I teach a weekly employee yoga class at a hospital where my students are all women. Every week, a young man peers curiously into the classroom. I asked him once if he’d like to join us, and he said, “Yes, but what would my friends say? Yoga is for girls.”
This odd societal notion that yoga is an emasculating, status-reducing activity is bad enough. But to make matters worse, people like William J. Broad, the so-called New York Times science writer, have publically espoused that yoga is actually harmful to men. Why? Because, he says, men have a tendency to push themselves too hard, and their bigger muscles are more injury prone.
Wait … what?
Here’s the truth: The majority of the yoga poses that we do in the studio today were developed by men, not women. In fact, women had to fight for the right to take part in this practice in the first place. And I could spend days discussing the fallacies of Broad’s arguments (which are based on poor science and don’t at all credit men with the ability to take care of themselves), but we all have better things to do. The point is: When did yoga get deemed wussifying or, worse, a threat to one’s health?
I don’t live in a man’s body, but I do teach yoga to a lot of strong, masculine, and intelligent men, and I can tell you from what I see that yoga is every bit as beneficial to men as it is to women. It does not seem to have negatively affected anyone’s testosterone levels, nor do my male students get injured any more than my female students — if they practice intelligently. (If one practices unintelligently, regardless of gender, one will get injured.) In fact, despite the obvious anatomical disparities, I see very little difference between the male and female practitioners I know in terms of commitment to practice, injury rate, and advancement. The largest challenge for men is the message in Western society that yoga was not made for them.
As a response to the dearth of dudes in yoga class, an interesting movement to promote male-only yoga classes has come about. The national Broga program is one example of this trend, though it hasn’t yet caught on locally. While I love that this movement is encouraging more men into the classroom, the segregation aspect feels weird to me. This is yoga, not football. I’d prefer to see all of us — men, women, and trans folk — practicing in the same room, side by side. Together.
As a society, both men and women have suffered from countless years of gender segregation. The yoga room can be a place for us to be in community together. Sure, we have different bodies, but we’re all there for the same reason: to improve ourselves and develop a deeper sense of inner intelligence. I understand that there’s a comfort in being around people who look like you, and avoiding environments where the other gender dominates. But if women had let that fear deter us, we wouldn’t have gained the right to attend college, vote, or have our own bank accounts. Besides, yoga is actually about moving out of your comfort zone, and confronting the fears and insecurities that imprison you. What better place to push your boundaries?
I’m a fan of anything that gets more guys, straight or gay, into the yoga room — even boys-only yoga. But the beautiful thing about bringing the genders together in general, and particularly in the yoga room, is that we balance one another energetically. We can learn from, support, and better understand one another. I think the time is ripe now for us to come together in mindful community — in fact, I think our evolution as a species depends on it.
And a little secret for those men who’ve yet to take a yoga class because they think the women don’t want them there: We do.
Karen Macklin is a writer and yoga teacher in San Francisco -- her On the Om Front column appears biweekly here on sfbg.com.
Yoga and Spirituality Listings
By Joanne Greenstein
Restorative Yoga with Live Singing Bowls with Kevin Hibbit and Sam Jackson
Combining crystal bowl music, healing touch, poetry, and restorative yoga, this workshop will help attendees to slow down, relax and look within.
Sat/9, 6:30-9:30pm, $35, Mindful Body, 2876 California, SF
Naked Men’s Yoga
Check out these weekly classes for men that are aimed at offering community and more freedom for expression and movement. Clothing is not optional. Days and times and locations vary.
Therapeutics Workshop with John Friend
After a long hiatus from the yoga world, the founder of Anusara yoga is back in town. In this workshop, he will focus on common issues and injuries in the body, and how to overcome them using therapeutic postures based on principles of alignment.
Sat/9, 6:30-8:30pm, $50, Urban Flow Yoga, 1543 Mission, SF
Yoga Grad School
Laughing Lotus is offering several weekend workshops between now and the end of June on topics ranging from teaching yoga to at-risk youth to hands-on assisting. The workshops are appropriate for dedicated practitioners looking to deepen their practice as well as for those interested in earning credit toward advanced teacher certification. Price varies based on number of workshops taken.
Lotus Fly: Advanced Asana and Sequencing with Sheri Celentano
March 16-17, 1-6pm, $199
Laughing Lotus, 3271 16th Street, SF
Healing the Heart – A Daylong Immersion in Bhakti Yoga with Jai Uttal, Nubia Teixeira, and Swami Ramananda
Immerse yourself in a day of devotional exploration. This daylong workshop integrates meditation, ceremony, breathing exercises, devotional dance, and chanting.
March 16, 10am-5pm, $100 ($90 by Mon/11); includes a vegetarian lunch
Integral Yoga Institute, 770 Dolores, SF
Yoga and Dance with Wendy Faith
Link two forms of movement in one in this workshop combining yoga and dance. Dance forms visited include Afro-Brazilian, salsa, tribal bellydance, Bhangra, West African and hip-hop.
March 17, 1-3:30pm, $35
Aha Yoga, 1892 Union, SF