Tag Archives: yoga for men

The new faces of yoga?

Today was a nice reunion in my Saturday morning class. These are all of my original male students who have been studying with me since 2004. What is remarkable is not the fact that I have been teaching for 12 years, but the fact that these men have been regulars for a large duration of that time.

Dr. Malcolm Ing, seen in the black shirt to my right in the photo (I’m the guy with the red tank top), has an impressive resume. He graduated from Yale Medical School and is a pediatric ophthalmologist. He’s well into his 80s and surfs longboard as well. He is a great model of what it looks like to age well.

Howard Wiig, the man to his right, works with the State of Hawai’i on alternative energy solutions. He is a stalwart in my class and comes rain or shine when he is not traveling extensively for his work. He is an avid runner and works out far more than I do. He is well into his 70s. Another great model of aging well.

Joe Teipel to my left in the grey shirt was an auctioneer for many years. I saw him recently on A&E’s Storage Wars when they came to Kailua. He is now pursuing other career interests in real estate. He is also an avid surfer and has been a part of the Hawai’i surfing community from the early days. He has a golden voice and often gives speeches for money. He has a great cameo in the movie “North Shore” which came out in the 80s. He of course was the announcer of the big surf competition. I think Joe is in his 60s, but reminds me of someone in his 30s.

Not to knock the ladies, but yoga nowadays seems to be dominated by young, lithe, 20 something women who have been doing yoga for only a few years. When I see my male students in class with over a decade of yoga experience, and they keep coming back week after week, it gives me hope that there is also a bright future for yoga being more open to men as a means of relieving stress and staying healthy as they age. With these guys, I get the same feelings of healthy camaraderie I felt was a youngster in my grandfather’s barbershop.

 

Yoga is marketed to keep men away

 

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Ixnay on the Hombre: This display says men need not apply

 

I was strolling in a sporting goods store this weekend with my wife as she was looking for new running shoes. We were in the women’s section of the store, and there was a huge display that said YOGA. There was a life sized female mannequin doing Natarajasana (see above) wearing the “sweats du moment” that the yoga fashion companies are dishing out. I was surprised how vast the area was, when a scant 10 years ago there were no yoga parts of any sporting goods store. This seemed auspicious as Yoga seems to be more prevalent in modern culture. Then, I noticed a very disturbing detail. Amid the yoga sports bras and the yoga stretch pants there was no apparel to be found for men who do yoga.

If you read my blog regularly, you know my disdain for the “yoga inspired” fashion industry. This  post is not about that. It is the fact that men are not even invited into the conversation of yoga in subtle ways (like not offering men’s yoga clothing). At the same store a few months back, I asked the clerk if there were any men’s yoga shorts. He pretty much laughed out loud and was looking around to see if my buddies had put me up for some sort of prank. “Yoga shorts for men?!” he said, “We have plenty of Yoga shorts for women…ha ha ha.”

Yoga is commercialized almost to death in the West. The Yoga fashion industry and fly by night teacher training studios have diluted the practice into the most easily pre-packaged form for the masses. Like Ballet, Yoga has been lumped into the “female only” category by mainstream Western Yoga even though in reality some of the best practitioners in either discipline happen to be male. It is almost a cliche joke to have a man walk into a mostly-female boutique studio. It is very much viewed like the wolf who wandered into the hen house. This video circulating around Buzzfeed which shows men’s first experience in a Yoga class is actually closer to the truth than a funny skit.

As I have stated before, the past umpteen covers of Yoga Journal feature lithe, petite women who are barely of age doing complex Yoga poses. In the month after his death, Yoga Journal didn’t even mention B.K.S Iyengar on the cover. In fact the last man I remember seeing on the cover was Richard Freeman about 10 years ago. Of course in modern times, a cover featuring a middle aged man wouldn’t sell. It seems that Yoga Journal has to have a sensual model on the cover move issues off the shelf because its readers don’t give a rip about the philosophy anymore.

