Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The invisible barriers stopping men from practicing yoga

Often I drag Andrew to yoga classes, yoga clothing/accessory shopping, Coffee and Yoga meets and just assume that he will experience these events with the same comfort and ease that I do. Although both Andrew and I are firm feminists and the first to point out inequity in other situations (for example, buying tires for my car and having the dude *only* look and talk to Andrew...), I just don't recognize how there are barriers for men in yoga.

Yes, it's true that more men then ever are practicing yoga in western society, but barriers still exist and are very present in many ways we don't even consider. This post was actually inspired by a friend, K, who emailed me this week with an experience of his own.

He's recently discovered Moksha yoga and has become ecstatic with this style. K is a great advocate for yoga with his hockey team, with co-workers... with anyone really. While out at the gym, he decided it was time to check out some more official 'yoga' clothing that would wick away sweat and stretch well during a heated yoga class. Being a fantastic 'EcoYogi', he stepped into 'One Tooth', a yoga clothing company where their clothing is made in Canada. Unfortunately, the 'men' section for clothing is this tiny rack at the back of the store. I've seen it, looks like someone's discards. Plus, as he confirmed, the selection was a complete joke. Ugly pants, sweaters and a few shorts. He was completely discouraged and annoyed.

Barrier: lack of male yoga clothing selection, especially if you're looking for local and sustainably made.

Yoga clothing isn't just limited to lack of selection, but there are other subtleties that I had never thought of until Andrew pointed them out. Walking into a yoga store already has a ton of stigma if you're a man, top that off with almost no selection, foofy decorations and feminine staff... and you've got a few social barriers that pop up as a heterosexual male. Andrew: "Not only that, but it is much less acceptable for a man to pay over 60$ for a pair of yoga pants in our society".

Sure you could order online with more selection, but that's an unfair choice. If I'm going to pay that much money, I like to try on clothing to make sure it fits. Just because Andrew is a man doesn't mean he wouldn't prefer to try on his investments.

Since K was really referring to his attempts at purchasing responsibly made clothing, we are leaving Lululemon completely out of this (as we all know what "consciously formulated in Vancouver, Made in China" means).

Barrier: Stigma of a man attending a yoga class. 

Ok, this one really is one of the most often mentioned. Yoga in the western world really has been marketed to women and is associated as a more "female" activity. Even though this is changing- how many classes have you attended with 50-50 ratio? I'm impressed if there are more than 3 in a 30 person class. Both Andrew and K have mentioned how intimidating it is to enter a class filled with women with the potential of having no effing clue what they were doing.

Barrier: Yoga postures are taught to the women in the room, not the men.

Imagine having an instructor describe the asana while making reference to tighter hamstrings or hips... or assuming a specific shoulder width and upper body strength, or adjustments for delicate lower body parts.... Seriously though. How often do I hear a sequence or asana taught making the assumption that most women have a certain level of flexibility in their hips or lack of crushables during upward bow. Andrew: "It's pretty obvious that yoga was practiced by young men who's testicles haven't dropped... or women".  I'm not saying that classes should switch to being male-centric, avoid upward bow or locust... but do we really need to hear things like "lets all embrace our inner Goddess" or "Goddess pose- feel strong and beautiful everyone!"....

Andrew: "You know what I think would pull in more men? Yoga is really fucking hard. It's not easy. But you don't hear about it as being hard, you hear it as being liberating. People use flowers and foofy things to describe it, but really it just kicks you ass. Lots of guys who have done yoga that I know, have enjoyed it, but had no idea. You box, do karate and it's supposed to be hard, because the end result is you kicking someone's ass. But yoga's end result is to get in touch with yourself...."

I do believe yoga is changing and becoming more acceptable for men to practice. But I'm also extremely aware that there are invisible social barriers on how yoga as it is continues to deter more men from even trying. Sometimes these things are unconsciously done by the teachers, other students or companies. Acknowledging this is an important part of Change.

What do you think?


article copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com

To finish: a fantastic video by "Radio Radio", an Acadian Hip Hop group, now based in Montreal (but from Nova Scotia) My current fav song- "CarguĂ© dans ma chaise". 

