Today, Western yoga culture has a reputation as a female-dominated practice. It may be a little different in London, but here in Suffolk yoga classes are likely to be attended mainly by women, with men in the minority.
This is a little ironic as men were once the only ones considered able and “suitable” for a traditional Indian yoga practice. In fact classic yoga was a system of beliefs which was entirely male, until Indra Devi- ‘the first lady of yoga’- was accepted to study under Sri Krishnamacharya in Mysore India around 1937.
Indra Devi was among other modern yoga leaders such as BKS Iyengar and Patthabi Jois-well known male leaders -who helped spread the message of yoga and make it more accessible to people and introduce it to the west.
So why don’t more men attend yoga classes? I was asking this question to some men I know recently and the consensus of opinion was that (a) they might worry that they are not going to be flexible enough to do it properly (a myth as yoga is non competive-no one is watching or judging anyone else- and stretching is more likely to benefit people who are inflexible rather that people who are already super flexible) and (b) they think it’s going to be too slow moving and boring.
But in today’s world there are so many benefits that men can get from yoga, as demonstrated by top sports men such as Ryan Giggs, Andy Murray and rugby leauge teams.
An important point is that Yoga can complement other activities we do. Many sporting activities build up the parts of the body which that sport relies on most but might eventually lead to imbalance and injury.
I teach men and women who do a range of activites such as golf, gym and running and they find yoga is a very useful practice to get the body back into balance, to improve back and joint conditions and to prevent further injury.
Sometimes men might be drawn to a more competitive, physical/ gym type of yoga but I think that’s a pity, as it might not sufficiently counterpose their other activies and life style and tap into the all important slowing down, de-stressing aspect of yoga, where physical and mental tension are minimised and quality of breathing improved.
Yes yoga can definitely increase flexibility. It can help stretch tight areas of the body such as hamstrings and hip flexors- which is really useful for anyone who has built up strength at the expense of flexibility- but yoga can also help lower blood pressure, relieve stress and anxiety and promote healthy sleep.
In fact yoga can be a full workout connecting mind and body and benefitting the whole being.