Yoga: Calling Men to the Mat
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press in October, 2012. Posted with permission.
Historically, yoga was primarily a practice for men. So, what happened?
The most recent stats from Yoga Journal magazine indicate that American yogis are 72% females — fabulously strong, fit, and educated females.
So, to repeat, where are the men?
The obstacle for men (perhaps the only one): Ego.
John Capouya, University of Tampa journalism professor and author of the cheekily titled book Real Men Do Yoga summed it up. First, he said, men don’t like to do anything they aren’t good at. Second, they don’t want to do anything they aren’t good at in front of a group of women.
Capouya published the book in 2003, and he said in a telephone interview that he is surprised that the number of male yogis hasn’t really increased given the documented benefits of a regular yoga practice. The number of male participants is higher in Bikram Yoga, a hot-yoga practice Capouya said men are attracted to because “it’s intense and athletic.
“But when I turn to yoga, I’m looking for something else,” Capouya said.
SW Florida yoga teacher Gary Granza was punching his way up the martial arts belt ladder back in the 1990s. He described himself as being a “three-sets-of-ten, run, bike kind of guy.” But, he had a realization.
Granza’s martial arts sensei “became an (expletive deleted),” and Granza never got the deeper mind/body connection he craved.
Something had to give, and Granza found the answer in a book by John Douillard called Body, Mind, and Sport: The Mind-Body Guide to Lifelong Fitness and Your Personal Best. Being fit was not isolated in the body, Granza came to learn. It was a state of mind and spirit. This book introduced Granza to the basic sun salutations and the importance of the breath (pranayama). This awareness led Granza to study yoga.
At first, he hid in the back behind rows of snappy women in high-priced yoga clothes with “very” good form. Granza had always been fit, but he credits the yoga for improving his overall fitness level. He no longer does weight training and instead builds strength with body weight alone, primarily through asana (yogic postures). At age 58, Granza said he is in the best health of his life thanks to yoga.
“If anyone told me ten years ago that I’d be meditating twenty minutes a day today, I would have told them they were crazy,” he said.
Yoga has been proven to deliver even for the most extreme athlete. The benefits apply to any physical endeavor: increased strength and muscle tone, rock steady balance and body control, and deeper breathing and oxygen intake, just to name a few.
The benefits for men are not only physical. Howard Martin, a yoga teacher with Joyful Yoga in Bonita Springs, speaks clearly how men will “crash off the wall” in their preoccupation with “better, stronger, faster.” That same ego that keeps men from the yoga room is the same ego that needs to be served on the mat.
“Men do have emotions that grab the wheel and drive the car. Yoga gives everyone the chance to note their emotions with some distance,” Martin said.
Martin said that at age 44, he feels like he is in his 20s, and he’s leaner and stronger than he’s ever been. More importantly, Martin has seen a transformation in his interpersonal relationships. He noted that it is the tendency of men to seek to dominate relationships, but “kindness and truth” are big in yoga, and they are perhaps the greatest rewards. After five years of practicing yoga, Martin said he gets along better with co-workers and bosses, and all of his relationships are “simpler and more genuine.”
As Bruce Lee famously uttered: “Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or creep or drip or crash. Be water, my friend.”