This song below, though, is perfect, since it's truly all about how stereotypes of "metrosexual", judging someone or pigeonholing them because of what they like/dress/do is ridiculous. You could say Yoga is a part of that list. :) 


  1. I think your points are well described... I think men want to come to yoga though, I think they feel that we women have stumbled upon something wonderful and although a bit scared, they secretly want to try it.

    On the clothing front, I hear you. I have found that some shorts from other stores, not yoga specifically but more like "soccer" shops (although I am not sure about sustainability), tend to work.

    Recently my husband joined me at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, and he was really humiliated on his first class, he felt that way anyway and wrote a very funny post on it, will add the link in case you want to share with male friends, it is pretty funny...

  2. Gotta say, I really haven't had a problem with any of these. Then, 1) I've never felt a need for yoga clothing beyond a standard t-shirt and shorts (though I do get irritated that it's so hard to find yoga mats that are as long as I'm tall--68" did not become standard with men in mind...however, since I found my lovely 74 inch mat, it's all good), 2) since I couldn't care less about sports or cars and most of my close friends are female and/or gay, I'm cool with the likelihood that the macho douchebags of the world think I'm a wussy boy, and, 3) maybe I'm just lucky but, though most of my teachers are female, I've never really heard the "inner goddess" thing in a class, and actually find my teachers mentioning tight hamstrings quite a lot (adjustments for delicate lower parts not so much...but I've just learned that, with the tight legged poses, like chair, ya just gotta push the junk outta the way...forward or backward depending on which is more comfortable. As for locust and bow, I'm not a yoga teacher, yet, but I think the fulcrum should be a bit higher up--with the machinery of joy actually slightly off the mat...).

  3. Thanks for sharing this! It's so funny how similar many curvy folks' experience is to what you described--especially the assumptions about what works for certain bodies (and, well, everything else, too--clothing & stigma).

  4. i definitely think the ego thing gets in the way. also, when it comes to fitness, women are often pointed toward dance and gymnastics and other flexibility-inducing exercise, while the concept of flexibility is not stressed as much in other activities and sports. so it becomes a 'girl thing' to be flexible. i love seeing a man go through yoga, as i think it gives him a greater respect for the strength and endurance that is involved. (and that nice little bonus of peace of mind...)

  5. Everything you've said here is frustratingly true. Fortunately, as I've observed in my town, these circumstances are rapidly changing. I have taught and attended more than a few classes with a 50/50 or 60/40 gender split (that's 60% women/40% men, but still close). It's a good sign.

    Then again, when my boyfriend got into yoga, he enjoyed his daily practice but outright and unwaveringly refused to attend a public class, in part, I think, because he didn't feel comfortable in the "yoga clothes" that were available to him. When I look around in a class, it seems that Lululemon is the only decent option for yoga dudes. Too bad it's so outrageously expensive and cultish.

  6. I think first up call Goddess pose Horse + thus make it gender non-specific ;)

  7. I am a guy that teaches yoga and I have been working to get more guys into yoga for many years.

    Guys in class
    We occasionally get classes that are predominately male. 3 guys and 1 girl. We generally have smaller class sizes at our studio.

    Yoga clothes
    I have yet to see a guy come into class with any "yoga clothes". Everyone is wearing what they would wear to gym. Shorts and tee shirts.

    There is a definitely a challenge here. Men generally are much less flexible then women based on their past sport activities.

    Going to a yoga class with very flexible men and women will tend to drive them away. Only a few will put in the time to work on their flexibility.

    It all depends on how comfortable they are with their own self image and how much they are concerned about what others (in class and outside of class) will think about them doing yoga.

    When I started
    When I started going to yoga classes, I was the only guy in a room of 20 women. It did not matter to me. I came for the yoga and to develop more flexibility. I did not care who else was in the room.

  8. I think you make some good points. Honestly, I wish people would just drop the fancy, expensive clothing all together. Why should it matter? I wear a t-shirt and either shorts or cheap sweatpants to class. One of my teachers, also a man, does the same.

