Q: Having retired from the elementary classroom after 36 years (which included spending many of my waking hours working with females and having a wife and two daughters) I guess I continue to be drawn to traditional female types of occupation/activity. I have fallen in love with yoga and have been blessed with practicing in a studio with excellent, caring, compassionate instructors. All unique and different, all very tuned in to their students.
I am at a loss as to why more males practice yoga. Not sure if it’s the macho type no pain-no gain mentality or it LOOKS too easy and not worth the effort or maybe it's simply too intimidating. It's a tough sell to get any of my male friends to attend a class (and I even offer to pay!). I talked to the guy who started Broga-yoga and he thinks there needs to be an aerobic component to men's yoga and he believes the number of men practicing yoga will explode in the next 10 years. I hope he is correct on the latter but I disagree with his aerobic inclusion. But how to attract more men to yoga continues. For now, I just try to keep doing my practice and hope others follow. I appreciate all your insights and thoughtful responses at Yoga for Healthy Aging.
A: If you were to poll 50 men and ask them why they do not practice yoga, I am sure you will get 50 different answers. Some of them may be genuine whereas some you will fail to understand. Andrew Tilin has written an excellent piece on this very topic in the Yoga Journal Where Are All the Men?, and some of the reasons cited by him resonate with your reasons as well.
What surprised me is that this trend exists not only in this country but in India as well, the country that produced the likes of the Iyengar clan, the Shivanandas, Mahesh Yogis, Jois and present gurus like Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri (all of them male gurus). Last month I conducted a couple of workshops on Yoga, Ayurveda and Weight Management. In a class of 42, there were only 6 men (including me). When I asked the studio owner about the gender discrepancy, she remarked that she rarely had men in her yoga sessions. One of the reasons which I thought was true and genuine was accessibility to a good studio. Men who returned from work late in the evening did not wish to drive again in the traffic and pollution to get to a studio. And believe it or not, it took me one hour to drive to a studio that was only one mile from where I lived.
So what can we do to change the trend? Well, you have done your best, even to the point of offering to pay for a class. All that we can do is lay out the path; it’s for them to follow. Meanwhile you continue to be on the path as you are a role model not only to the retired community but also to men of your age.
A: As a long-time teacher, and a man, I have been curious about this as well. I just reviewed the Andrew Tilin article, and he brings up many good points that I think are true for many of my male students, or men who have tried a class or two with me and perhaps have not returned.
But I think there are some hurdles that exist right up front that keep men from even considering trying yoga, especially the impression that it is a woman’s domain—this, of course, despite its male dominated history prior to the 20th century. In addition, many men don’t think they will be physically challenged by the practice of yoga, if they believe it’s mostly about seated stretching and such. So we need to remind these men that there are many options today regarding intensity of physical practice that could fit their needs and desires.
The other common response when I ask a man if he has tried to do yoga is this: He says he’s too tight, while demonstrating a standing forward fold in which hands barely go past his straight knees. These guys don’t get away with this excuse with me, because that is exactly where I started! So I can speak to the dramatic changes that can happen in one’s flexibility if a man starts and stays with yoga over the long haul. And if we can link that to improvements in other activities they are involved in, such as golf, or improved concentration at work, we could have some success in getting more of these men involved.
And I do think the experience of tightness and pain can dissuade a man from returning to yoga if they do give it a try. This is such a paradox, because we know many of these same men would not bat an eye to play an aggressive game of basketball, get knocked around and even mildly injured, and head right back to the court the next week to do it again. I do think it is important to give men in class some guidelines regarding working with pain and stretching intensity, without calling them out. I have found that men are sensitive to appearing incompetent in class, so some finesse by the teacher is necessary to give them the info they need with out drawing attention to their practice specifically.
And perhaps having specialized classes for men may help. Just last evening I had a professional basketball player attend class with his girlfriend. When asked how he got into yoga, he mentioned a special summer series of classes that had been taught to his team at the studio. He found that helpful to his basketball skills, so decided to continue studying after the all-men’s class ended.
And as Nina and I know, sometimes offering a fella a free session can get them hooked for life. Don’t give up the men, because as most of us know, they need yoga now more than ever!