“Yeah, I know I should do yoga…”
It’s a classic refrain I hear from men of all ages and stages of life. They usually mumble it, looking at the floor once they find out I’m a yoga teacher. Whatever kind of fitness they’re into or not into, they all seem to know on some level they “should” be doing yoga and that they “need” yoga. But why is it so hard for men to actually do yoga?
Simple: most yoga classes are tailored to women–even the ones taught by men! How does this happen?
Let’s take the body type of typical instructors: they tend to be shorter with innate flexibility and often have backgrounds in dance or gymnastics. They tend to have wider hips with larger sockets, set more on the sides of the pelvis (perfect for doing the splits!). Long arms, short legs are a bonus in pretzel poses. Many classify as hypermobile, so getting their foreheads to the floor on downdog isn’t out of the question! In fact, if you take a look at some of the classical yoga instruction manuals, you will see what looks more like circus contortionists than everyday people.
If you’re a regular guy, you probably look at this photo and think, “ouch,” –and for good reason. Regular people–men and women– should likely not be doing the splits, getting their heads to the floor, or doing extreme versions of the poses which have somehow become normalized. Thanks, Yoga Journal, Adriene, and Instagram!
So, whether you’re a construction worker, doctor, IT dude, or a retiree, chances are if you make it to class, you don’t really feel like it’s for you. You can’t touch your toes, have some back pain, maybe a messed up shoulder. Then we get into the cooing teacher taking about “inner light,” some new-agey music, 360 degrees of mirrors, and the requisite LuluLemon yoga pants…OMG, go home and turn on ESPN, quick!
A Class Doesn’t Have to be “Yoga for Men” to Steer Clear of Dude Hell
First, you need a teacher who understands how guys’ bodies work in yoga and can coach you up on how to deal w/ your larger proportions and smaller ranges of motion–all without making you feel like some kind of yoga loser. Chances are that won’t be a hyper-mobile, 5’6″ female instructor like “Yoga with Adriene.” But how do you find a class?
Here’s a quick pro tip: the easiest thing an instructor can do is teach people with the same body type. Classes then self-select around that body type. If you look into a class and see a sea of bodies that match the instructor’s, all doing cookie-cutter poses, it’s probably not the class for you. What you want to see is a variety: different ages, different body types, and everyone doing the poses differently. While it doesn’t make for great #instayoga photos, it does lead to smarter yoga for better living.
No Mirrors Needed
It’s amazing how much less intimidating a yoga practice can be without mirrors everywhere. The fashion standards go down, but the inner focus goes way up! I guarantee once you stop taking yourself seriously, thinking of yoga as performative and looking around at other people, you’ll show up just because not only do you feel great after class, you feel so relaxed during class–even in the challenging poses!
Just Say No to Flow
Vinyasa flow is another thing you should leave for the gymnast and dancer crowd. Instead, consider a slow meditative style where the poses are more like martial art “forms” that are held for a while, so there’s actually time to adapt for your body and fitness level. For instance, your stance will likely be narrower than some in the class, but may (or may not, depending upon your hip sockets) expand gradually over time. And, by the way, there will be women in the class who also don’t have a gymnast build (like me!) and have to approach yoga differently. Yoga was not originally designed for 6-footers, but I’m proof it can be done! You won’t have to worry about a bunch of choreography with rapid transitions– just slow mindful movement which decreases stress, while boosting immunity, focus, and mood
Yoga for Men = Self Care for Men
Self-care for women is everywhere! Why are women just so much better at it and into it? I’ve heard a lot of explanations, but the one that resonates with me is this: women have to take on caregiver roles more often than men. Therefore, they experience firsthand what happens when Grandma can’t get up and down out of a chair or do her own shopping anymore. This incentivizes women to start self-care earlier and stick to it! I have a group of female students who started with me as new retirees and are still with me, 20 years on. It’s astounding how healthy, active, (and still alive) the women are compared to their husbands. I would say in the last 10 years, we’re finally getting more men into the class.
We Love Men!
I’ll admit it, we love our guys! They bring a different energy, humor, and perspective to the class. We miss them when they’re not around. The cool thing w/ guys is you can really see their progress in more obvious ways. Then the women go home and harp on their husbands that yoga for men is legit and that they should come along to a class. Every now and then, a spouse obliges. I always ask first, “Are you here of your own free will?” Answers vary, but many stay on. I know I’ve got them when they show up, even when their spouses can’t.