To this day, a lot of men are dismissive of the idea that they should practice yoga. But why might that be?
Due to the marketing “makeover” that yoga underwent over the last few decades, it is often perceived as a women’s practice.
However, that couldn’t be further from the truth! In this article, we will explore why we should dismantle the stereotype that yoga is not suitable for male practitioners.
Yoga and Gender Statistics
However, the number of male practitioners is steadily increasing. In 2012, it was estimated at 4 million, whereas in 2016 it jumped up to 10 million. While it is impossible to pinpoint the exact number of men practicing yoga, it is almost certain that it increased even further over the last few years.
Men are more likely to take up yoga in pursuit of spiritual development. That number makes up 13% of male practitioners, compared to only 7% among female yogis.
The same survey included data that 54% of male practitioners started yoga for its physical benefits, 17% wanted to experience the mental benefits, and 14% quoted another reason.
There may be a brief correlation between gender and knee injury related to yoga. For reference, 22% of men reported having had a knee injury from practicing Lotus Pose (Padmasana) compared to 10% of female practitioners. This data is likely to a certain predisposition for external hip rotation in women.
Brief History of Yoga and Gender
Despite its current image, yoga originated as a strictly male practice.
Thousands of years ago, yoga was a purely spiritual practice among Brahmas (Vedic priests) and Rishis (mystic seers). Back then, these religious and spiritual practices were exclusive to men.
Looking back at yogic history, the demographics mainly included spiritual devotees like monks and gurus whose lineage could be traced back to ancient sages.
While yoga continued to develop and change, it remained a very male-oriented discipline. The turning point only happened a few decades ago.
Initially, women’s practice was segregated from men’s, and female teachers were incredibly rare. Somehow, in the last half a century, the scales were tipped in the opposite direction.
As you can see, the past and current social standing of yoga as a spiritual discipline, mindfulness practice, or physical exercise differ quite significantly.
However, various statistics are no more than just numbers, which have no relation to what yoga truly represents.
The Role of Anatomy in Yoga
One of the common reasons men shy away from the yoga practice is the unfortunate belief that flexibility is inherent, as opposed to learned.
It is true that generally speaking women tend to be more flexible than men, due to the structural differences in connective tissues. After all, women’s bodies have evolved to undergo significant changes over the course of pregnancy and labor.
That said, it is not so cut and dried. Statistics can only paint a broad picture. Even without flexibility training, some men will be naturally flexible, and some women will struggle with mobility.
There is also a wide range of genetic and environmental conditions that will influence an individual’s flexibility, joint movement, balance, cardiovascular endurance, and other factors that have an effect on yoga practice.
Ironically, traditional yoga poses, which include deep backbends, forward folds, extreme twists, inversions, and binds, were invented for men… by men!
Or rather, these poses were designed with adolescent boys in mind. Age plays a significant role when it comes to tissue elasticity, range of motion, endurance, and balance. This is why in yogic tradition boys would typically start practicing shortly before entering puberty.
Looking closely at the more advanced poses, you’ll notice that having broad shoulders, flat chest, narrow hips and long arms gave the practitioner an advantage.
That’s because at the time those poses were generated, the thought of adapting them to feminine curves never entered the minds of trailblazers of the yoga discipline.
Which leads to conclusion that anatomically, men are actually better suited for yoga practice than women.
Nature vs. Nurture
On the other hand, we cannot deny the role of social conditioning when it comes to yoga practice.
If yoga was specifically designed for men, why do women find it so much easier, even if they have never practiced before?
In Western society, girls and boys are often encouraged to partake in genderized types of activities from a very young age.*
Girls are often given dolls and easy-bake ovens, while boys are encouraged to play with cars and build LEGO sets.
Girls are sent to dance or gymnastics lessons, while boys play team sports.
As these little humans grow taller and wiser, they are still beholden to social conditioning. And so, men go one to lift weights, wrestle or join their college rowing team.
Meanwhile, women do pilates or yoga, which is ironic, considering these practices were both established by men.
Naturally, someone who spent their childhood and teenage years in dance classes will fair better as an adult in their first ever yoga class.
That being said, it simply means that it may take longer for a male beginner to reach the same level of flexibility or balance as it would for a female student.
On the other hand, men are likely to find strength poses, such as plank variation or arm balances, easier to perform than women with the same level of experience.
