Yoga Chicago / Yoga Musings

Yoga For Real Men

The other day, I saw a class being advertised here in Chicago that just made me laugh. It’s called “Yoga For Real Men”. Not just plain men, or imaginary men, or girly men, but real men! After I had a good laugh at this, I started thinking about all the implications of this class’s odd, and highly problematic, title.

If you hadn’t noticed, yoga is incredibly gendered in this country. There’s Prenatal Yoga, Postnatal Yoga, Yoga for the Larger Woman, Mommy & Me Yoga, and so on. Women in tight yoga pants advertise everything from, well, tight yoga pants to soy milk to Bank of America. In other words, the message is yoga is really something for your wife or girlfriend (and maybe a few gay or effeminate men).

But real men!? Real men with chest hair do things like eat raw steak and chop wood. They pump iron and watch football and grunt as they scratch their crotch with one hand and down a Miller Lite with the other. But they wouldn’t be caught dead on a yoga mat.

Enter “Yoga For Real Men”. In such a class, I imagine that you get to have an ashtray next to your yoga mat, and the walls are covered in LCD screens showing ESPN SportsCenter. They serve you buffalo wings during your Sun Salutations. And instead of chanting “Om”, they lead the group in a Chicago Bears chant. Or something manly like that…

Okay, now that I got my snarky remarks out of my system, here’s the real point. The whole problem of yoga being so gendered in this country is the result of two distinct but related causes. First, yoga is heavily marketed as being feminine. (When was the last time you saw a man on the cover of Yoga Journal?) Second, gender stereotypes are stubbornly entrenched in our culture, and stereotypes/expectations of men seem to exclude anything that women do.

Thankfully, some gender stereotypes are changing — e.g., people are increasingly more comfortable with a world in which women are well educated, have positions of power, and succeed in their careers as full-time professionals. (Of course, we still have a ways to go in terms of pay equity…) Likewise, our ideas about what constitutes a real man are also changing, although perhaps more slowly and with more resistance.

When it comes to yoga, it’s not particularly helpful when studios and teachers perpetuate gender stereotypes by implicitly acknowledging that yoga is “girly”. If a studio has a class called “Yoga For Real Men,” it just sends the wrong message, in my opinion. It suggests that that other yoga — the stuff your wife or girlfriend does — is somehow feminine, and therefore not appropriate for men. Instead, real men need their own, special class, where their masculinity won’t be threatened.

Sure, you could think of “Yoga For Real Men” as a just clever marketing ploy to get more people to do yoga, and I guess that’s a good thing. But this approach is far from progressive. If anything, it’s backwards and mildly offensive. It also seems to miss one of the main points of yoga: detachment.

Instead of marketing classes for “real men,” why not create an environment where people can leave their gender hang-ups at the door? My teacher Raghunath used to say something like this: “When you are in yoga class, you are not a man or woman, old or young, black, white, Hispanic, or Asian. You are breath and movement. You are here. You are now.”

Of course, a message like this might be too touchy-feely for the real men out there. Perhaps this way of thinking threatens them and their sense of masculinity. But maybe that’s exactly what they need.

NOTE: If this topic interests you, you might want to check out my older posting on the same issue.

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5 thoughts on “Yoga For Real Men

  1. Pattabi Jois, Iyengar, Bikram, David Williams, Danny Paradise, Richard Freeman, Tim Miller, Doug Swensen, and on and on – from the OG’s in India to the guys who got it going over here – all men. There were a couple women in that group too; Nancy Gilgoff was one. Point being, it’s hilarious how the chicks have completely taken over the image of yoga and made it into something feminine. Something it never was exclusively.

    • Andy,

      Thanks for the reminder about the very male lineage of yoga. My older post on this topic (https://yogaisforlovers.wordpress.com/2007/01/28/yoga-for-men/) also touches on the male-dominated history of yoga, and speculates as to why it has become so female-dominated in the US.

      However, I wouldn’t say that “chicks have completely taken over the image of yoga,” as I have a slightly different, and perhaps more cynical, view of things. I really think it comes down to marketing and demographics — i.e., upper-middle class, predominantly white women in their mid-20’s to mid-40’s have a tremendous amount of buying power in this country. They make most of the decisions about household spending, which is why you see just about EVERYTHING advertised towards this market, from shoes to sandwich meat to expensive vacations.

      Marketing professionals figured out that yoga is a wonderful and seemingly innocuous “in” to this prized consumer market. The cost of marketing directly at this market, though, is that men, many of whom are quite stubborn in their ideas about being “real men,” are not willing to go near something that is so obviously and ubiquitously feminized. (I think there are a lot of issues here regarding homophobia, but that’s a whole other discussion…)

      So by no means do I blame women for taking over yoga. If anything, women should be thanked for helping to popularize and sustain yoga in this country.

      Then who’s at fault for the “gendering” of yoga in the US? If we need to play the blame game at all, and I don’t know that we do, the people I’d point the finger at are (1) those men who are too narrow-minded and childish to try something that is popular among women, and (2) those devious marketing people with PhDs in psychology who know, perhaps better than most of us realize, how to manipulate and shape consumer behavior according to gender stereotypes and fears.

      – Eugene

  2. You make a really good point about how “studios and teachers perpetuate gender stereotypes.” Recently, I relocated to California and was scouting local studios. Found alot of stigma with the fact that I was a man attempting to learn about yoga in a group environment. Most of the women that I talked to didn’t take me seriously.

    One place I walked into asked me if I was lost, then just handed me a flyer when I asked about class. While i was reviewing the paper a woman walked in and asked the same question, and received a tour.

    After I did find a studio that I felt would give me good guidance, I learned from my co-workers that in was in the “gay part of town.” lol (Rolls eyes)

    I count my blessings tho, a class of 90% women does help motivate me. ;^)
    Homosexual part of town or not.

    -Andy

  3. Pingback: Lululemon’s “Man Problem” - Dioses Hindúes

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