  9. I must say I am a bit baffled that there are, or are perceived to be, barriers to men practicing yoga. My husband, whom I could describe as a "man's man" (strong, muscular, mechanically inclined, naturally good at any activity that involves a ball, physically fit, dresses in jeans and Ts and flannels) has been practicing yoga since the 1970s. He never went to a class until I, once he finally was able to convince me that yoga might benefit me, dragged him to a couple of Hatha yoga classes. He thought the classes were fine - he didn't say anything about feeling out place or uncomfortable or any other concern, even though the instructor and al most all of the attendees were women. But maybe he's just been doing it for so long that he is totally comfortable no matter what.
    And, as for clothing, he has never bought one stitch of "yoga clothing". He will wear sweat pants or shorts -whatever he happens to be lounging in during the current season. The man would not be caught dead in a "yoga outfit" and believes it doesn't matter one bit what one wears as long as it's comfortable and you can move. He also doesn't own a mat, and doesn't use mine even though I have 3 of them and 2 are long. He practices on the Oriental rug or the wood floor. Maybe he's highly unusual but after knowing him, I just don't see the big deal.

  10. ahhh, yes. Well ashtanga of course is well-known for being more man-friendly. No talking so no goddess mentions and it's hard. But that said my husband didn't get his nickname "the cave yogi" for nothing: he too can't stand practicing in a group environment. Maybe because of the tiny shorts he finally settled upon wearing (no shirt) or because yes, he too discovered that he needs to adjust the "machinery of love" from side to side or forward and back depending on the pose, and he would much rather do this in private. My mysore class does have a decent showing of men, about 30%, but I also have a male teacher and that helps. Great post! Andrew may just want to get some regular sport shorts that have built-in liner, eco-friendly is hard for even the yoginis!

  11. thanks for the comments everyone- very interesting perspectives (and glad no one has said a few choice words about my "radio radio" inclusion lol).

    Re: not seeing the barriers-
    I think it's great that there are men who enjoy yoga and who are comfortable with themselves and social structures as they now exist.
    What I would like to point out, however, is that male yoga instructors, and those who've practiced yoga for a long time aren't the status quo.
    You're the exception. Which is great- wonderful role models. :) (Jack, I do really enjoy your studio, Andrew prefers yours... :))

    I think that although we may not perceive these things, doesn't mean that they don't exist. If you're already reading yoga blogs, you're probably not the typical guy who could be benefiting from yoga, but for many reasons hasn't tried it.

    discounting them because they aren't part of your experience isn't really helpful- i think it's important to recognize that these may be barriers for people and talk about how we can help minimize them, making yoga accessible and gender neutral :)

  12. I think you're totally right on. My husband is happy to come to yoga with me at our gym, but that type of yoga is YRG (Yoga for Regular Guys/Gals) and was developed by a pro wrestler specifically to appeal to guys. It's a little Ashtanga/Power, a lot of bad jokes, blues music (our instructor's preference), and way more dudes than your average yoga class. I like it because it's a physical challenge and the instructor knows a TON about all kinds of yoga. Red likes it because it's a non-threatening environment where even though the goal is to break a sweat, modifications and laughter are encouraged.

  13. I feel so lucky that I had such great gender ratios in my classes! We often had 50/50 and on many occasions I had more guys than girls in class. It was a challenging vinyasa class, so I think that helped, but it also included meditation and chanting and they were right there front and centre! I've also taught a couple of all male or nearly all male classes with Army, and that was a totally different experience as well. Lucky for them, in that scenario clothing choice is not exactly an issue...

    As a yoga teacher I think it's important to get to know all different body types, including the different types of the male physique. You may need to use different adjustments (imagine me, 5'6 and 120 pounds trying to adjust a 6ft 200 pounds of muscle dude in downward dog! I had to be creative!), and give different verbal cues to your male students, just as you would for a curvy woman, someone tall/short/thin etc. As mentioned, there are certain poses where it helps your male students if you warn them in advance that they may have to do some adjusting as they come in! Also, in areas where most men are less flexible, like forward bends, it's important to teach to their level so they are still able to feel benefit from those poses.

