Incredibly as little as 50 years ago Yoga was for men only. Women were not in this club.
Call it cosmic justice or Karma, but all these years later Yoga is devoid of Y Chromosomes. In a recent article by Wanderlust Co-Founder Sean Hoess he points out that 85% of Wanderlust attendees are women and chances are if you take stock of the people in your local yoga class, it is almost certain to be a higher percentage of women to men.
Interestingly when I was teaching yoga full time in Vancouver, I would say that up to 40% of the people in the class were men. A question I got asked every few days “why do you think so many guys go to your class?”
Sometimes they answered the question for me before I did.
“I think it is because you seem like just a regular guy, even physically, and so it seems approachable to so many guys. You aren’t one of those skinny, vegan types.”
No offence to the “skinny vegan types” by the way. The fact is that I for a long time I was secretly bummed out about my stocky, “athletic” build.
“It is not fair,” I thought to myself, “How do all these yoga guys stay so skinny when we do all the same yoga?” But the fact is I’ve spent a large percentage of my life in the very large and very cold North Pacific surf paddling around on tiny pieces of fiberglass. Of course this was going to slow me down in the flexibility department.
I didn’t get stuck in this rut for long. I had to make a choice in my mind to see that the glass was half full. I have always said that Y.O.G.A. is really an acronym for “You’ve Only Got Attitude” so I had to spin things positively in my mind. What was the option? A life with no surfing? Forget it. It would be like loosing one of my senses, so in my twenty plus years of practicing yoga beside very bendy guys and girls, I would have to remind myself to relax and keep this in mind.
I have to tell you the extreme to which I am talking being inflexible. I have taught yoga to tens of thousands of bodies and I have NEVER seen anyone as inflexible as I was when I started. I would sit in pools of sweat trying to hold downward dog while lean and graceful women put their feet on their heads in scorpion pose.
Since then I have watched students (mostly women) master poses like the Splits that I have been working on everyday since 1992 in just a few years of coming to classes I was teaching. This could be a source of unhappiness, but the bumper sticker was right, “Attitude is Everything!”
“Comparison is the Thief of Happiness,” says Benjiman Franklin. This is what we are talking about. If I just stay in tune with my body and what I can do with the clear intention to heal myself, Yoga even when I was at my tightest is a total joy.
This is the essence. Comparison is the Thief of Happiness IF YOU LET IT! What I have learned is that is also the source of infinite Inspiration too.
Even when I was in those rooms trying to hold downdog, encased in my tight guy immobile muscles, there was a joy in watching what other people could do. I celebrated them.
Comparison is the thief of Happiness or a source of great Inspiration. You choose.
The argument could be made that “competition over compassion” is a mindset that is more dominant in men than women, but it runs true in both sexes. I hate generalizations about sexes. It is like saying men are taller than women when I know plenty of women much taller than I am.
In my paradigm, I see plenty of men that know how to listen to their bodies. Sure they may have learned the hard way but this is yoga’s first, most simple and perhaps deepest lessons. To do it well, you have to silence your competitive side, listen to bodily feedback and truly get in touch with the kind side to heal yourself.
Learning this lesson so deeply is the basis of the movement I call Blissology. If we can figure out how to balance drive with kindness in our own bodies during yoga, then we can apply these same wisdom principles to all of our relationships from how we treat our close circle of friends, lovers and family, to our communities, and nature. It’s all the same pattern. The ego blinds us and the Heart binds us. Find the balance and you will tap into a deep bliss in life.
Bringing this back to all the high percentage of guys in my Yoga classes, embodying this balance of drive with kindness is ultimately what I think drew them in. It wasn’t just my physical build or the “regular guy-ness” vibe. I think so many men are questing for a way of living outside of our paradigm of rugged competition. The only outlet we get is sports and business, but most guys I see want to be good fathers or kind to their lovers. The drive is the same in both sexes. Love is the greatest gift to humans.
I was always looking for a way to relate to my dad. He was awesome and unfortunately dead now, but we never got to have deep heart to heart conversations without feeling like dancers with two left feet. It was always awkward at best. He was into thoroughbred horse racing and his business. That didn’t leave us with much common ground. I see a similar pattern in so many guy relationships. We are not taught how to communicate openly and honestly but man, we want to.
When guys see examples of how to really be kind, clear and communicative without feeling like they are becoming “wimpy” in the process, it speaks to a deep inner conflict we all have. This is what I feel guys are looking for in yoga.
In my next blog, I want to address the next thing Sean brought up in his article: “Yoga hurts.” Besides getting down on ourselves for things we suck at what also ruins the yoga experience especially for tight guys is not knowing how to make it easier. If you were to only bathe in scalding water, you would never get in a tub, but get it right and it is a total joy. Let’s get the yoga experience right.
To sum up my point about all people looking to get in touch with their hearts as the purpose of life, I’d like to do what all yogis do to illustrate their points: Quote Hafiz. Sorry, it’s cliche but he really speaks to the point.
Once a young woman asked me,
“How does it feel to be a man?”
And I replied,
I am not so sure.”
Then she said,
“Well, aren’t you a man?”
And this time I replied,
“I view gender
As a beautiful animal
That people often take for a walk on a leash
And might enter in some odd contest
To try to win strange prizes.
A better question for Hafiz
Would have been,
‘How does it feel to be a heart?’
For all I know is Love,
And I find my heart Infinite