Sunday, February 13, 2011

Yoga and Men

As a male yoga practitioner, I have long found it interesting that most studio-based yoga classes are dominated by women. Given the history of yoga in it's various forms, and how men dominated it, it's quite interesting to see the reversal happening now. The core class for my yoga teacher training, which started last week, is split almost right down the middle - 5 men and 6 women. The studio owner was excited, and said it was the first time this had happened.

Makes me wonder what it is about yoga right now that has attracted so many women, and not all that many men comparatively? I have some theories, but nothing that really feels like it addresses the whole works.

There has been some discussion online about the current issue of Yoga Journal, which has a man on the cover for the first time in nearly a decade. Media representations of yoga certainly have played a role in the great disparity in numbers between male and female yoga practitioners.

The discussion over at the blog Yoga Dork has an interesting mix of views. If you want to read a few rants by yours truly about consumerism, racial and gender stereotypes, it's there in the comments as well. Here is a snippet from the original post:

Meet LA yoga teacher and George Clooney’s cousin’s doppelganger, Matt Pesendian. Rumor has it this is the first time in 8 years a male yogi has graced the glossy face of YJ. Congratulations! Men are yogis, too, even if some still think ‘that shit is hard.’

Yet, as another commenter deftly pointed out, this yoga thing is also about accessibility. Matt doesn’t teach a separate “meat and potatoes” dude yoga, but he is, essentially, a man who practices yoga. A helpful thing when yoga culture in the West is fem-dominated. (it is. see Yoga Journal)

So sure, it’s easy to pick on YJ, being the biggest publication of yoga representation, currently, and in all fairness, we have certainly seen men featured within the pages here and there, and naturally we admire this gent, but you tell us, does this help you men out there more inclined to get the yoga-ing?

What do you think about all this?


dragonfly said...

I'm glad you posted about this. This discussion is interesting - and so HUGE! First of all, I really love the cover because of what one of the commenters said - he looks very peaceful - and present (gender aside). :)

I agree with you - I'd like to see more variety in the cover models. (Not only more men, but some representation of the variety of people who do yoga - and heck, maybe even a few doing modified versions of poses, come on YJ!) I understand the "YJ is a business" argument, but I think that's kind of lame. They should practice what they preach as far as possible when producing their magazine! (Having said that, I have a subscription and learn a lot from certain articles they publish.)

I'd like to see more of EVERYBODY doing yoga, and that includes more men. I think you said in one of the comments on Yoga Dork's post that asana is the way into yoga for many people - and I've come to feel strongly about this: yoga is an evolving system and we don't have to do it the way Patanjali did it (whatever that was exactly). But what I'd like to see preserved is the idea that yoga is a process of inquiry into how we can still the mind. If people get nearer to that place through asana, that's fantastic. I like to bring the other 7 limbs into it too! But I think more people doing ANY yoga is better than them not doing it.

I'm not sure having men on the cover of YJ is going to get more men doing yoga (ditto for any other group). But I would like to think about how we can do that. And then I'd like YJ to depict what's happening!

Brikoleur said...

There's been an ad on the metro that I've been looking at for the past couple of weeks. It's for a DVD labeled "Äijäjooga" which would translate roughly to "Redneck yoga." The taglines were something like "Required: the ability to breathe in and out, the floor being awfully far when trying to reach it, and a desire to balance mind and body."

It's coming. What form it'll take, now, that's another matter.

Kyle said...

I'll be 100% honest. I don't do Yoga because I think of it as a woman's thing. Yes, I know it silly, but hey, I'm honest.

Timmy Mac said...

I am the only guy who comes with any regularity to the yoga classes at my gym, not counting the male teacher.

I love yoga and have developed strength better than the barbells ever gave me, and I've gotten more flexibile than I thought possible.

That said, walking into that first class filled with women, I certainly felt like I was positioning myself somewhere between wuss and perv.

Nathan said...


I'm also a longtime subscriber to YJ. They do some stuff well, and that's why I keep getting the mag, as well as some of their online newsletters. Despite the drawbacks, YJ is still a good resource. Whether it remains a good resource in the future, I don't know.

"I think you said in one of the comments on Yoga Dork's post that asana is the way into yoga for many people - and I've come to feel strongly about this: yoga is an evolving system and we don't have to do it the way Patanjali did it (whatever that was exactly). But what I'd like to see preserved is the idea that yoga is a process of inquiry into how we can still the mind."

I totally agree. It's already morphed from Patanjali's day many times. And people like the Iyengars and Jois are offering practice through their understanding and their teachers' understanding of the sutras, which looks different for sure from the early days. They balanced tradition with innovation, and that makes so much sense to me.

