Go to any yoga class in the capital and you’ll be hard pushed to find more than a couple of token men.
Which is ironic, as, in the 5,000 years or so of yoga history it is only within the last 80 years that yoga has been opened up as a practice to women. For the majority of yoga’s history, it was ONLY practiced by men. All the famous gurus who brought yoga to the West – Krishnamacharya, Patthabi Jois, BKS Iyengar – were all men.
The first Western woman to be allowed to practice yoga was Indra Devi, who was taught by Krishnamacharya, back in the 1930s. She studied with him for a year before being told to go and teach yoga to others, which she duly did, teaching in China, Hollywood and later, Argentina.
Fast forward nearly a century, and yoga is now a female-dominated discipline. So how did men get left out of the spread of yoga in the West? And how can we get them back into it?
Why men didn’t take up yoga
It’s difficult to say why so many more Western women than men were drawn to practice yoga in those early days of the 1950s when men like BKS Iyengar came over to the UK to give yoga demonstrations. Perhaps it was because men were programmed to think that only competitive sport really counted. All that non-competitive bending and breathing on the mat just wasn’t for them. Perhaps also because women just seemed to be better at it.
Also, men may have been sidetracked into thinking that pumping iron and running harder and faster is the best way to get fit. But long-term, exclusively aggressive forms of exercise that tighten and bulk up muscles leads to a much higher injury rate. Shona Vertue, yoga trainer to David Beckham, as well as Gary Barlow, says that incorporating a stretching form of exercise actually allows other forms of exercise to go deeper.
What puts them off now
There are various yoga myths out there that put men off taking up doing yoga. Social media projects yoga as about slim, blonde women doing impressive gymnastic looking poses, also that it’s new-age and involves wafting of incense, chanting, wearing mala beads and drinking green smoothies all day long.
Anecdotal evidence that I’ve collected (speaking to male friends) suggests that actually men know that yoga would be good for them, have every intention of taking it up one day, but are put off by the fact that there just aren’t that many other men doing it, as well as being intimidated by the fact that they can’t do most of the poses.
Women also have a biological advantage over men in that their bodies contains more of the hormone ‘relaxin’, which allows more flexibility of the joints and ligaments. Men have the advantage of more natural muscle tone, but this can, in fact, get in the way of physical mobility.
As Shona Vertue says: “I’ve spoken to a lot of men and male personal trainers about this, and they just feel a bit stupid when they’re doing things like yoga, because it is harder for them.”
How to get them
There are yoga classes out there specifically aimed at men, such as broga and yoga for dudes classes. These classes are structured more like an exercise class and are guaranteed to get you sweating and working hard. Plus there’ll be lots more men in the class who can share in each other’s discomfort. These can be a way of finding out whether yoga is something worth pursuing.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, but personally, I feel that some men have a shorter attention span than women. The thought of doing an hour and a half of yoga just sounds too long. So what about a 10-minute practice that can be done every day? Small, consistent steps will make a huge difference to those tight hamstrings and short calf muscles in the long run.
Encourage men to think about mobility and stability – doing yoga not only helps with increasing muscle tone, but it also works for injury prevention, stress-relief as well as going into middle and old age with the ability to get up and down off the floor, touch your toes, and not fall over.
Take their word for it
Listen up, men. The men who are brave enough to get into yoga are evangelical about its benefits.
Gary Barlow – who has recently published a successful book about how he used yoga as part of a regime to recover from depression and being overweight – also goes to Shona Vertue to get his yoga fix. In a YouTube video with Vertue he says, “I don’t think I’ve ever done a yoga class and not had an amazing day afterwards.” And to his credit, at the end of the session he says passionately: “I love it. I absolutely love it – and I’m not very good at it, but I don’t care, it just feels great.”
If singer-songwriter Gary isn’t your cup of tea, then what about footballers David Beckham and Ryan Giggs? Beckham has said that “yoga made my aches and pains after playing disappear.” Veteren Welsh footballer and manager Giggs has said that after a hamstring injury he took up yoga, which helped him add another 10 years to his career, which in footballing terms, is a very long time.
Girls (and guys) dig guys who do yoga
Yes, if there’s one good reason that heterosexual guys should put their pride to one side and get onto a mat it’s because girls are hugely attracted to men who do yoga. Gay guys, I’m pretty sure getting a flexible and fit yoga body won’t hurt either!
Contrary to common perceptions, men that are into yoga have a lot going for them. First off, they’re comfortable enough with their own masculinity to not worry about whether doing yoga makes them any more or less of a man. Secondly, it shows that they’re willing to try new things and aren’t happy stuck in their comfortable little rut. Thirdly, yoga helps to manage stress levels, and a less stressed guy is more attractive to hang out with. And lastly, guys who do yoga are going to be fitter, stronger and hopefully live longer than other men.