The reality is that men need Yoga. Perhaps even more than women. I have seen men benefit greatly from practice. One of my students is in his 70s. He has the first signs of Parkinson’s disease. The symptoms have made him stiff. He comes to my class regularly and is able to now do Utthita Parsvakonasana better than many of the women in class. He has been coming to my class for about six years and always complains about how hard it is, but keeps coming back. He wears jeans (which is odd in Hawai’i) to class. You would never find him on a Lululemon display case.

The man is a retired chemistry professor. He corrected my teaching one time when I said “the shoulder is in the same line as the hip.” He said “it should be the same plane rather than the same line, because same line can be anywhere.” Since then I have always used the word “plane.”

The above example is why Yoga needs men and why men need Yoga. With all the mumbo jumbo I hear coming out of “woo woo” Yoga classes, we need instructions that are just outside of carpentry school for basic alignment. I don’t care how “spiritual” you are, if your hips are not on the same plane as your ankles in Prasarita Padottanasna, you won’t get your head to the floor unless you have a 5 foot torso and 3 foot legs.

Iyengar yoga resonates well with men. It requires the same or more discipline as someone who attains a black belt in martial arts. It is a very similar method. Most men who have had experience in martial arts understand this immediately when the step into an Iyengar yoga class. My uncle who studies martial arts said that the highest form of martial arts is healing someone. That sounds very similar to Yoga.

 

Men and “older” people: Yoga’s missing demographics

men's yoga israel

An all men’s Iyengar yoga class in Israel

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.

hannes yoga

My brother-in-law and his yearly yoga class when he visits from Germany

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.

I am a BHP graduate! (Trigger Alert)

baddha konasana

Warning! I will be talking about urine and man parts in this entry. About two and a half years ago, I was in constant agony. I could not properly empty my bladder when urinating.  Asana was painful, and I had difficulty doing certain poses that put pressure on my abdomen. I can remember the final straw that made me see a doctor was when I was taking a workshop with a senior teacher. As I had to use the bathroom, I did not want to sprint out of class in order to cling to every thread of teaching. The pose was Parivritta Parsvakonasana. Next thing you know, I wet myself.

parivritta parsvakonasna

Within the week I was in my doctors office and within the next two weeks I was on the operating table. I had a condition know as Benign Hyperplasia of the Prostate (BHP). In my case, the prostate, which is donut shaped, was bulging on one side and acting as a flap which would not let any urine through when I was trying to use the bathroom. I constantly had the urge to use the restroom without being able to empty my bladder. My doctor asked me to provide a urine sample and just a few drops came out. He ordered an ultrasound. The nurse came back with a large pitcher about the size of a wine bottle. “This is how much urine you have retained in your bladder that you can’t empty,” she said. The doctor then scoped me through the urethra. “Therein lies the problem, he said after showing me the said flap my prostate was forming. “You need surgery right away.” Very scary words to a 41-year-old healthy man who has a family history of prostate cancer.

I had a procedure called a TURP, or transurethral resection of the prostate. You can click on the link for all the gory details. The short of it is that they rotor rooter your urethra to clear the blockage from the prostate, or as my doctor colorfully put it “you’ll be able to write your name in the snow again.”

I could not do any asana one month post surgery. It was painful. My mentoring teacher Ray gave me the simple instruction to do Baddha Konasana as often as I could, coupled with Supta Padangushtana I and II. He also advised rope sirsasana with baddha konasana as I healed more. I still do these asanas as often as I can in my home practice.

rope sirsasana with baddhakonasana

Today I had my two year doctor visit since surgery. My doctor was surprised that I did not take any medication at all. My PSA count, which is the trigger for prostate cancer, is markedly lower. I evacuate urine like a race horse and was able to provide a good sample. No pain or blood in my urine. My doctor said “you can graduate and not return unless there are further complications.” That is as close to a “clean bill of health” as you can get. Asana heals profoundly.