{mindful mondays} Where Are All of the Men?

To start, I have decided to dedicate this week to men on their mats. As an avid student and yoga teacher, I have a number of male friends and students who so frequently grace honour themselves by stepping onto their mats.

The above being said, I have an equal number (if not more) of male friends who are very much hesitant to step onto a mat without having ever tried it before. The faint to severe reaction created by the suggestion of trying yoga always surprises me and leaves me in a state of enquiry…always wondering to myself, “Why?”.

At a time when yoga seems to be growing bigger and faster, with what seems like a studio on nearly every corner, the men tend to still be outnumbered by the women in the studio. With knowing the many benefits yoga has to offer the guys and with the fact that, for thousands of years, yoga was taught and studied only by men, I am still so frequently surprised by the ratio of women to men on their mats. After much contemplation, many questions and deep conversations, I will touch on 3 things that I believe may play a leading role on what is keeping these strong, testosterone bearing folks from unrolling a mat, busting a yoga groove and finding some physical and mental peace.

1) Doing Yoga Takes a Brave Man

As a dear friend (who is also an awesome student of mine) shared with me, “Society and the male populous tends to mock actions that aren’t considered manly. That’s another challenge that only the strong-willed and strong-minded overcome.”

In a society where women most often dominate the the studio, I can definitely understand if there is any level of intimidation for male newcomers – simply the act of unrolling your black mat in the sea of those that are pinks, purples and teals, in the crowd  of Lulu-clad women with their freshly polished toes and in an environment that supports the concept of letting go, not forcing or pushing and encourages acceptance  takes a man who is ready for the next level. A man with spirit. A man with heart. Men generally show up to life looking for challenge, where their female counterpart is often looking for peace and comfort. I admire those of you who take the time for yourselves to show up, make the effort and allowing yourself some time for that amazing yoga stress-to-bliss metamorphosis.

2) Ego vs. Effort

Before touching on the physical challenges and benefits, I will note that yoga is only about 10% asana (the physical) and the rest is actually made up of breathwork, meditation, staying present and so on (all internal factors). This is probably the part of the practice that is the most difficult to realize (as noted above, men generally show up looking for a challenge – the challenge sought is usually more external than internal).

Since men are wired and society encourages them to compete and blow off steam, they do often (initially) miss out on some of the most beneficial parts of the practice which consist of finding stillness and being fully present. As a result, it is not uncommon to see you men resiliently battling with yourselves on you mats – trying to go just a little deeper into that forward bend, fighting to turn yourself into a pretzel like your neighbour/teacher or muscling your way through that last spinal twist. (IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: I’m not judging or making fun. This is simply my observation and perspective. That being said, the above is no different, really, than the ladies that I’ve seen from the perspective as a student and as a teacher who tend to compete with their neighbour with flexibility/skill levels).

The next time you step onto your mat, I challenge you to let go of your expectations – Let go of the need to challenge yourself and take the time to breathe through your practice, your thoughts and what challenges you physically. After that, I’d love for you to share your experience and leave some feedback.

3) The Physical Hurdles

…and there are so many! Men seem to be inherently tight in a lot of places. Hips, groin, hamstrings, shoulders…these tend to be the most inflexible areas of the majority of men. On your mats, this can make anything from Warrior 1 to Seated Wide Legged Forward Bend quite painful sensational. Feedback I have received about inflexibility and tightness in the bodies of male students has expressly noted how frustrating it can be to feel as though they’re stuck and going nowhere with some of the postures. Others have made mention of the notable very small difference between pain and sensation in some of the hip/groin opening poses.

The cause of the flexibility gap between the men and the ladies is not necessarily caused by any one thing. Lifestyle plays a huge factor – anything from sitting at a desk all day to being an avid runner can really tighten things up. As men tend to be significantly more muscular than we ladies, it is expected that their musculature be generally more taut than ours. That being said, the amount of time spent stretching (properly) on a regular basis creates a huge impact on flexibility in any body.

The physical benefits for men in yoga are significant. Yoga has so much to offer men who are willing to step outside their comfort zone and into a place that accepts them as they come (inflexibility, ego, bravery and all) – everything from raised body awareness (alignment and working with breath), better posture, decreased muscle soreness, flexibility, endurance, energy levels, detoxification and offers a full body workout (helping to strengthen, tone and lengthen muscles, while building lean muscle mass). On top of all of that, yoga reduces stress, aids in a restful sleep, trains your focus and helps balance your mind.

Regardless of the physical challenges, men continue to do nothing but impress me on their mats. Their determination alone is uncanny not to mention their awe-inspiring upper body and core strength that takes them through many-a chaturangas and long-hold crocodile poses.

To you resilient men who take the time out of your day to better your health, unroll and unwind – keep with your practice and work your way through what challenges you; one stretch, one sweat, one breath at a time. To you dear men who have yet to set foot on a mat – I dare you to do one thing a day that scares you…especially if that includes diving head first a yoga studio, stepping onto a mat and jumping into a new world. Do it for you and no one else. You’ll thank me for it later (but, more importantly, you should thank you for it later).

Want more? Check out {witty wednesdays} this Wednesday for another man-inspired article about why I love having men in a yoga class! Thanks for dropping in!


7 thoughts on “{mindful mondays} Where Are All of the Men?

  1. I have to say that many classes/instructors are not at all welcoming to men. And sometimes, downright hostile.

    • I’m really sorry to hear that you’ve had that experience, AgentPete. I’m not sure what to say about these instructors and classes, as I can’t relate (as an instructor myself) and I do find it appalling that anyone would discriminate against gender in class/on the mat. For what it’s worth, I absolutely love having male students. Men, after all, were the only ones allowed to learn and practise for thousands of years. Have you looked into other studios/instructors in your area to see if it makes a difference?

  2. PS – Ciara, thanks for your positive comments about us men. It’s always nice to be reminded that some women are happy to see us in your classes. We’re happy to be there too.

    • NCDan, I have nothing but positive things to say about you men. I am always more than happy to see you guys in my classes. I sincerely believe that yoga is for everyone and life shouldn’t be spent putting an emphasis on the separation/differences of gender. We’re all human beings – why create a gap instead of creating unity, right? Too many people are too quick to criticize/judge, I suppose. May I ask where are you situated that you are experiencing such misandry? In my (and my male friends/students) experience, instructors have been nothing less than welcoming to men and women alike in yoga classes in my hometown.

  3. Thanks for this blog, Ciara, and for the amazing video you shared. It was incredibly moving.

    As for me, I love the varied energy that comes into the room when men and women practice together…one of the many reasons I enjoy your classes so much, Ciara. Part of yoga is respect for one’s fellow practitioners, and I’m delighted to work alongside or with any man or woman who is focussed on his or her practice.

  4. What does it say about this world if the word bravery is now used to describe participation in a recreational activity rather than the combat of existential threats?

    There is an idea – not mine, but Crowley’s – that meditation must be accompanied by positions of discomfort, precisely to teach the mind to operate unburdened in stressful conditions. Otherwise, you avoid learning the lesson. Accepting this, how can yoga be anything but a struggle with one’s self on the mat?

    The lives of men are – as Hobbes put it – necessarily nasty, brutish, and short. Maybe we should let go of our expectations that they should be anything else. After all, there is a reason why, after thousands of years, all those men left yoga for something else.

    Omnia Vanitas.

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