That all changed in the early to mid-1900s, when yoga crossed the ocean into America. The ’60s and ’70s saw a confluence of the feminist movement and the hippie culture, which had discovered Eastern philosophy, and the result was the Great Yogini Boom. Before long, yoga became so female-oriented that men began to perceive yoga studios as enemy territory, one into which they dare not enter for fear of looking like a Peeping Tom — or, worse, a total amateur.
“It’s the old high school thing: Men want to be the captain of the football team, not the clumsiest guy in a class where all the women are doing better than they are,” says yoga teacher and instructional-DVD star Rodney Yee. “That fear of social humiliation has become a stop sign that’s keeping a much larger movement of men from yoga.”
Yet there are plenty of other roadblocks too. Men who grow up playing sports often struggle with yoga’s lack of competition: Aside from a handful of radical “competitive yoga” advocates, yoga simply isn’t about the thrill of victory.
Likewise, guys often can’t cope with yoga’s lack of concrete goals. Golfers shoot for birdies, swimmers count laps, and runners try to crack a five-minute mile. But yogis are taught to aim for nonlinear targets like inner peace, enlightenment and oneness with the universe.
“Men tend to think ‘If I do A, then I’ll get to B.’ But they don’t see that A plus B actually equals C,” Yee says. “And that’s the ultimate goal — to see the world as a huge river, not as small, stagnant ponds.”
And that right there is another part of the problem: To some men, referring to the world as a huge river is yogier-than-thou New Age talk. You may just as soon be speaking to them in Swahili.
“I don’t want to put my arms to the heavens so the universe smiles back at me. I don’t want to chant and hum and meditate,” says former pro wrestler “Diamond” Dallas Page. “Spirituality isn’t my ticket, which is why I was one of those guys who wouldn’t be caught dead doing yoga.”
But at the coaxing of his wife, Page began doing yoga to try to ease the serious back injuries that doctors told him would end his career. He was an instant convert. When he released his Yoga for Regular Guys book and DVDs, he decided to “hulk up” yoga by mixing it with martial arts, strength training and a good old-fashioned machismo. Instead of chanting “om,” he teaches students to shout like they’re in boot camp.