Yoga: Bring the boys out

In the weeks leading up to the formation of Bluebird Bliss, as a marketeer by background, I  was very conscious of the fact that many yogi’s and yoga company’s are very much geared up for women. In fact, I read an article by a male yogi complaining that many guys are alienated by pink logos, classes filled with girls on mats, chanting and bending much further even for beginners, than the average man.  I was also aware that even with more ‘macho’ branding, I would still be facing a battle so I ended up going for branding that felt right, I branded it with my personality; me. It’s true that up until recently, a man in a yoga studio was a very rare sight and even now, the ratio means that the man in the class is more than a little outnumbered. So what makes it so difficult for men to get up the nerve to come and try a yoga class?

The perception is that yoga is for ‘gay boys’ and this image may be enhanced by the fact that many male instructors, have embraced more than a little of their feminine side. Why this is an issue in the first place is for the heterosexual male population to answer. However, to any men reading this article, I’d like to say, “Not all of the men doing yoga are gay although they too are welcome to my class!” In fact, I refer any boys reading to the proof that there are some truly ‘manly’ yogi’s out there though they – probably through yoga and a re-balancing of both hemisphere’s of the brain (masculine and feminine) – are not the type to ask you for an arm wrestle. Take a look at Jason’s video, come back and tell me he’s not manly and I’ll arm wrestle you myself.

Supposedly, when it comes to life on the mat, men’s brains as well as their bodies are working against them. Yes, boys have brains too apparently *snigger* The problem isn’t that women have higher IQs. But women can boast about their mirror neurons. These are brain cells that receive signals from another person and trigger similar reactions in the observer. Watching someone cry, for example, might more easily cause you to cry. While mirror neurons often detect emotions, they also help an observer match posture and breathing. “You use mirror neurons to watch and imitate your yoga instructor,” says Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco.

For men, says Brizendine, the catch is that they don’t respond as well as women to such transmitted signals. Scientists are still speculating whether women have more of such cells, or just more active ones. Either way, the neurons don’t inherently make women superior jocks, since men may have been born or raised with other athletic advantages. “But because females’ mirror neurons are more easily activated,” Brizendine says, “on average, women can mimic better than men.”

Fortunately, men can raise the performance of their mirror neurons if they consistently employ them. Until then, men enter the yoga studio at a disadvantage. New poses will be harder for them to get right. That said, as a yoga instructor myself, I can vouch for the fact that within even just 3 classes, one of my male complete novice pupils has already picked up the warrior and triangle poses – some of the more difficult to master through copying – with a little encouragement and gentle adjustment. I have a couple of boys in my classes and they are all doing brilliantly well – learning to focus, co-ordinating their breath with their movement and bringing their energy and enthusiasm to the room creating greater harmony and balance.
On top of this, let’s not forget that although men are often less flexible, they do have some advantages to their female counterparts. One of them being the greater upper body strength afforded to most which enables them to master the ashtanga sun salutations and arm balances, generally, a good deal faster than women. Never mind the fact that men who’ve been into ashtanga yoga for a number of years, practicing regularly, will find themselves with bodies to die for though this obviously, is not the goal of yoga, it can be an entry point.

What’s even better is that in places where conflict has been rife, yoga is coming into its own in showing disillusioned men the light – of hope and peace. David Sye who takes his teachings through Yoga Beats into war zones and other testosterone angry places said:

‘Yoga comes from the sanskrit language, meaning to join or unite. Today Yoga is often, mistakenly, perceived as a celebrity fad or a chic workout for the white middle classes. For over 5,000 years Yoga has been a means to achieve ‘self realisation’ and the only difference today is the form and multitude of barriers [to achieving true happiness] that our society faces.

‘Whether this means drugs, crime or war, Yoga is 100% effective in empowering and transforming lives and circumstances into joy and happiness. Collectively this is the only way that we can achieve change that lasts within our communities.’

Given the state of the world – wars run by men and women living in the sidelines, we can’t deny that men could do with making a shift from their usual competitive sports to an activity that promotes serotonin release through relaxation and a sense of inner peace. I’ve made it my mission to get more of them into my classes so to any boys out there still trying to find some excuse or other not to do yoga, I urge them to man up! Go get yourself a black yoga mat, pull on some stretchy pants and show us what you’re made of.  Remember that the girls will have a great deal more respect for a man willing to get a pair of yoga pants on thereby increasing their chances of getting ‘hers’ off.

Some images to inspire the boys out there – thanks to Rowan Cobelli …