Real Men do Yoga

Real men do yoga?

Posted May 29, 2008

I used to know a graduate student who was perpetually stressed out. He was so anxious that he had insomnia on a nightly basis. When I suggested that perhaps he try a yoga class, his reaction was almost violent. I asked why he seemed so anti-yoga and he proceeded to explain to me that no man - even one who is highly in tune with his feminine side - would be caught dead in a yoga class. Now I know for a fact that not all men feel this way about yoga, but there seem to be quite a few that do.

I've been practicing yoga for almost 10 years; I spent the first 7 doing Hatha yoga in rooms full of lithe young women wearing shirts with words like "Namaste" and "Shakti" written on them. Usually our yoga class would be about an hour long and begin and end with a period of meditation. Careful stretching and balancing would be set to the soothing sounds of rustling leaves and Native American flutes. To be honest, these classes were at times boring, but they made me feel a lot less stressed out.

A few years ago I tried a new form of yoga, Bikram yoga, and in my very first class I immediately noticed something different: there were men in my class! Not a lot, but I saw at least a few. In the Bay Area I've been to Bikram yoga classes that are nearly divided 50/50 in terms of gender.

Now for those who aren't familiar with Bikram yoga its important to know that its much more like military boot camp than a peaceful trek through the woods. A Bikram class consists of 90 minutes of 26 postures, done in a heated room with a temperature of approximately 105 degrees (although I've been in studios that are much hotter). You will stretch every muscle in your body during the class while sweating buckets. You'll also find your heart beating rapidly, which is not something I'd ever experienced in a yoga class before.

So given this description of Bikram, its not too hard to figure out why it seems to be the one form of yoga that's recruited a male following. In fact, it's not just a more masculine form of yoga - it's a more American form of yoga, with its emphasis on physical performance and sculpting the body.

But enough about Bikram - where does this leave us in terms of gender and exercise? My point is really that there are definitely "acceptable" ways of exercising for men and women. This seems silly in a way, but given that most people exercise in the presence of others, it's not that surprising. The good news is that yoga is very beneficial. After only one session, there is a noticeable drop of stress hormones in a person's body. To me, that means that whatever it takes to get somebody to the yoga mat is probably a good thing.