Why men don’t get yoga…

I’ve been doing yoga for over two decades now.

I started because I was getting chronic back pain from several metal plates screwed into my lower spine – the residue of a car accident in which I was a passenger in a car that got totalled after hitting a telegraph pole.

Yoga fixed the back pain, and I discovered a whole lot of other benefits too, including increased flexibility, better breathing (larger lung capacity), a sense of calm, and regular yoga reduces your appetite. You don’t feel as hungry. It’s as though the yoga re-configures your digestive system so that you need less food to operate efficiently. Consequently you lose weight.

The thing that a lot of people, especially men, don’t understand about yoga – you get the same benefits whether or not you do a pose perfectly, or whether you just attempt the pose. In other words, you don’t need to be an elite practitioner to get benefits from yoga.

For about six years I was a devotee of Bikram Yoga. It’s very hard-core, very intense, and it’s done in a hot room – the temperature up around 38C, if I remember right. And I’ll tell you, it’s damn hard!

Bikram Yoga is done to a very strict routine, and to a “narration” which has to be followed exactly, word for word. If the teacher, who runs the class, is even out one sentence, then that teacher can be expelled from ever teaching Bikram again.

I loved the rigour of Bikram. I loved it so much I was seriously going to do the teaching course in Los Angeles. On the occasions I was in LA  for work, I did classes there, and the teaching course was reputed to be incredibly tough. That appealed to me. But then Jennifer and I moved out of Sydney and there were no Bikram schools in Mudgee, so I haven’t done it since. But I still keep up a daily practice at home – and each day I feel better for it.

Here is an article from the Washington Post. It makes for interesting reading…

At a recent visit to a yoga studio, I watched as practitioners breathed, bent, twisted and stretched their way to a happier state. They left more relaxed, more energised, with better posture and a renewed outlook. But there was one curious thing: of the 24 people in the room, only four were men.

Yoga devotees say that this disparity is not unusual, no matter the time of day. Typically, they say, the ratio of women to men rarely goes much below 80-20. In fact, a 2012 survey byYoga Journal found that of the 20.4 million people who practise yoga in the United States, only 18 per cent of them were men.

Why don’t men do yoga?

“My husband said he felt bored,” says one woman whose partner was visiting the Washington studio on a day off. “He didn’t let himself enjoy it.”

She is like many women who do yoga and want their spouse or partner to give it a try. But the many myths about yoga stand in their way: Yoga isn’t a decent workout; it’s too touchy-feely; you have to be flexible to do it; men’s bodies just aren’t built for pretzel-like poses.

Adrian Hummell has heard all the excuses.

“What happens is, a guy who doesn’t know about it associates it with things like pilates or aerobics,” says Hummell, who has been doing yoga for the past three years and now teaches Bikram yoga, a particularly strenuous form of the practice, in Maryland. They think of it as a “women’s workout”, he says.

“It’s almost a joke when guys say, ‘I don’t think I should do yoga because I’m not flexible,’ ” he says. “It’s like saying, ‘I’m too weak, so I can’t lift weights.’ “

Hummell and many other yoga practitioners extol its many benefits beyond a pleasant post-class buzz. Several studies have linked a regimen of yoga classes to a reduction in lower back pain and improved back function. Other studies suggest that practicing yoga lowers heart rate and blood pressure; helps relieve anxiety, depression and insomnia, and improves overall physical fitness, strength and flexibility, according to the US National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Health. Still, despite many studies, no firm evidence has been found to show that yoga improves asthma or arthritis.

The centre is funding research to determine whether yoga can benefit in the treatment of diabetes, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis.

Loren Fishman, a Manhattan physician who sees patients suffering from a variety of ills, says his prescription is often yoga.

Fishman has written several books on using yoga as a supplement for rather than as a substitute for medicine. He has studied yoga since the early 1970s and noted that the practice was developed centuries ago by men in India. But its modern form has become feminised.

“There’s been a flip,” Fishman says. “When it came to the US, yoga became a sort of gentle gym, a non-competitive, non-confrontational thing that’s good for you. Yoga has this distinctive passive air to it. You get into the pose and stay there.”

Among those who reject the idea that yoga is just for women is Danny Poole, a Denver teacher and trainer who uses yoga to help athletes. In 2009, his students included about a dozen members of the Denver Broncos.

Poole came to the practice reluctantly himself. A basketball player at Grand Valley State University in Michigan four decades ago, he was dragged into a yoga class by his girlfriend.