Nathan said...


Yeah, there are some quite interesting targeted yoga programs popping up in the U.S. as well. Some are probably really superficial, but others might turn out to be good innovations, even if the "package" is kind of goofy.


Thanks for the honesty. I think plenty of guys have similar thoughts. What do you think brought you to see yoga as something only women do I'd be curious if there were some specific things that you saw or experienced, because that's part of why I'm interested in having this conversation.


Being the only member of your gender in a situation can be a challenge. I was the only man at my former workplace, and it wasn't always easy, even though at least half of my co-workers really enjoyed working with me and never made an issue about gender. I've had a few female friends who were in workplaces with the opposite dynamic and had struggles as well.

And with something like yoga, where your full body is kind of exposed in certain ways, it takes awhile to develop the focus to stay with what you are doing, and not worry about what the others in class are thinking about you.

Nathan said...

Also, here's a comment left on my Facebook page.

"Irina Almgren
Maybe the yoga classes are not "dominated" by women but are "ignored" by men? Don't feel "domination" is the word I can apply to the women who find the interest and create time to engage in this practice. Originally, yoga was devised to be ...practiced FOR men and some transitions are easier for men's bodies than for women's (try the sliding through, from downdog to the sitting, this is easier with narrower hips). More men are found in Ashtanga yoga classes. Look forward to having more men in a yoga class! Namasté!"

My word choices lately have sometimes been a bit off, so I apologize for use of "domination," which I agree isn't really the right way to describe what's happening.

Kyle said...

@Nathan - Good question, and I think Timmy hit on it. The few times I've seen a Yoga class or been in the same building, it's always been 90% woman. For me, it would feel odd to go out and be the only guy, or maybe only of two guys in a class of 20 or so. I'd always felt like I'd be a perv or a "girly-man." And I know, if these classes I saw had 4 or 5 men in them, I bet my attitude would change.

Also, I honestly have to say, for at least the two yoga teachers I saw, and I know all or even most aren't like this, but the feel good positive hippie chatter from them kinda was a big turn off. Perhaps thats because I come from a Zen teacher who said very little and zazen seemed very masculine and to the point. Is that common for Yoga teachers to talk like that?

Nathan said...

"Is that common for Yoga teachers to talk like that?"

I'd say it's a mixed bag. I'm also turned off if things are too surgery. I've had good luck with the teachers I have worked with, but all you have to do is check out a few yoga blogs, or YouTube videos to find the sugar-sweet spiritual rot being spread around.

One of the challenges, I think, with running a yoga class where you're doing a lot of poses, is that you have to talk more than a Zen teacher might, and you also have to balance directions and the rest with some encouragement for folks who might be struggling with a pose. This sometimes comes off as excessive positivity, especially if you have a class that has a lot of beginners in it.

Whereas if you have ten, twenty beginners doing an hour of zazen in a room, you give some basic instructions, encourage them not to worry about "doing it perfect," offer some variations on posture, and then every sits.

The dynamics are simpler, so there's less chance to drift off into unnecessary talk. Even my seasoned Iyengar yoga teacher sometimes caught himself talking too much, encouraging too much, and would pull back.

Pranavam Ravikumar said...

Very Nice Post!

Yoga Mumma said...

My husband is a big convert to yoga having ignored me practicing yoga here in London for over 20 years. He is now on a mission to get more British men into yoga and is planning to embark on his teachers training later in the year. He is already a brilliant practitioner and as the father of 5 a natural teacher and empathetic friend - I can't wait to have him teaching with me. Its so brilliant to hear about the ratio of men to women in your training group. Its long overdue both in the US and Europe.

Sara said...

I haven't read the YJ article yet - do they tell stats? I'm curious to know how many yoga teachers are women and how many are men. Also, how many big-name yogis are women and how many are men?

I often see that the grassroots yoga studios are started and lead by women but it seems that the big-name teachers are men.

BK Max said...

I remember calling my first Yoga teacher and asking, ''are there men in the class ?'' and I got a resounding ''of course,''
Well, I was the only one ...-in the beginning outside of my comparative inability and frustration (most of the class were practicing for a few years)I was often thanked for bringing a male energy to the practice. In short order it didn't really matter that I was the only male.

Nathan said...

"I often see that the grassroots yoga studios are started and lead by women but it seems that the big-name teachers are men."

This is interesting. I just took a look at Yoga Journal's conference teachers - which includes many of the big names. It's about split down the middle.

It might be true that more men have risen to the top than is representative of the numbers of men practicing. I'd be curious to know more about this as well.