In all the years that I’ve practiced yoga in a class setting, I’ve noticed the jarring absence or, at the most, the minimal presence of men in the class. Women dominated the room, and while there were a few men who came to practice, they were either extreme beginners or extremely advanced.
In our recent survey, we found that 80% of our respondents were women. While this statistic was staggering, none of us found it any bit surprising, that we almost brushed the numbers off as if it was the norm. Yoga has become so women-dominated that people have generally come to associate it with women.
And herein lies my million-dollar question. If yoga is considered a non-discriminatory sport that benefits the body, mind and soul in a holistic way, then why is it that only women are interested in the practice? If yoga helps us revitalize our body and heal our ailments, then why aren’t more men taking up the practice?
Yoga in History
For many, it might actually come as a surprise to know that yoga was previously a men-only practice. While yoga’s existence arguably dates back centuries, the yoga the modern world knows and understands relates back to Krishnamacharya in 1888, who practiced and taught yoga in India. With his wife, Krishnamacharya traveled through India giving yoga demonstrations and was eventually invited to teach at the Sanskrit College in Mysore, India.
There, Krishnamacharya taught young men asana sequences and breathing. His students included a few names familiar to the Western world – Pattabhi Jois, who popularized Ashtanga yoga, and B.K.S Iyengar, who was known as the founder of Iyengar yoga. Even though Krishnamacharya gave separate classes to women, yoga was initially not considered for females. Iyengar eventually taught yoga to women, but this was a more subdued and less aggressive form of the practice. Women were taught in separate classes and given less “difficult” asanas to work with. In other words, yoga for women was a more watered down version than the yoga that was taught to men.
Women and Yoga
When yoga was introduced to the West, there was suddenly a shift in the interest of yoga. What was previously a practice to bolster Indian Nationalism and primarily practiced by men became a women’s pastime. Yoga became more synonymous with women, and the idea of flexibility, peace, mantra and Om took on a more feminine outlook and was viewed with disdain by men.
As more yoga schools and studios opened over the years, the practice transformed quite fascinatingly into a female “sport”. Companies selling yoga props and apparels went with this notion - manufacturing, marketing and selling the idea of a premium yoga lifestyle. Products included tight-fitting yoga pants in various designs and shades of colors deemed attractive to women, as well as yoga-centered accessories such as mantra beads. The yoga business is a lucrative one too – 27 billion dollars and growing.
So Why Are Men Shying Away?
When I asked my husband why he isn’t interested in practicing yoga especially since his wife is a yoga teacher, he said that he was too stiff. He didn’t enjoy the idea of being turned and twisted in order to become more supple and flexible. Flexibility, according to him, is for women. “Men prefer strength,” he stressed.
The myths associated with yoga are aplenty. First, the notion that you need to be flexible to practice yoga effectively – and men are just not cut out for it. Then, there is also the stigma surrounding the “New Age” idea of yoga with its veganism, mantra chants, and meditation (which is, surprisingly quite popular with men).
Carolyn Gregoire of the Huffington Post highlighted that the commercialization of yoga has also inadvertently made it more feminine than ever. The yoga body is often thought of as the female body – slender and long. Men who do yoga also seem to display similar body characteristics. Think Adam Levine.
Then there is also the view of manliness, and yoga, unfortunately, isn’t very “manly” according to men. In general, men work out to be bigger. They look for physical challenges and subscribe to a more “no pain, no gain” school of thought. Yoga, with its mental practice being as important if not more than its physical aspect, is perceived as less challenging.
How Do We Bring the Men Back?
Perhaps it’s time to remind our opposite sex that yoga is not a practice only for women of all shapes and sizes, but a practice for all in all shapes and sizes. It’s time to de-stigmatize the practice and make it an inclusive one. Let’s remove our image of the slender female body as the poster girl for yoga and remember that there is no ideal yoga body There’s just us. All it takes to have a yoga body is to practice yoga.
Want to complement your wife’s yoga practice? Learn and participate in an acro yoga teacher training and you just might be able to partner with her in breathtaking asanas!