MFML teacher Dan Peppiatt reflects on men’s journey with yoga and mindfulness over the last 30 years. What do men resonate with when it comes to yoga? Are men more aware of their mental health now than before? Is there a need for more Yoga for men?
I remember when I started yoga, it was the mid 90s and there were no studios. There was also no yoga in gyms, no retreats, no social media posts full of softly lit yoga poses and Rumi quotes… Yoga was how you found it, if you found it at all. No one was even thinking about yoga for men or women.
All I knew of yoga until then was that my nan would laugh at my grandad, who was a bricklayer from the East end of London. He had a yoga book from somewhere and Nan used to say he was standing on his head in the bedroom?! I have no idea what had brought him to there but maybe it helped to control his temper (he was both the funniest and quickest to explode person that I’ve ever met).
Many years later, after years of suffering with crippling anxiety and the physical complaints that accompanied it, I was guided to yoga by an Indian doctor. It happened that my now wife, then girlfriend Gemma had herself found a class in a local village hall, and being the well behaved boyfriend I joined her. At that time, men in yoga classes were very much a minority. From memory in a class of around 40, we were outnumbered 20 to 1. Aside myself I remember there was a male tai chi teacher and occasionally the yoga teachers husband – that was it.
Thirty years on…
As time has passed, it is now almost thirty years later and it has been fascinating to see more men connecting not only with yoga but also mindfulness, meditation and their mental health in general. It has been and still is a slow shift. I would say the female of the species seems to be far more aware of the importance of emotional awareness and wellbeing than the male. That is… if you base that on attendance in a yoga class.
Our yoga teacher training courses reflect that and we always see the men far outnumbered by the women. I’d say between 10 and 20 females to one male, so it would seem not that much has changed. However, what I do find interesting is that on the smaller meditation and mindfulness teacher training courses and retreats, the balance is more like 2 or 3 to 1.
Is there something in this? Is it yoga or is it the yoga setting that seems less palatable, rather than a lack of awareness of mental health in general? Maybe it’s the super shiny studio, of the possibility of it being full of flexible women? Or is it just the thought that you are going to be in the minority as a man? Is that enough to put many men off turning up for yoga classes?
Is the problem simply the culture of modern yoga?
In fact I’m not necessarily sure that ‘yoga’ as a practise in the western cultural context is the best environment for men (or women come to that). It took me a long time to take anything beyond the superficial physical benefits from yoga. Sure I was pretty flexible and could do some hand balance things – but so can any good gymnast. Personally it was only when I started to explore the internal practices that I really started to understand things. Yoga has become so tangled up in leggings, mats and the general business of yoga that it is hard to see sometimes what the purpose of the practice really is.
Yoga has become so tangled up in leggings, mats and the general business of yoga that it is hard to see sometimes what the purpose of the practice really is.Daniel Peppiatt
I know thousands of yogis. I know very few yogis who I would say have really developed greater mental awareness or clarity about their mental health.
Maybe it’s the entire culture of modern yoga that is selective, not the practice itself. Are men actually more of a minority in an average yoga class than females from ethnic minorities, disadvantaged backgrounds or females with disabilities for example? My experience says no.
Focus on the mind over body
I have genuinely found that clearly marking classes as being about working with the mind, or the breath and mind, have been far more readily taken up by men than a regular yoga class. I find most men who turn up to a yoga setting are already pretty chilled. They are more interested in the work on the mind or breath.
Maybe it easier for the average male to see what the benefits might be to their mental health when we talk about meditation or breathwork and nervous system regulation? It does seem to be the case from the conversations I have. There is an awareness that we need tools to work with our mental health. Tools like meditation mindfulness are clearly directed at this.
Maybe the 80 – 90% of an average yoga class spent in asana is too intangible, abstract or irrelevant for men? Maybe the limbs of meditation and concentration are really what we need to emphasise? The very part that is sorely underrepresented in yoga classes. After all, this is the true purpose of yoga if you trust the wisdom of the ancient texts and philosophy.
Less division and shared suffering
There is some mystery here for sure, but at the same time I have never found it useful to try to separate people – by colour, education, background or indeed by sex. Just because yoga or something else works for us, we shouldn’t assume that it is the path for everyone.
The human mind is the human mind. Each mind shares essentially the same capacity for suffering, we all experience suffering. It is the first ‘noble truth’ of Buddhism – to be human is to suffer.
It is that underlying suffering that draws us as humans to explore solutions to alleviate that suffering – be that through yoga, religion or whatever path you choose.
The suffering is the ironic gift, the impetus to explore its source and remedy.
So should we worry about the lack of men in a yoga class? I don’t. If you can define for me what yoga is, I’ll define for you why men don’t resonate with it so much.
Keep sharing what you share, with the intention to ease suffering for all and eventually people will find what they need, man or woman.
Dan Peppiatt is unique. He explores natural movement patterns drawing from his other passions including surfing, paddle-boarding, martial arts and climbing. He encourages his students to experiment widely too. Dan draws his inspiration from nature.
Yoga for men by the MFML teachers
- Flying Plank Strengthening Yoga – with Clive Fogelman
- Strengthen & Mobilise the Lower Body – with Andrew McGonigle
- Daily Breathing Exercises – with Dan Peppiatt
- Your Daily yoga practice – with Adam Hocke
- Learn to Breathe – with Max Strom
- Gently Restore Energy – with Norman Blair
- Yin-Yang Yoga – with Dirish Shaktidas