“All I knew is that there were hippies doing it, and I was intimidated because I didn’t know what it was,” Poole said. “Then I got hooked on it because I never felt so good.” Poole kept up with yoga and said it helped him avoid sports injuries as he grew older. About 15 years ago, he went full-time as a teacher.

Poole decided to drop some of the elements of a traditional yoga class that could turn off men: no chanting, no Sanskrit terms for poses, no music, no headstands or handstands that are difficult and prone to causing injury. “I keep it easy and gentle, and I avoid trying to make the client not look good,” he said.

Poole says professional athletes like yoga because it keeps them loose and focused before a game and helps ease post-game soreness. During his year with the Broncos, he says, he kept his yoga group injury-free. But he understands why many men, especially former athletes and men who have spent years pumping iron, have trouble with the physical and mental aspects of yoga.

“Athletes with big muscles take a regular yoga class and it kicks their butt,” Poole says. “They tend not to come back.” But Poole said that those who stuck with the yoga program remained injury-free during the football season, which turned the doubters into converts.

When men say they are bored with yoga, Poole thinks there may be something else going on.

“Our egos are deflated because we can’t do some of the poses,” he said.

The Washington Post

And then this, from the Telegraph in London –

Forty-eight hours after their win over England in the opening match of the Rugby League World Cup last month, the Kangaroos went for a warm-down at Manchester’s Yoga Lounge, a fitness studio dedicated to yoga and pilates.

Here, Bikram yoga, the “hot” kind that’s performed in a super-heated room to ensure an instant sweat and enable deeper stretches, is a speciality. And 40 per cent of those attending classes are male.

The Australian team are not alone in striking a sweaty yoga pose to speed their post-match recovery, improve general flexibility and guard against injury. Their English opponents have also supplemented their training with the ancient discipline at the insistence of Mark Bitcon, head of performance with the national team as well as at the Wigan Warriors rugby league club.

“It’s not about lying around on a mat,” says Bitcon. “It’s an intense physical workout which has numerous positive benefits. There’s a lot of work with weights in rugby league, plus intense, competitive action. In the past, we tended to neglect the flexibility aspect.”

The old-world, macho view that “yoga is for girls”, or at the very least only for blokes who are a “bit spiritual”, is history.

This season, Wasps, the London rugby union club, has introduced yoga sessions for its players.

Manchester United’s veteran winger, Ryan Giggs, who turns 40 this month, is such a talisman for its benefits he has released his own yoga-for-men DVD.

Andy Murray has credited Wimbledon-winning frame to Bikram.

But the elite sportsmen that yoga attracts aren’t interested in the path to enlightenment. “What they are interested in is prolonging their career,” says Nisha Srivastava, instructor at the Yoga Lounge.

“If they can tap into that 1 per cent that enhances their game, they become interested. When they see the benefits of yoga, that’s when they persevere with it.”

Wasps and England forward James Haskell, 28, who has been practising for three years, admits: “I’m not there to get my chakras aligned – I use yoga to give me an advantage in my game and to keep me on the field.”

Haskell is convinced of its benefits.

“When I was 18, I’d just go straight out and train hard. Now my first port of call is to get out the mat – otherwise I’m like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. I seize up.”

Dense muscle is notoriously inflexible, but the benefits from yoga-style stretching are measurable. “We test various physiological aspects, and one is range of flexibility,” says Bitcon. “We have seen as much as an extra couple of centimetres in areas like the hamstring. Any marginal improvement in an area like that can be very useful.”

It can also improve upper-body stabilisation, especially around the shoulders, where players grapple.

It’s not hard to sell men poses, or “asanas” – such as the Warrior or the Hero – but yoga has other advantages, explains Srivastava.

“The work we do appears to be purely physical, but the goal is the mind, and that’s where it can be most beneficial. If they can control their mind, learn to concentrate, then they will make more correct decisions on the pitch.”

Nick Chadd, the strength and conditioning coach who introduced Wasps players to yoga, says: “We have found it has a real impact on the way the guys perform, and that comes from aspects of relaxation and focus. It also improves mood and interaction among the group.”

The Telegraph, London

 

 

13 thoughts on “Why men don’t get yoga…

  1. Hi Bill – great post!
    I love my weekly yoga class. My brother Glen joined the class earlier this year – like you he had some back problems – and now he’s hooked. He’s the only male in the class but he really enjoys the company of the girls. As brother and sister it’s given us yet another fabulous sibling connection – one small example of that it goes to prove in so many ways that the postures are ‘only the tip of the iceberg’ in yoga.
    Cheers – Jenny

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    • HI Jenny –

      yes, the other thing that’s alluded to in that article is that men think that yoga is not a serious form of exercise – I tell you, do a Bikram session and it leaves you totally knackered.

