If yoga is the answer to everything, where are the men?

Yoga can help you with almost everything, according to devotees and a plethora of articles available at every turn.  I’m ready to agree with most of the assertions, with the caveat of finding the right kind of yoga for the newbie and an instructor who’s attentive to individual needs.  Given the right environment, yoga can improve flexibility and range of movement, and strengthen muscles that you aren’t using in your other “athletic” endeavours.  It can increase your endurance, improve your posture, and help you breath more efficiently.  Your balance may even improve, although I’m not convinced of that one just yet.  On top of that, it can promote two seemingly opposing benefits, boosting your energy while reducing your stress and calming the mind.  Yoga can help you develop mindfulness, giving you the tools to clear away distractions and focus.  If you google yoga, you can find yoga for anti-aging, yoga for golf, and a page called “Fix Anything” that has a long list of conditions that can be addressed by the appropriate yoga practice.

The message does seem to have gotten out there that yoga is worth including in your arsenal for good health and well-being, and that it can help athletes improve their conditioning for their preferred sport.  But, for the vast majority of men who might be intrigued and for many of us women as well, the culture and image of yoga until recently has been very intimidating.  Until I tried a few different classes myself last year, I was a yoga-phobe.  My experience had consisted of attending a class at my gym and feeling distinctly out of my element.  The yoga instructor would have the class get into a pose that I’d never heard of.  I’d watch her do it, try to get into that position and before I was halfway there she’d go on to some other complicated pose, with everyone happily following along except for me.  I felt intimidated, inadequate, and defeated.  Hardly what yoga had been touted to provide.  At least I didn’t have the additional psychological obstacle of being the only male in a roomful of Lululemon-clad women who seemed to know what they are doing.

Soon Grandpa will be able to join in the Tree pose

Soon Grandpa will be able to join in the Tree pose

But that is starting to change.  This past week I have joined my husband in a 5-week session of classes in yoga for runners.  It’s his second go at it; he came away from his first exposure to yoga for runners last fall convinced that it helped and was pleased to see the class offered again.  If he can be convinced, I’m pretty sure anyone can.  Men are still distinctly in the minority, but this class is a good example of employing yoga stretches and poses for which the participants can see a direct relationship to improvements in something that matters to them, in this case running.  The message that standing in the mountain pose improves your posture, opens up your lungs, and helps your breathing is something you learn in any introductory yoga class, but being reminded that this is critical to efficient running and should be incorporated in your running form makes that message really resonate.  There are poses (really stretches) that open your hips and stretch your hamstrings, poses that open your shoulders and stretch your IT band, and poses that strengthen your spine.  All without having to twist yourself into a pretzel.  You don’t even need to be able to touch your toes or stand on your head.  You can stick to simple, doable poses, combine them into your own routine (aka your yoga practice), and hopefully watch the positive results flow.

In looking online to see if the number of men participating in yoga is growing, the verdict seems to be … hmm, maybe a bit.  The ratio of men to women in yoga is more or less the same as the ratio of women to men studying computer science or sitting at Board tables in Canada, 10-20%.  Interestingly, one study reported that, percentage-wise, more men than women injure themselves while doing yoga.  The theory is that men are more competitive and will try to do things they can’t do or aren’t ready to do rather than just take it slowly.  I’m guessing that these are young athletic men in classes with young attractive women, taking classes that aren’t sticking to the more simple poses, but that’s just my guess!  I learned from my intense research (Google) that men are “tighter” than women, a difference that starts in the early years.  I hadn’t known that, although now that I think of it, you don’t see too many men or even young boys doing backbends.  The main message is that a yoga practice can provide men as well as women with benefits that complement their other athletic or exercise programs. It could become their only exercise program and still be a good thing.  They just need to find a welcoming class, get up their nerve, and give it a try.

Yoga_manMy guess is that entrepreneurial yoga studios will start offering more specialized classes, including sports-focused classes and classes for men only.  The number of men participating will increase, the yoga studios will make more money, and everyone will be happy.  Now if only I could be as confident that the number of young women entering the IT industry will increase or that corporate boards in Canada will start seeing the advantages of a stronger female voice.

Image source: menshealth.com

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16 Responses to If yoga is the answer to everything, where are the men?

  1. Pingback: Own your practice by bringing it home. DIY yoga practice ladder. | Badlands Yoga

  2. jane tims says:

    Hi. My husband surprised me by taking a Tai Chi class a few years ago. He enjoyed it, but I notice he didn’t return. I love the photo of the family tree-pose. Jane

  3. puravida says:

    What a great post, and I echo others who love the tree pose pic! Yoga for runners sounds intriguing. I’m just a walker and could use a good stretch (in both senses of the word).

  4. Roy McCarthy says:

    Just what I need; my flexibility is just rubbish these days. If I drop something I quickly assess its value before deciding whether or not to try to pick it up 😦

  5. Love the tree pose pic! Well, I am three months away from obtaining my Yoga teacher certification, and I loved hearing about your exploration.

    “Where are the men?” is a good question. This is a great article I found this morning that discusses the feminization of Yoga if you’re interested… http://www.yogaglo.com/blog/2012/06/the-feminization-of-yoga/

    What started off as a male only practice in the East has become a mostly female practice in the West. Pretty interesting!

    Our studio here in Milwaukee offers a “Stiff Guys” class, which is awesome for dudes specifically. The most important thing is to find the right style and the right teacher for you.

  6. You hit it right with ‘intimidating’ :>)

  7. A.M.B. says:

    I love the tree pose picture! One of our nannies started doing yoga with my twins when they were tiny, and I’ve kept it up with them. My husband participates sometimes, but I don’t think he’ll be joining a class anytime soon.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, AMB. My grandchildren “learned” yoga at day care, but it doesn’t seem to have developed into a serious practice for them! It’s more like, “Oh, I know yoga, we learned that at day care,” and then they move into their version of the tree pose. The reflective part, the quieting of the mind part, that seems to be missing. 🙂

  8. alesiablogs says:

    My autistic son has done yoga for at least 10 years! He knows more poses than I can even think of trying to do. Sweet photo!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      How interesting, Alesia. After reading your comment about Luke and his yoga prowess I looked up yoga and autism. There are many articles related to its benefits for many autistic children, given the right combination of type of yoga and approach of the instructor – just like for me! I can imagine it being empowering for Luke, on top of all the other things it may provide. My grandchildren learned their poses in day care!

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