Thursday, 26 July 2012

Why are there so few men in yoga?

The reason why yoga is dominated by women in the Western world, from the mind's eye of my own experience is pretty simple: it can be an uncomfortable place for men to be.  Here is my opinion why.

Mixed Messages on Sex 

Navigating the dating mileau in yoga is tricky, because there is no real agreement over what is socially acceptable and what is not in the studio environment. My rule on women in yoga is if I say hello to someone and they don't reply, leave them alone. Some people are going to yoga because they strive to be better people, some because they are perfectionists. Some people go to yoga and are comfortable in their sexualilty, and some are trying to heal from some past trauma. Since most people couldn't tell you which they are even if you directly asked them, there is no other option but to assume that people are quite likely to be unfriendly in the studio, and to be okay with that.

There's quite a few yoginis out there with the conception in their head that the hot yogi guy is the ideal mate (::cough:: sort of like the yogi with the conception in his head that the hot yogini is the ideal mate ::cough::). Peacocking in yoga reaches whole new levels of ridiculousness, "Hello Mayurasana!" I get lots of smiles (welcome and appropriate), or more rarely conversation starters (welcome and appropriate), but sometimes women can get way too yogasmic and cross all sorts of lines they wouldn't cross after five drinks at the bar.

Women don't hit on men very often so they aren't very good at it and have a weak understanding of what the appropriate boundaries are (although the same could be said of many men).  They might be attached and just want to flirt with you as an ego-boost (very common). They may be very inappropriate, because sometimes ladies think owning their sexuality means broadcasting it on every radio frequency known to man. Yes, I'm talking to you lady who wears a black thong and translucent see-through white leggings. They may be very surprised if you don't reciprocate immediately and start trying harder and harder instead of treating you with respect. They may hit on you in front of their mother (yet another awkward, awkward moment). I've even had a woman shove their pubic bone into my crotch during partner inversion practice under the guise of providing support. Thanks honey, but I don't think that my flacid penis pressing against your belly will help my handstand technique. Similarly to Ms. Yoga Teacher who decided that pushing her bosom into my back would be a good way to 'enhance' my trikonasana, really your hands are sufficient, thank you.

The main thing that I have learned from being hit on in yoga is the world would probably be a better place if the whole balance between who does the approaching was more even between women and men. Women would realize how much being loudly rejected sucks and men would find out first-hand what being creeped-out (or flat-out molested) feels like. Maybe then we would have less of the 'slut' and 'creep' shaming too.

Social Nonacceptance

Yoga in the Western world is radically different from its origins in India in that it has become a "Girls Only" club and a bastion for Shakti-power. Girls, in my experience, are very good at convincing themselves that they are inferior to men and so there's this theme that runs through yoga that it is something women are good at and hence should be cherished.  Hence some women simply do not want a man in the room.

Not all women mind you, not even the majority, but there's definitely an undercurrent of hostility. Sometimes if I walk into a yoga class, particularly if I'm the only man in the class, it has an immediate chilling effect. I get glared at often, for no reason whatsoever. The 15-minutes of yogic hate tends to come especially from the back-row practioners. It is something I try to ignore but as much as any other man I resent being made to feel a creeper when I've done absolutely nothing.

Men in our Western culture are forced to live a pretty solitary existence.  We aren't allowed to show weakness. We are blamed for all the evils of the world. We are allowed to have 'buddies' but not real friends with whom we can share both good and bad experiences. So when I see the sisterhood that exists in yoga it makes me a little jealous and sad.  Now I'm quite sure there are more women on the outside looking in of the trendy yogini clique but at least for them it's a possibility to gain acceptance.

My current attempt has been to try and build my very own clique of guys which is at least half female in one of two intermediate classes in my city.  Results have been a little mixed, although the reaction of substitute teachers to the little concentration of men has been amusing.

Bias in Teaching

Men are, as best I can tell, the largest minority group in yoga. As such, I would expect more emphasis on training on how to compensate for the weaknesses of men or promote their strengths, but there is often a fundamental lack of knowledge about male anatomy and how it relates to poses. For example, men are almost always far tighter in their shoulders than women, but I have never ever heard a suggestion that men should widen their arm stance to compensate. This is perhaps indicative of how inadequate the 200-hour teacher training model is.

Other poses are simply plain uncomfortable for men.  In particular, men have testicles (no, really!), and poses that crush them are unpopular with us. Quelle surprise! All of the female yoga teachers I have encountered seem completely oblivious to this while at the same time I feel like having to speak up in front of the class and explain why I'm not doing gomukhasana (cow-face pose) isn't something I should have to do because I have open hips and I can do agnistambhasana (double pigeon, and yes I had to look up the sanskrit for that one) instead and start pounding my head on the floor in frustration. Similarly garudasana (eagle) takes me longer to get into safely than it does a women, and there's a reason for this. It's sort of like a woman having to say in front of the class, "I'm on my period today so I'm not doing inversions."  It should be known, because I guarantee you any new guy that comes to a class and gets forced into gomukhasana probably isn't coming back.  Chris Courtney has some additional thoughts on the subject.

Another is the that much of the language in things like guided meditation is predisposed towards the common insecurities of women. Very little attention is given to the psychological burden that men face, even by male instructors who feel more gender neutral to my ears. Again, this probably comes down to the fact that our culture doesn't like to discuss men or male problems, because that would imply that men are weak, and men aren't allowed to be weak. That and about 80 % of the client base is female.

I'm aware that about 80 % of the client base in yoga is female, but the market seems saturated at the moment, so if there's a sincere desire to make yoga universal, there should probably be an effort in that direction.

My response to this lack of know-how as been mostly to try and go to classes by the grand matrons of the yoga community and avoid classes from women in my dating age range just due to general awkwardness (whether they are married or not seems not to matter). The older ladies seem to be a little more mature about managing men in the class and way less prone to blathering on about all the secrets of the universe that they've just discovered yesterday.


I love yoga, but it would be nice if there were more bros and more education for instructors in all aspects.

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