    I do think that men are attracted to the more challenging elements of yoga, and again, teachers can adjust accordingly in our language, and by providing variations and sequences that play to men's strengths. I have heard all these stories of women teachers who, even when having a man in the class, use gender-specific language, and I think that's just bad teaching, unless the class was specifically advertised as for women only!

  14. Yep. As with most sports and/or "hobbies," there are cultural gender expectations. In the U.S., most yoga students are women, *but* most of the gurus we hear about in the yoga world are male. Perhaps some of this, here, is due to the variety of amateur sports perceived as more male (weight lifting, boxing, martial arts, basketball, soccer, etc). In other cultures, yoga is more male centered. There are also expectations related to body type, age, physical ability, race, social class, etc. and such activities.

    Of course, that doesn't mean we shouldn't pay attention to what might be keeping any type of individual away from yoga classes. If we, as yogis/yoginis, really believe that yoga is possible and available to anyone, then we have to live that. And we have to live it in teaching classes in a way that promotes understanding that yoga is not just about asana (be that warrior pose or goddess - I actually think there are more male centered asana names), and that even the part that is about asana isn't just about that but much more.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post!

  15. I go to Moksha yoga in Hali and
    I have to say lately I have seen a LOT of men there-mostly younger-university age,but also middleaged.

    I was aurprised to see so many guys at first,but think it is a great thing(originally I thought the younger men were checking out the hot gals-which some may be :)

    But seriously-tons of guys there!!

  16. Good points all of them.

    But has it been considered that perhaps most western guys just don't want to do yoga? In some ways, isn't this similar to asking why aren't there more women in say, wrestling? I'm sure wrestling is a time honored physically demanding sport requiring strength, flexibiltiy and strategy, but I have no desire to do it.

    Might not yoga be similar for guys?

    Just some food for thought. :)

  17. I just wrote about dudes in yoga-- great minds :) I think it's about overcoming the same fears women confront when starting a new activity. it's about getting comfortable, and giving it a shot. Check it out: http://thestickymat.blogspot.com/2011/02/broga-what-we-can-learn-from-yoga-for.html

  18. I know that this is 27 days after the fact and that many more things have been discussed. But, I would like to weigh in on your post about men in yoga.
    I am a man and I discovered yoga about 2 years ago. It was a little odd to my male friends, that being re-inforced by the fact that I was the only guy in my class.
    Of course I found it life changing. A bit humiliating just as Claudia stated about her husband, but I was hooked.
    I became a preacher of sorts to my male friends about the benefits of yoga. The flexibility, the benefits of prana, and the difficulty of going deeper into a pose.
    I found it difficult to find the right clothes but there are a few sites online that had eco-friendly men's yoga clothes. One of these was called nadiflow
    (www.nadiflow.com) another is Verve (verveclimbing.com)
    2 years later and I have noticed a lot more guys taking yoga. It's catching on with the male half.

  19. Dan, that is so cool!, I will share this with Husband... he will be happy to hear!

  20. I think you make some good points and the ego thing is a reality. You may find this article funny....some good ideas on how to get your man out of the house & into class! http://www.dinklife.com/topic/well-being/get-him-yoga-class-10-tips

  21. I agree, particularly with the point about the classes being taught for women.

    I wanted to get into it because I had noticed my lack of flexibility playing football and was told by my BJJ instructor that my flexibility was terrible.

    I downloaded an ipad app to start. Problem is, I just can't physically do some of the poses, I mean not even close. Begginers classes for men could do with stepping down a notch or two with regards to poses that require a lot of hip flexibility.


I love hearing from you! So I don't miss a comment, I like "pre-approving" them :)
I ask only that we stay respectful.
Also, please note that this is a personal blog and not a space for advertising your company. I reserve the right to delete "advertising" comments.

**NB: The ANONYMOUS option is the BEST way to comment if you don't have a blogger or established google/gmail account.