I can't even touch my toes. Don't you have to be flexible to practice yoga? I grew up competing as an athlete and training several hours a day in a gym. Does yoga even count as a real workout or is it just stretching and breathing? Do I have to wear spandex to class?
There are several misconceptions that can keep men on the wrong side of the perpetual yoga fence. Today, our yogis tackle some of the biggest misconceptions about what deters men from hitting the mat.
MindBodyGreen: What's the biggest misconception about men doing yoga that you'd like to clear up?
David Swenson: There is a perception that it is just some kind of fluffy stretching when in reality it is that yoga practice can be have a strong physical component that carries with it a deep internal sense of calm. To be efficient on a high level we need to develop the ability to remain calm in the midst of the storm. Yoga provides that center.
Brock Cahill: The biggest misconception about yoga is that it is for chicks. Not even close grasshopper! Yoga is the most challenging discipline on the planet, not only because there is absolutely no limit to the physical challenges, (I have had severely athletic dudes in my class so challenged, butthurt, and frustrated that they threw their mat against the wall!) ...but the true challenge lies in yoga's ability to become training for the mind, and freedom for the spirit. These are not easy things to attain, but once you glimpse them, you have to keep coming back for more. That is human, and it has nothing to do with gender.
Vinnie Marino: Because they are not flexible or they think it's going to be this easy new age experience and they're just not interested. When they come to my class a lot of them say to me "dude that kicked my ass, one of the hardest things I've ever done!"
Michael Taylor: Can I pick two? One is that yoga is weird -- for odd-balls! The other is that yoga might give a good stretch, but we need to get strength and fitness elsewhere. For the first -- yoga is a health system, designed at a time when health meant our Whole health, and when we couldn't turn to surgeons or pharmaceutical dispensaries as a last resort. So there's nothing intrinsically weird about a system that gives us self-reliance and control over our physical and psychological well-being. No doctors required. True, some of yoga's teachers over the past few decades have been a bit strange, but the system itself is very straightforward and uncomplicated. My wife (and yoga teacher!) Tara Stiles is making this very clear -- and her approach is vastly expanding yoga's reach and impact now. It's not about adopting new languages, or anyone else's religions or philosophies -- it's simply up to your own direct experience.
Rusty Wells: The guys who think that yoga is a walk in the park are the first ones to drop like flies in my classes. It requires a perfect balance between building and stretching muscle and staying fully focused.
David Regelin:Yoga is primarily marketed towards women. Yoga magazines only show women on the cover, and have the glossy colors and overall look of a woman's magazine. Historically, in India, yoga has been a predominantly male practice. How it became known as a woman's practice in the West, I can only guess. I think people picked up on the flexibility aspect and saw it as effeminate. The way that people react to yoga is a curious thing. In the summer I practice outside in an area where people come to do their various exercise routines, alone or with a trainer. I usually start off with sun salutations with press handstands. People are always impressed by press handstands (folding forward from standing and lifting up to a handstand with straight arms and without jumping). Guys doing their old gym class push-up sit-up routines will come over and ask if I am a gymnast. When I tell them its just an improvised yoga warm up they're always surprised. People generally associate yoga with stretching and meditation (both of which are important integral parts of the complete practice). Yoga, as an ever evolving discipline, has over the last 100 or so years included certain techniques from gymnastics, calisthenics, and various other modalities, so accomplished yogis can pull off some pretty bad ass moves. The feats of strength aspect of yoga seems to sell guys on the idea of a yoga practice.
Bryan Kest: I don’t know of any misconceptions about guys doing yoga.
Derek Beres: Working full-time as an instructor for nearly seven years now, I spend so much time in the studios at Equinox and Pure Yoga that I'm not quite sure what outside conceptions of the practice are. But I have taught an introduction class specifically for men at Pure Yoga, and those guys immediately realized one thing: yoga is not easy! It took me an hour just to help them understand what a lunge entails, and they were dripping with sweat by the end. Yoga forces you to change habits, be they anatomic realities of movement or moral and ethical questions. That's what is so beautiful about this philosophy: there's never an end point like in Western religious systems (which result in a chosen people winning some reward in an imagined afterlife). In yoga, there is never any stop to growth, while at the same time there is plenty of room for santosha (contentment).
Sam Chase: That there's a kind of guy who does yoga, and a kind of guy who doesn't. I've worked with guys from Wall Street and guys from the Bolshoi ballet, from Olympic athletes to 86 year-olds, and just about every guy in between.
Noah Mazé:I think most men are afraid they won't be good at it, and we naturally compare ourselves to others to gauge success. This challenges the masculine ego, as things requiring strength and athleticism are generally quite accessible to men, and the bendy and strong women all around you seem to be better at it. There are certainly plenty of poses that are suited to the power and weight ratios of men, and those are easier to do, and plenty of poses that require other types and directions of strength and stretch that are typically less suited. There is no way to win at yoga, at least in comparison to everyone else. Trying to gauge your poses compared to the bendy and strong women next to you is not likely to improve your outer or inner form.
David Romanelli: I think most would agree that the biggest misconception is dudes think yoga is wimpy. I like to tell a story of Phil Jackson having the Lakers take a yoga class. They couldn't even do child's pose, because their ankles were so tight. Some of the greatest athletes in the world find yoga to be extremely challenging. So before you pass judgment, give it a try...if not just once in your life.
Stay tuned! Tomorrow we talk about obstacles to getting men on the mat!