Everyone, men and women alike, needs to find their niche workout, and doing so can be hard with so many choices available, from boxing to CrossFit.
Recent years have witnessed a rise in the popularity of yoga, which was first introduced to Westerners on a large scale in the 1970s. Yoga, which combines physical fitness with mental and emotional wellbeing, is for many people a way of life that extends beyond the tangible realm into the spiritual and can be completely transformative. Yet somehow over the past few decades it has become far more popular among women than men. In a 2012 Yoga Journal survey of more than 20 million people who practiced, only approximately 18 percent were men.
“It seems to be perceived as a feminine activity,” said Balanced Yoga instructor Greg Fisher. “I think it’s the result of the hyper-macho mentality that our culture seems to have adopted for some reason about what it ‘means to be man.’ To me, that’s a shame because men in general seem to be so uptight, reactive and hardened that yoga could be a huge benefit to them.”
Many styles of yoga, like Baptiste and Ashtanga, are very rigorous, with extensive upper-body strength training. Yet, unlike a game in which one is told to “leave it all on the field,” yoga is meant to be taken off the mat and into the real world, with a sustaining routine one can use for years to come.
Ryan Bauer, owner of The Art of Yoga, pointed out that it’s really a misnomer to call yoga a “workout,” as one of the key aspects of yoga is to treat it as a personalized, ever-evolving practice.
“All other forms of exercise concentrate on achieving a goal or a competitive aspect, where with yoga, you are quite simply practicing yoga for your own benefit,” Bauer said. “With yoga there is no finish line. You can achieve perfect form, new poses, take more advanced classes, but you are still practicing yoga.”
Competitive sports and so-called “manly” activities like weightlifting have skewed things further. Take for instance the “Dodge Law” car commercials. Men walk out of a yoga class and are accosted by the mainstream idea of what a man should look like, with the narrator commenting that there are “some things you just don’t do in a Dodge.”
“I was afraid to try it out,” Fisher said. “I felt like it was some kind of weird, new-age, mystical nonsense, or I was afraid my friends would make fun because yoga was for girls. After the first class, I was sold. I’d never felt so good physically or so calm mentally in my entire life to that point.”
Mental clarity, or what many call the “yoga high,” is a feeling of euphoria that many experience after a class, but the perceived physicality of the practice can be intimidating for some and cause them to avoid yoga altogether. It’s daunting to go to one’s first session and see people twisting themselves into pretzel-like shapes, knowing you can barely touch your toes. Some people are naturally flexible or fearless, but for the majority of us, the strength and flexibility come with time.
For men (and women) who are involved with other athletic endeavors, yoga can be the perfect pairing. Balanced Yoga instructor Daniel Snider explained further:
“Yoga is great for gymnastics, aerial training, acrobatics, rock climbing and any repetitive motion exercise. It is naturally complementary to other exercise mainly because it helps establish symmetry through the body. It helps reinforce good posture, body mechanics and a positive state of mind.”
Yoga has been around in some form or another for millennia because it works. The practice has evolved over time to meet the current needs of society, but the roots of the original practice stand out as a firm backbone in an otherwise fluid phenomenon. What that means—don’t be intimidated by posture names like “Ardha Padmasana,” “Parsva Upavistha Konasana” and “Prasarita Padottanasana.” Many instructors nowadays freely switch back and forth between Sanskrit and English.
Like weightlifting or running, no one is going to be great his first time. That’s the beauty of yoga: there is no specific goal, no end destination, only the journey of self-discovery through practice. And that transcends gender bias.
“Yoga doesn’t just offer the prospect of improving balance and flexibility for athletes, it also offers the opportunity to train proper breathing patterns, improve core stability and regain mental focus,” Bauer said. “Once men adopt a yoga practice in their life, I think there is no mistaking that yoga is not a gender-specific activity. Men can find yoga to be just as challenging physically as any other activity.”
– Adam Ambro