– by Kevin Boon –
At the pregame warm up of the last professional baseball game I attended, I was thrilled to watch five-time all-star José Bautista do a Camatkarasana before smoothly moving into a Chaturanga Dandasana. It’s rare to see anyone doing yoga poses in front of thousands of spectators, let alone when it’s a guy doing a pose that’s roughly translated from Sanskrit as “an ecstatic unfolding of the enraptured heart.” Nice work José! Two home runs that game.
Studies demonstrating the physical and mental benefits of practicing yoga have been mounting steadily for years. Yet, studies published in both 2008 and 2012 by Yoga Journal on participation rates and motivation reveal what yoga practitioners already knew: that more women (80%) practice yoga than men (20%).
Why? Pick a reason, any reason: Less flexibility. Too hippie new-age. Zero competition. For the stereotypically lone-wolf gender, it’s curious that men often prefer team sports to individual ones and focus less on restoration and strengthening. But then competition, for men, is essential to exercise. If we have time, stretching (in addition to weight training) is exactly what we do to compete better at Sunday night’s hockey game; it’s not the main event, so the thought of daily stretching let alone a dedicated yoga practice is often far from our minds. Ask any guy on your team if he stretches enough. Ask any guy anywhere if he stretches enough. For whatever the reasons, stretching remains male anathema. Yet, it’s integral to performance and recovery, enabling better performance.
But the benefits of yoga actually go much further than just simple stretching. “Yoga does so much more than stretch your muscles,” Sebastian Schäffer, Chief Editor of SoMuchYoga.com, says. “From reducing stress after a long day at work, offering various weight loss benefits to building lean muscle mass; yoga has a lot to offer to men who are willing to give it a try.”
Is sitting cross-legged so unmanly?
After canvassing several men, I can see yoga lacks appeal for that gender because it smacks too much of aerobics—a cooperative, dancey way to stay in shape. Attending a yoga class with low lighting, candles and incense may make men feel as though they’d wandered into the women’s change room: foreign territory and a place they aren’t supposed to be.
Yoga stigma is such a deterrent for men that this ancient, effective, and highly beneficial practice has to be repackaged in order for many members of my gender to even consider participating. My yoga teacher suggested, half-jokingly, a beer-belly yoga class to entice rounder men with little flexibility to try a few poses and then receive a beer as a reward. Whatever it takes! Perhaps as more star athletes in the big leagues practice openly and more companies attempt to tap into the stubborn side of this hugely lucrative market by making accommodations geared toward masculine sensitivities, our macho mentality toward yoga might change.
Yoga can be confusing. There are numerous types with sometimes indiscernible differences and strange names. Ashtanga. Iyengar. Bikram. It’s almost too much like homework. Despite the differences, all yoga is about breathing and stretching. In order to coordinate these two things effectively, add some meditation. Hot yoga has less meditation. Hatha yoga (my personal favourite) has lots of meditation. There are other types as well, which shouldn’t detract from the main goal of stretching, strengthening and loosening up the body.
It’s all in the name
Professional athletes like José Bautista may openly practice yoga—both for recovery and increasingly as a regular part of their fitness regimen—but words are powerful, and connotations important. One company has gained traction in the professional sports world by renaming Yoga “Joga” and employing mostly attractive female instructors. A spoonful of sugar makes the yoga go down. Another effort to recruit men contradicts the assertion that yoga is inaccessible to the flexibility challenged: Broga is “geared for men (where it’s okay if you can’t touch your toes).”
It is ironic that we men, who try to win at everything, need to be kid-gloved into doing something that is going to improve our heart rate, expand our lung capacity, broaden our range of movement, strengthen overlooked muscle groups, reduce anxiety and stress, improve attention and focus and increase our stamina physically, mentally and even sexually. What could be more masculine than kicking ass at sports, avoiding and/or recovering from injuries, prolonging our athleticism into old age, aging with health and strength and, oh yeah, having healthy relationships? Yoga offers all this and more. Come on guys! Let yoga help you bring out your macho, because it’s macho to have more stamina in bed. It’s macho to have better focus at work. And it’s definitely macho to hit two home runs in one game, like José Bautista.