Is Yoga Manly Enough for Men?

man doing yoga pose plow
Photo Credit: NathanYoga

While yoga is more commonly practiced than ever before, women still eclipse men at the rate of 76% to 24%, according to a 2008 survey. Many reasons have been theorized for the paucity of men in the yoga world; fewer male yoga instructors, a feminization of the practice as a whole—reflected on yoga magazine covers and in popular ads, a cultural belief that men are supposed to do “manly” forms of exercise (i.e. sports or weight-lifting), less easily activated mirror neurons, and limited flexibility among males compared to females following adolescence.

None of these trends or associations do much to attract males to the practice. And yet, there is a wealth of benefits for men who practice yoga.

For men who commit to a yoga practice, the results are deeply rewarding. Improved strength and balance, fewer pain medications, and increased competence are just a few of the benefits cited by Duane Welt, an Illinois yogi. Increased flexibility, stress management, resilience, and mindfulness are just a few of the anecdotal benefits cited by male yoga practitioners. Research studies exploring the beneficial effects of yoga have shown equal improvement across genders, although some of these benefits may show up differentially.

Yoga studio owner Jeff Manning comments that “Yoga has been so empowering for women over the years, that it may scare some men away … [but] once you start it, you realize this is the world’s best kept secret

Despite the gender skew, there are signs that yoga may be increasingly accepted by a minority of men.

Retreats and yoga classes for men, led by men are cropping up across the country, providing safe space for men who might otherwise be turned initially off by walking into a room full of very flexible women or hearing inspirational, spiritual language that may work well for seasoned practitioners, but may be uncomfortable to anyone trying a yoga class for the first time.

The military now commonly incorporates yoga into training regimens, and has funded research into the benefits of yoga for PTSD. Yoga has been offered in police departments, fire departments, on construction sites, and other work settings conventionally gendered “masculine” in our society.

In India, the notion that yoga is a women’s practice or unmanly is laughable, since most yoga traditions traditionally excluded women, and according to Mark Singleton’s hypothesis, athletic forms of postural yoga were commonly inspired by European contortionists, Indian fakirs, and wrestlers (primarily male).

Do you think yoga is manly enough for American men? How would you encourage the men in your life to practice yoga?

Comments 10

  1. The men in my life refuse to try yoga, no matter what I’ve said. My guess is that 1. yoga appears too delicate a practice for them to take seriously. The fact that there’s no pouring perspiration gives the notion that it’s easy stretching. 2. I hate to admit this, but I think women tend to have more patience in general. Yoga’s meditative qualities don’t seem conducive to those who would rather push through something quickly rather than take the time to pose, breath and repeat. Then again, perhaps it’s just the in my life.

  2. Funny, it took a partner yoga class (taught by someone else) to help my husband try yoga and now he is a complete convert. I think it has a lot to do with finding an enviroment for guys to feel comfortable trying a class…and that really differs based on their personality. It can be a intimidating for women to try a class, so I imagine even more difficult for guys!! But we need to keep encourgaing them – they bring great energy!!!! :)

  3. I have been the token male in a class of some 30 women for about 5 years. I have lost 60 pounds, 5 inches off my waist, and am healthier than I was at 50. (I’m now 70…)

    Yoga os one of the best things that have come into my life…

  4. Yea. A lot of people laugh at me because i do yoga. They think its for the weak lol i hardly use my weights anymore since i started doin yoga. Ive lost 100 lbs since i started doin yoga nd eatin rite

  5. RE: How would you encourage the men in your life to practice yoga?
    start a class or business for men only

  6. I have been doing yoga for about 2 yrs, part of which I practiced hot yoga. I was into kick boxing and martial arts and wanted to improve my flexibility and core strength. It also brings a mental and spiritual aspect to my workouts that I wouldn’t get with weight lifting alone or martial arts alone. As far as it not being manly I’ve got to say it is very challenging and difficult and the way I see it I’d rather work out with a room full of hot sweaty flexible women than a bunch of dudes. By the way I am 40 and single and it has been an awesome way to meet hot athletic women. ps it also makes you a lot better in bed!

  7. It was hard, for the first time, to walk into a class with all females, I did it and after 6 months I can not say enough about the benefits of yoga including being free of neck pain after 42 years of pain from an auto accident. I practice 4 times a week and would advese everyone to give it a try (at least 6 sessions). Our local YMCA includes 6 classes a week – McKinney, TX

  8. Interested in yoga and the effect it might have on several fronts. One weight loss, two toning, three artificial knees and can these be done in the home.

  9. I like yoga but I don’t like being the only guy in the class. I feel a little awkward. But with my back it’s good for me. They are welcoming but yeah I feel a bit uncomfortable I suppose.

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