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?