Yoga for Men: Breaking Down the Stereotypes
In honor of Movember.
Every once in a while I am approached by a woman after class asking me how she can get her boyfriend/husband to do yoga? How good it would be for his back/stress/insomnia. I don’t have the answer, my husband started because I had just begun teaching yoga and the classes were very small, so he was there as a filler, to make the other people feel more comfortable. From there, I guess it grew on him, and he works at the studio, so the classes are conveniently located.
When the women do drag their husbands in, they often arrive with an air of arrogance. They extend their arm for a quick handshake and in their eyes seem to say “Lets get this lame class over with”. Although I’m not a very competitive person, I’m always up for this challenge. My favorite part is midway through class when I look over to see him sweating profusely with a deer-in-headlights look on his face while his wife/girlfriend flows seamlessly through the sequence. I know it’s a little evil on my side, but it’s satisfying to burst another bubble of misconception that yoga is for sissies.
After class the men are always humble and grateful, and most of them come back. I’m always proud of them for getting through it and stepping far out of their comfort zones. I know it’s difficult to walk into a yoga studio, especially if you think you’re not flexible, and especially if you are a man coming into a female dominated space, but times are changing and we have one of the highest percentage rates of men at our studio. My husband often boasts to his musician friends about the benefits of flexibility and focus, and to the single guys about it being a great place to meet woman. What’s sexier than a guy who does yoga?
I’m not saying this is the case for every guy, we have lots of men who come to the studio, and several who have dragged their wives to class, but the reaction I get from most men is that yoga is lame, and not enough of a physical challenge for them. There are many different styles of yoga, but you have to at least try before bashing it.
As a personal challenge this month, I will go out of my comfort zone into the male dominated world of cross-fit and take a class with friend and coworker, Tom. The last time I was in a gym was high school gym class! I invite you to step out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself this month. Don’t wait for your body to break down before you take care of it.
The Science of Yoga
Stress has become a way of life. Whether the days are full of multiple goals and endless obligations, traffic jams and transit delays, complex systems of bureaucracy and finance, or an overwhelming array of in-person and virtual relationships, the pace of current human existence is bursting at the seams.
For centuries, sages have relied on yoga to transcend earthly limitations. Each meditative pose is an effort to identify pockets of pain that accumulate inside the body. Each inhale confronts suffering. Each exhale is an attempt to transcend it. Through this process, worry is replaced with loving-kindness.
Now, bodies of research are proving that yoga is more than a niche spiritual force for enlightened beings.
Yoga has the power to heal the world, one human at a time.
The Rise of Yoga
A system of poses, breathing exercises, and meditations that originated in ancient India to inspire physical, mental, and spiritual well-being first started to spread around the world as a form of exercise in the twentieth century.
For decades, in the US, yoga seemed to capture the interests of quirky, white city dwellers and affluent suburbanite moms, but over the last decade, it has expanded from the studio and can currently be found in public parks, hospitals, outpatient clinics, workspaces, elementary schools, military bases, rehab centers, and even airports.
In fact, the 2016 Yoga in America Study commissioned, by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, estimated that more than 36 million people were practicing yoga in the US by 2015, compared to 20.4 million in 2012. A staggering 80 million people are likely to try yoga in 2016.
The Origins of Yoga
Yoga is first mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient collection of Sanskrit poetry that is sacred to the Hindu religion, dating as far back as the second century BCE. Verse 48 of Chapter Two essentially describes yoga as a state of equilibrium.
In the series Introduction to Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman references the authoritative text on yoga to explore what it means to live a yogi life. He teaches that yoga is a path to positive transformation. Through a dedicated yoga practice, one can root out negativity and plant loving kindness. Citing Sutra 1.2, “yoga-citta-vritti-nirodhah,” Bachman describes yoga as a powerful tool for calming the noise.
While the validity of ancient texts may invite skepticism, the first professional-level medical textbook on yoga was released in the US in 2016. In Chapter One, “Introduction to Yoga in Health Care,” licensed medical practitioners recognize the importance of developing habits that balance emotions and modify unhealthy thought-patterns and acknowledge that yoga can play an integral role in preventing disease.