The benefits of doing yoga are well-established. UNH’s own campus recreation yoga page says yoga can improve flexibility, focus and concentration, stamina, strength, balance, as well as reducing stress and the risk of injury. Sounds great, right? Yoga is for everybody and every body. And yet, in many of the yoga classes I attend, I’m the only male in the room.
Why is this? I want to address a couple reasons that I’ve heard men give for not attending yoga classes.
In part, this is because I want the term “broga” to catch on. But it’s also because my experience suggests that yoga has important things to teach men about our bodies that traditional male pastimes don’t.
Near as I can tell, men avoid yoga for two reasons. First, there’s what I call the AXE Detailer Shower Tool fallacy. If you’re unfamiliar with the AXE Detailer shower tool, check it out before you keep reading. Now, consider this: the AXE Detailer shower tool is, despite its name and color patterns, a loofah . It’s the same frilly sponge they sell in the women’s shower aisle, just twice as expensive and stocked with the men’s shower paraphernalia. Silly as it is that we’ll pay more to avoid thinking of ourselves as girly, it’s even sillier to think using a loofah has anything to do with our actual gender identities. (I suspect that this fallacy could also be called the Taylor Swift fallacy, [c.f. this SNL skit]) The point is that men sometimes say yoga isn’t for them because they know women frequently do yoga. Especially given the known benefits, shouldn’t we have a better reason?
Admittedly, there is an excuse that is, from my perspective, more rational. When I first began attending yoga classes, my experience seemed woefully different than what instructors seemed to expect. For example, after we’d finished standing poses, they’d say, “Find a comfortable seat.” More accurate would’ve been, “I know that sitting in any position makes your ankles, quads, and thighs scream, but I promise it’ll get easier.” I’ve heard teachers say, “Relax in downward dog.” Downward dog feels to me exactly as relaxing as plank position. And often, Western yoga practices seem to emphasize happiness and peacefulness while denying the importance of other emotions, even though anger, sadness, and frustration also help us process our experiences. I could go on, but these examples illustrate my point. My experience as a male often conflicts with what I encounter in yoga practice.
But in the end, this conflict is nourishing. I may even need it. Competitive games were a major part of my childhood. I can remember six-hour games of two-hand-touch in the street, game after game of 21 and knockout and H.O.R.S.E. Sometimes we got innovative: fungo-bat-and-tennis-ball homerun derbies with sweatshirts for boundary markers. I hear that there’s something called “floor hockey” in the UNH dorms. I don’t know what this is, but I bet it’s fun. However, all these activities encourage us to see our bodies as tools we can use to accomplish some end—catching touchdowns, or preventing an opponent from driving to the basket. Yoga does something different—something that I personally don’t find anywhere else.
When we practice yoga, we become keen observers of various bodily sensations that we wouldn’t pay attention to during more traditional games, when we are concentrating on dribbling or guarding another player. Yoga does improve strength, flexibility, and focus. For you gamers out there, yoga permanently buffs all attributes. But it’s more than that: yoga will make you aware of how your body exists in the world. I have changed how I walk, sit, run—even how I breathe. As challenging as it is, yoga helps me understand my body as no sport I’ve played ever has.
If you’re wondering how this works, give it a try! Here’s some info that might help you get started:
- UNH offers yoga both through Health Services and at the Campus Recreation Center.
- Most local studios offer beginner’s classes and student discounts. 3 Bridges Yoga has a studio on Main Street, in Durham.
- Some studios have mats, but others require that you bring one. You can buy one at the Whittemore Center for 10$).
- Tell the teacher if it’s your first time, and about any injuries or medical conditions.
- Don’t worry if the instructions are confusing at first. Watch and do your best.
- Don’t expect to master poses immediately.
- Most importantly: yoga isn’t a contest. Don’t compete with others in the room: let your body guide you.
It’s possible that “letting your body guide you” is why you don’t do yoga. You’re not sure what that means, or maybe you think you’re bad at it. But that’s exactly why men should try yoga. Most games we play encourage us to treat our bodies like cars: we use them, but we don’t pay attention to them until they start making strange noises. But that’s why yoga’s great. It helps us maintain care for our bodies. After all, we only get one.
Jury, Lauren. Pinterest, 2013. [March 16, 2015. <https://www.pinterest.com/pin/215328425905957726/>].