Slowly, More Men Coming Around to Embrace Yoga's Benefits

Despite the physical demands of yoga, the muscle-challenging poses and the sweat-inducing movements, the yoga studio is still pretty much no-man’s land.

A recent survey found that women make up the vast majority of yoga participants (about 77 percent), even though men are some of the most famous and popular instructors today and the fact that men comprise many of the originators of the various forms of yoga.

So why are so many men shunning the yoga studio?  That is a question that many yoga instructors and studios are trying to answer as they try to reach out to a market that, for all intents and purposes, remains relatively untapped.

There are many possible reasons why men stay away from the yoga studio, but a few reasons seem to stick out more than others.  Many experts and yoga enthusiasts point to the competitive nature in men and the belief that many men don’t find yoga challenging enough for the physical goals they wish to accomplish.  And many men flat out state that yoga isn't "rugged" enough, despite the fact that a pose like the Side Crane requires a great deal of strength and concentration.

According to a few instructors, quoted in a recent article, men enter the yoga studios and see a room full of women, perhaps hear calming music and notice there’s not one piece of heavy metal equipment in the room and conclude that this place is not for them.  And if there is a male instructor, his calm, sensitive demeanor is in sharp contract to the “feel the burn” approach of a personal trainer he may be used to.  One yoga instructor said that men come to the studio looking for a challenge immediately.

Yoga experts say there are a number of reasons why many men have come to consider yoga a woman's conditioning program, beginning with the arrival of female yoga instructor Indra Devi to the U.S. in the 1940s and who was trumpeted by cosmetic legend Elizabeth Arden.  Later, yoga teacher Richard Hittleman became a celebrity with his books and television show – but his poses were always demonstrated by women.  The PBS network presented "Lilias, Yoga and You" in the 1970s and featured instructor Lilias Folan in an afternoon broadcast that seemed perfectly tailored for the stay-at-home mom of that era.  Although more athletic forms of yoga developed later, such as Power Yoga, the deep involvement of woman in the practice solidified the idea of yoga as a woman’s exercise in the minds of many men.

Yoga experts also say the need for men to have concrete exercise results may also be a reason why they refrain from yoga.  With weight lifting or weight training, a man may see an increase in muscle mass – a bigger bicep or a bit of definition here or there.  But with yoga, many of the most important changes are internal, mental and emotional benefits that maybe harder to gauge for a person taught to measure success by wins and losses.

One yoga instructor said men have a tendency to strive for perfection so that instead of trying to quiet their mind and relax, they may create even more tension by working hard to perform a pose to perfection and won't be satisfied until they do so, even if they're in their first yoga class and the move is recommended for advanced students.  By focusing on accomplishments and perfection, the instructor said, men miss out on the one of the greatest benefits of yoga.

The fear of failure in many men, some yoga instructors say, is also one of the reasons they stay away from the studio.  Since most men’s idea of exercise consists of lifting weights or calisthenics that require the body to move in such a rigid motion, they often lack the flexibility that yoga demands.  Even those men who come to a yoga class for the first time, when a lack of flexibility is to be expected, feel discouraged that they can't perform all of the moves, even though that very lack of flexibility is one of the main reasons they should be in the class in the first place.

The experts say that one of the first ways to get men to take a new look at yoga is to let them know that many of today’s top professional athletes use yoga to help them play at their peak.  NBA great Shaquille O'Neal, ex-NFL quarterback Jon Kitna and professional baseball pitcher Barry Zito, not to mention whole teams including the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Lakers, engage in yoga to help them cope with the demands of their sport.

Yoga instructors say that men who begin yoga training must learn to not think of yoga as a "success or failure" undertaking.  Yoga, they say, is not about achieving the exact pose or considering yourself a failure if you can’t perform a backbend on the very first day.  It is a gradual awakening to the realization of the connection between the body and the mind.  With the proper outlook and expectations, every session of yoga is a success.

Experts recommend men attending their first yoga class introduce themselves to the instructor to find out if the class is appropriate for them.  They should also admit to themselves and the instructor that they may have some anxiety about the experience.  By establishing lines of communication, the student and the instructor can begin to erase the fears they have about not being up to the task of yoga.

Another option yoga instructors may want to consider, the experts say, is occasionally conducting a men's-only yoga session where men can be themselves.  Yoga instructors who have tried this say that it is, of course, a different atmosphere than co-ed or women-only sessions – off-color jobs are not unheard of.  But such sessions go a long way toward letting men relax in the session and paving the way toward their relaxation with regular yoga sessions,.

The experts add that men should also be prepared to relax mentally in a yoga class as well.  Many of the most successful men in the business world are regular yoga practitioners and credit the activity with helping them deal with the high stress of their jobs.  Yoga, they say, not only clears their heads of problems, but permits new ideas to flow in.  indeed, many top executives have claimed that some of their most successful ideas have come while meditating during yoga.

It may be some time before the numbers of men in yoga equal that of women.  But by adopting this attitude, men too can begin to understand the benefits of yoga, both mental and physical.

Check out Yoga in Kamloops for more yoga info.

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