You know yoga will be good for you, so what’s holding you back? I’ve written a great deal on why men need yoga more than ever, and waxed philosophical on the gender politics that come into play. Now I’m ready to dismount my moral high horse, bust your excuses, and get you men on the mat.
It has been said before, but most of male yoga-excuse-making resolves around f-words. No, not that f-word. (Well, sometimes that one muttered under one’s breath in a tough pose.) These F-words: Fat, Farts, Flexibility, Femininity, and Fear. Together, let’s tell them to f-off.
Every fitness magazine is already telling you that unless you have a six-pack, you’ll never amount to anything in this lifetime. The yoga world is not totally immune to the social pressures that create this nonsense, so it’s understandable you may worry you won’t fit in. Perhaps you have spotted photos of shirtless muscular men practising handstands on rocky cliffs and thought that this may be expected of you. The truth is, yogis come in every size and shape, and any amount of girth can be reckoned with on the mat. If you are still worried about flab spillage, note that leggings and barechestedness are not required. In time, yoga may teach you to be more accepting of your shape.
Living in fear of that deep squat? As an experienced teacher of all genders, know that this is not just a male worry. I have bore witness to the expulsion of all variety of trapped wind. It is as unabashedly human as we can be. But it’s best if you don’t eat an hour or two before you practise and have a good sense of humour about it all. If you practise at home, I hope you and whoever is in earshot has a good laugh. If you practise in a group, I promise the teacher is only laughing a little bit inside and more concerned with the rest of the class. Most likely the person next to you didn’t hear it because they were too busy trying to hold their own in. If it happens, life goes on.
Have you been turned off by yoga photos where practitioners’ contorting limbs seem to defy all laws of time and space? In actuality, extreme flexibility is the least interesting and important part of any yoga practice. A realistic priority would be to move with ease in the body you have. I began practising yoga with hamstrings of steel that firmly disagreed with any notion that I should touch my toes. After 20 years of practice of course my body has changed, but I will never practise a split without extensive structural reinforcement. Any good teacher will help you find ways to make the shapes in a way that suits your individual body, with the use of props or changes of alignment.
Yoga classes in the West are filled primarily with women. Should ‘real men’ practise with them? Trying to answer this question makes me feel like I’ve been transported back in time to discuss gender norms with Mamie Eisenhower. Instead of trying to convince you of the inanity of these concerns, I think we all just need to grow the f-up. Let’s take a hard look at the processes that created these outdated perceptions of masculine and feminine pursuits and do our best to undo them. Yoga is for everyone and every man is a real man.
We make excuses when we’re afraid. Although a masked man with a chainsaw isn’t lurking behind the bolsters, there may be dark depths of yourself you’re afraid a yoga class will force you to expose. As if us yoga teachers are conspiring to make you join teary sharing circles and awkward group hugs. It’s true that yoga practice is ultimately a dive inwards, which for many men is quite difficult, but the process is slow, steady, and self-directed. The practice becomes in time what you make of it. You may begin just wanting a new type of work-out. Start there or with whatever intention is most relevant to you and see where it leads.
The best F-word of all…
I get that it’s not easy to let go of all of these f-words. If these excuses are ironclad, practise at home and you can let all variety of f-words fly. If and when you can move beyond the prison of these f-words, you might find a new one: Freedom. Freedom to move, feel good in your body, and feel present in your relationship with yourself and others. That’s the best f-word of all. I promise.
This post was written by Adam Hocke, a yoga teacher, writer, and mentor. His classes blend vinyasa flow with restorative yoga to leave the body and mind awakened and refreshed. Find out more about Adam at www.adamhocke.com.