and credits yoga for his success, it opens people’s eyes.
Pete: I think men would take a yoga class if it were presented as a sports yoga class, “improve your golf swing in five easy positions”.
Ignore the hype, and listen to advice from two men who have improved their lives with a regular practice. Improve your golf, tennis, soccer, hockey or football game. Improve your physical and mental health. Give yoga a try. Take a class and discover for yourself why growing numbers of real men do yoga.