Many times I’ve been confronted directly or indirectly with the chauvinistic expression “men don’t do yoga” by both men and women. Though I know that this is not a true statement, I can understand why people might think it is. Let’s break the argument down into its different aspects.
Yoga was a men thing: When yoga was popularized in the West a few decades ago, it switched from mostly male practitioners to females. There are many interesting reason for this phenomena, which I think are beyond the scope of this article. But what this fact tells us is that this has been a male tradition for centuries and was affected by western view on sexuality when yoga permeated our culture. In this regard, we are compelled to reflect on our ideas about masculinity and how these ideas are embedded in our belief systems and our society in general.
Strength and flexibility: From a symbolic point of view strength is a masculine attribute and flexibility a feminine one. Modern media points out bulky male bodies as a standard, opposite to slim female bodies. When women adopted yoga as a workout, the main focus was to develop flexibility. I still see many female teachers that can’t hold poses requiring upper body strength, because that is just not part of their practice. This bias drives potential male practitioners away. But yoga advocates for a balance between the two attributes. The contribution of gymnast and dancers to yoga is tremendous in this regard. They have shown us that you can build a balanced practice where you can be both strong and flexible.
There is no competition in Yoga: Women and men are competitive. But in my opinion, men tend to be more physically competitive. Historically, men recur to violence while women to diplomacy when confrontation arises. Because of this, there is a stronger sense of physical competitiveness among men. As gender equality increases, women now embrace physical competitiveness too. More than ever before, women are doing triathlons, cross fit and boxing, just to name a few examples. In yoga there is no competition. In my personal experience as a man, it’s hard at first to engage in a physical activity where there is nothing to prove, nothing to succeed at. It makes me very sad when I see yoga or meditation competition events. That is so far away from what yoga really is. In yoga, there is no one but you. And there is no self-competition either. This is so important to understand. In yoga, you don’t need to be better, you need to accept yourself as who you are here and now. If there is a goal, maybe that is the one.
Spirituality is not a men thing: When you think of spirituality a typical image that might come to your head is that of a monk meditating. But in our Western culture, there are few men in the general spiritual community. I think that trend is shifting as science and spiritual disciplines are starting to find common ground. My take on it is that spirituality has a big emotional component. In spirituality you have to deal with your emotions. Modern culture encourages the suppression of certain emotions and the exploration of others. Regardless of the reason, violence makes up a large component of media and entertainment but there’s a censorship of sexuality. When recognizing and dealing with the entire range of emotions, women tend to feel more comfortable. Intuition tends to be regarded as a female attribute. And in yoga there is a lot of intuition, and there is a lot of exploration of emotions.