When I tell people that I am a yoga teacher, I usually get a chuckle. I don’t fit any of the preconceived demographics that are represented in the media about what a Yoga teacher should look like. I am male, I am in my 40s, I don’t have any tattoos, I am a bit chubby, and I haven’t changed my name to Suryachakra (my apologies to those of you who are actually named Suryachakra). Most devestatingly, I do not have an Instagram account.
Now that Yoga is becoming popular, media is portraying all practitioners as being 20ish young, lithe, women who wake up in Bakasana and float around all day like that on Instagram. While that has been a boon for young women who can certainly benefit from all that Yoga has to offer, many others feel “left out” and are having difficulty finding an entry point into the practice.
In Yoga Journal, you will seldom find any of the models over of the age of 50 and certainly no men. If you do, they are in the back of the issue with some article entitled “yoga for the extremely elderly” (that was a joke). In Elephant Journal, all you read about is how to make a cool hip hop playlist or how to deal with your taking your boyfriend to class rather than actually learning how to practice Yoga.
Locally, if you go to your Yelp website, you will find 50 yoga studios who promote a synthesized crossfit “yoga workout” before you find anything that remotely addresses those who are injured, over 50, and/or male. And those are the “one star” reviews because those studios’ teachers do not allow people to do whatever they want and instead teach how to do the pose.
I know I sound like an old fuddy duddy, but Yoga in the West needs to grow up. How many times do we have to read #namasteeverydamnday before we get viscerally ill? I don’t mind that so many young people are into Yoga. But what happens is they get their 200 hour teacher training, take up all the slots at the McYoga studio, find a boyfriend or girlfriend, and poof! Gone with the wind. Then what happens is what ever teaching they learned goes with them and the teachings are eventually lost or eroded.
My students tend to be older. There is also a nice 50/50 ratio of men to women in my class. As I am getting a bit older, Yoga practice is becoming more of a requirement than a preference. If I don’t do my practice, I feel it! I suspect that is the motivation of many of my Saturday students. One student always tells me after class that she was hurting all week and finally feels better.
This December, Geeta Iyengar who is the daughter of B.K.S Iyengar, will conduct a 10 day intensive to celebrate her 70th birthday. You can guarantee that she will teach in full force as she has rented out a whole sports facility to conduct the workshop. If I even make it so 70, I will be grateful if I can do 10 days of anything, nonetheless a 10 day intensive workshop!
My teacher Ray is well into his 60s and can do Bakasana way better than most of these endless instagram images I am plagued with daily. For his recent assessment, he had to do Eka Pada Bakasana (one legged Bakasana) and passed with flying colors.
The point I am trying to make is that if you are “older” or male or injured, there are Yoga classes out there for you. Go online and find your nearest Iyengar teacher. If there are none in your area, read this blog and try to follow along. As the old saying goes “when you are ready the teacher will come” which I have always found the case to be with Iyengar teachers. There is one closer to you than you think.
My Iyengar class has no men, alas, but over half of the women are over 50. It’s good, I like it 😊
Interesting point you make here. There’s a ton out there on the lack of diversity in yoga these days, but not much about men. In the classes I take, there may be 1 or 2 guys in class, but they’re rarely over 40 (unless the yoga is really making them look young!). I do often practice with older women though. Do you think there’s a bigger hurdle for men to jump over + into a yoga class?
Thanks for your reply. I think there is a HUGE hurdle for men to get into yoga. I was just at a sporting goods store and they had a “yoga” section. It was all women’s clothing and all female models doing extreme yoga contortions. Because of this marketing, most men view yoga as a female exclusive exercise. This Selfie-Instagram image of yoga also detracts older students who for obvious reasons do not want to injure themselves doing these extreme poses. This is something that I try to overcome through education and through my blog.
I rarely have a student who looks like the “model yogis” in ads – if they are young and female they are generally non athletic and interested in more than asanas. The most “yoga body” like women tend to be 40s and 50s having practiced for decades. I do have men in my classes (not 50/50) but they definitely range in fitness and age. I think there is such a huge range of yoga offerings out there that are very inclusive – but you wouldn’t necessarily know that if you engage in yoga through advertisers and product marketers. Having studied and taught yoga in India where the majority of students are men and mostly over 40, focused on meditation not asanas, the US is a drastic difference. The hyper focus on physical postures in the West is so odd really. But we see things as markets and that’s what sells. It’s a shame that people feel blocked because yoga has been turned into a product they don’t see being sold to them. It really has nothing to do with that – but that message isn’t considered marketable by the consumer powers that be. The great thing about today is there are many more ways to get information out there and it is getting out there. I just read about secret invite only meditation parties in NY – glammed up, expensive, exclusive… but it’s a large group of people sitting together meditating. Maybe that could be like a gateway drug… Once someone can market it right, the larger practice of yoga and the inclusiveness of yoga will one day be what’s on the cover of magazines. I’m not holding my breath. You are spreading the word. So are others. That makes a difference.
Sorry about the super long post. This is something every teacher I know talks about.
At my Iyengar studio, the 50+ Intermediate class has the highest, most consistent enrollment, including two faithful male students: a former football player with replaced knees and a lifetime swimming coach with a variety of medical issues. Other men attend, more sporadically, but still the overwhelming majority of students are female.
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