Despite a recent widespread effort to get more men interested in yoga, the ancient practice is still female-dominated. But why are men so afraid to go with the Flow?
Like so many yoga teachers before her, Pamela O’Brien hoped to find a cure for the most persistent problem in the land of the lotus pose: male yogaphobia. So she came up with a new class called “Yoga for Men Who Think Yoga Is Strictly for Women” and spread the word around her Greenleaf Yoga studio in Geneva, Ill. But not a single guy signed up, forcing her to cancel the class before it even began.
“It’s sad, but men are really intimidated by yoga for some reason,” O’Brien says. “I just don’t know what that reason is.”
The riddle has been hovering over yoga since the 1960s, when the practice went mainstream in the United States. Recent years have seen the release of books like Real Men Do Yoga and Yoga for Regular Guys, but the push to get dudes to do downward-facing dog remains an uphill battle. You might have an easier time convincing them to take up knitting.
Exact statistics are hard to come by, but experts say that 70 to 90 percent of yoga students are women, or yoginis. The lopsided gender ratio has held so steady for so long, it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Guys see so few brethren doing yoga that they dismiss it as a women’s workout, which only helps make the misperception true.
But men are clearly in desperate need of yoga since they’re just as uptight, stressed out and bound up as their female counterparts — if not even more so.
“I’ve worked with CEOs who were so tense their doctors told them to try yoga, and it’s had a huge impact on their lives,” says David Sunshine, owner of the Dallas Yoga Center and also of the interactive blogspace Yogamodern.com. “After doing yoga, men tell me, ‘I sleep better, my love life’s better, and my mind’s so much clearer now.’ But too many men don’t know what yoga is. They think it’s wimpy, or it’s for girls, or they’re just not flexible enough to do yoga; if we were already flexible, there would be no need to do yoga.”
The irony behind today’s dearth of male yogis is that for years, yoga was a men-only club. Invented thousands of years ago in India, yoga was originally taught by men, for men. Women, for the most part, were strictly verboten.