Women make up the bulk of most yoga classes today for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most compelling one is that the desire for physical improvement is something that resonates more with women than men. It is then fascinating to note that before yoga left India for its glossy makeover in the West, yoga was a practice offered only to boys, who would start to contort and bend their bodies from an early age as a part of, and not as the entire, practice of yoga. These boys follow a strict discipline to prepare their bodies and mind for a lifetime pursuit of an idealized state, often referred to as “samadhi,” which is too grand of a concept for a few words, but it could be understood as a total absorption of body and soul into the fabric of the universe.
Most modern men who live in industrialized cities likely do not think that such an ethereal pursuit is essential to their livelihood and they are justified in their skepticism. After all, there are certain masculine goals that are a lot more visible in our era: a god job, lots of money, a fancy house, etc. It is then not surprising that men suffer more stress-related diseases than women and often have a shorter lifespan. But that is not to say that men do not seek things to placate the spirit. In general, men try to find an outlet for their troubles in objects or institutions. Alcohol and drugs seem to draw more men, where talking about their feelings with friends (or an emotional release in yoga class) is something that is very womanly.
The modern setting of most yoga studios is quite intimidating to most men, too. Imagine a room full of women who are very flexible and a lone guy, covered in sweat, falling over after every pose. This self-consciousness, though an essential first step in the process of evolution, is sometimes too much of a burden without the right guidance from a good teacher. In addition, the outward flexibility in the appearance of a pose is something that looks rather feminine though the eyes of most western men, who generally are exposed to the big-muscle, sword-wielding warrior role model from an early age. Ours is an age where aggression is associated with ambition; stillness is viewed as weak. It is a wonder why most men try yoga at all.
Quite notable, then, when a close study of the ancient yoga texts hint at how asanas were designed with men in mind. Consider “siddhasana,” or what is commonly known today as sitting cross-legged. Here is the traditional approach to this pose: First, sit with the heel of the left foot pressing the perineum, the spot between the anus and the genitals. Then, take the right foot and place the right heel on the pubic symphysis, directly above the genitals. Insert the toes and the edge of the right foot between the left thigh and calf muscles. Sit with an erect spine and lower the chin toward the collarbone. Be sure to relax the head and practice “shambhavi mudra” by turning the eyes upwards and gazing at the eyebrow center.
The texts specifically note that siddhasana can only be practiced by men, but it does not mean that women are discouraged from practicing it. The equivalent practice for a woman is called “siddha yoni asana,” which is practice in the same way except that the left (lower) heel is pressed into the opening of the vagina and the right (upper) heel sits on the clitoris. This further elaboration of the pose is one of many examples where modifications are recommended for women, suggesting that the original approach was designed for men.
It is said that siddhasana regulates the production of the male hormone testosterone and helps regulate the internal body temperature. By stabilizing the two lower psychic centers, mooladhara and swadhisthana chakras, the prana, or life force, is directed upwards toward the higher centers. Blockage of energy within these two centers is responsible for many health problems.
Death occurs when prana leaves the body, and it seems that women have a greater understanding of how to manage the life force more efficiently than men, which results in a longer life span for our female friends. This phenomenon is observed in different cultures throughout the world. It seems then, that most men need the help. However, in a world where guys won’t even ask for driving directions, it is a challenge indeed for men to ask for guidance in the metaphysical realm.
May you find the courage to take the first step in evolution. Om Shanti Om.