      It’s great that you and your brother do it together. Yes, it has benefits way beyond what you would believe. The greatest benefit is the way the postures work on your glandular system. That does magic work!

      Bill

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  2. Hi Bill,

    L o v e yoga. Can’t imagine life without it – started in my second last year of high school – a very long time ago indeed! A wonderful life skill, so many layers to it and fabulously beneficial to one’s overall wellbeing. And you don’t have to be perfect at it to reap the rewards – for me yoga is a life long journey, always learning and can be practised almost anywhere. Yoga served me well on the Camino.

    Great to read of more people promoting yoga and it’s enormous benefits – after all, what’s not to get!
    But then again I am a tad biased.
    Cheers,
    Janet

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  3. OK, I will try it. It is offered for free here at my gym in this little town, and God knows I need some stretching and I have never backed away from enjoying a room full of women. Guess I just needed a push from my GURU. Can I wait till after Thanksgiving? I undestand they have beginner classes, so that will be my starting point. Most men in this town can’t see their toes. I can see mine easily, but I can’t touch them. Jill will be thrilled.

    Steve

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      • Ah, Steve, you need to get the balance right. I too use weights, at the gym and pretty much any time I go for a walk – this is to keep me ‘muscled up’ to do butterfly and other stuff in the pool, but it certainly also helps with yoga, where you need the muscle strength to hold the poses and it’s particularly helpful with the wrist work. It will be interesting to see how you like yoga!

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    • Go for it Steve, but go gently! At my yoga school one of the male teachers in the last year has had great success with a ‘blokes only’ yoga class. The student room fills with these huge guys, bristling with muscles and they come out of the class blissed out, relaxed and with smiles on their faces. Interestingly, although at the yoga school the statistics of female vs male students is the same as elsewhere, at the Ashram I help out at regularly, it’s much more 50/50 and that goes for ‘wooffeers’ (or whatever those traveling students who do volunteering are called!) also. I help out in the kitchen there and have met many wonderful young guys spending time there and getting hooked on the yogic lifestyle. I, like Janet and Jenny, could not imagine life without yoga and I certainly would not be as happy and healthy without it – be it physically, spiritually or just for the breathing 🙂
      Don’t know about Bikram, but I challenge anyone to do a ‘strengthening’ class having to hold poses for many repetitions or minutes at a time, and not come out the next day knowing you’ve done exercise! 🙂

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      • Britta,

        I am looking forward to trying it out. I already do a hard weight regime 5 times a week, but of course, all that does is tend to make me even less flexible and limber. My first goal is to get so that my hips don’t hurt in Portugal. They are mostly OK now, but not completely. Humbling experience for a guy who thinks he is in pretty good shape. Bodybuilding is about how you look, and not necessarily the kind of overall condition you are in. Yeah, for the most part they go together, but not where my hips were concerned.

        Never had the slightest issues with knees. My observation was that the more feeble guys had knee trouble. 🙂 You know, the ones that really show their age.

        BTW, the way you described the all male yoga classes guarantees that I am going to attend the all female one. 🙂 I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of muscular guys chanting mantras. Ugh. 😦

        I think Bikram might be somewhat after the class I will be taking. 🙂

        Tune in for more exciting adventures.

        Steve

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  4. I’ll never practice yoga — having said that, there’s yoga and then there’s yoga and then there’s Yoga.

    The first is the purely physical yoga, which you seem to be describing in this blog post — it is EXCELLENT.

    The second is the pseudo-spiritual yoga practised by (typically) very spiritually uninformed Westerners looking for a “spiritual” discipline contrary to the traditional Mysticism of the West, viewed falsely as some sort of bigotry and etc. It is systematically condemned by all religious leaders both East and West, including by all serious Yogi.

    It is an EXTREMELY dangerous practice, by virtue of its ability to disassociate the body from the mind and from the spirit. The danger resides in the tendency of the human mind to dissolve into the purely physical, which can be physical not just in focus but also in nature BTW , because the brain itself is a physical organ, which can lead to disassociation, confusion, and madness.

    The third Yoga is the Yoga that is intimately involved with Mysticism, whatever the particular origin of the Mystical Tradition in question. It has other purposes than health and safety … 🙂

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