*These are general examples. Fortunately, these gender norms are changing for the better, with plenty of boys being able to enjoy activities that were previously considered “feminine”, and vice versa.
Benefits of Yoga for Men
Now that we have established that there is nothing inherently feminine about yoga itself, let’s take a closer look at the various benefits of yoga for men.
Flexibility plays a large part in the myriad of reasons why people turn to yoga in the first place. In fact, many beginners express a common (if somewhat misguided) desire to “touch their toes“, which is often seen as a pinnacle of flexibility.
As every practicing yogi will attest, yoga is an excellent way to improve muscle elasticity and increase end range of movement in your joints.
Together, these improvements lead to functional mobility, which means you will find daily tasks easier to perform, and your body will harbour less discomfort or ache.
Working on one’s flexibility is especially important for men, because the vast majority of jobs and hobbies that are typically labeled as “masculine” can make the body more and more tense over time.
Let’s face it, men face a lot of pressure to meet societal expectations, which can lead to a feeling of inadequacy if these criteria aren’t met.
One of the brilliant aspects of yoga is that it opens your eyes to the things you are truly capable of.
Before trying yoga, many people would be sceptical that with regular practice they could achieve the strength, balance and flexibility you often see from experienced yogis.
And yet, once you commit to this discipline, you’ll be astonished to see the progress. Knowing that you can achieve something that previously seemed impossible is a huge boost of confidence!
Once you have that confidence in yourself, it can help you realize that your value is not tied to your earnings, appearance, or possessions. Finally, you can be free to pursue the things that matter most to you.
Adjacent to the overall improvement in confidence, yoga can help male practitioners achieve a healthier body image.
While it is possible that yoga will affect certain visual changes in your body, most of the change happens on the inside.
Acknowledging and appreciating your gradual transformation can be the key to loving your body for its strength, resilience, and ability to keep you alive, as opposed to the way it looks.
Yoga can also make you feel more comfortable in your own skin due to the improved coordination and body awareness as a whole.
If you already dedicate your time to a particular sport or physical activity, yoga can act as an excellent “supplement” to your athletic training.
Yoga is a great tool for cross-training, physical endurance, opposition training, and mental focus required for your primary sport.
One of the lesser-known advantages of yoga for men is that it can have a positive impact on your sexual health and sexual performance.
After 12 weeks of consistent yoga practice, male subjects reported improvements in desire, intercourse satisfaction, performance, confidence, partner synchronization, erection, ejaculatory control, and orgasms.
In addition to the physical effects on sexual function, yoga contributes to better body awareness, confidence, and ability to connect with other people, all of which can enhance your love life.
As a result of societal norms, men are often expected to suppress their feelings (positive or negative) in order to appear more masculine.
In many parts of the world, verbal and physical expressions of joy, affection, sadness, anxiety, and other emotions in men are perceived as a sign of weakness.
While this couldn’t be further from the truth, it has a particular effect on the male psyche. Which is why when faced with a much stronger emotional stimuli (such as grief or extreme physical pain), these emotions come to the surface as an intense outburst.
As much as we can work on educating ourselves and moving away from these harmful stereotypes, years or even decades of social conditioning are very difficult to undo.
Meanwhile, yoga can be a tool that helps male practitioners to be more in tune with their inner self, regulating their emotions and allowing men to process their feelings.
Another major reason people take up yoga is for stress relief. Though it may come from different sources, all of us deal with stress in some capacity.
For men, the main stress triggers include financial pressure, romantic and familiar relationships, work performance, health, and general bustle of life.
Even though we, as a society, are gradually moving away from the rigid gender norms, men are still largely expected to be the breadwinners in their family, maintain a certain social status, and present as “masculine” in their looks, behaviour, occupation, and hobbies.
Thus, one way to deal with your stress is to find a yoga class that works out your body and decompresses your mind.
Men experience issues with mental wellbeing just as much as women, but they often struggle to be diagnosed, receive appropriate medical treatment or support from their family.
Statistically,1 in 10 men suffers from depression or anxiety, and due to the lack of support, men are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women.
As such, men are forced to search for relief elsewhere. Yoga has long been known to have a healing effect on people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and attention disorders.
A recent study conducted by Deakin University focused specifically on men’s wellbeing and yoga practice. The participants reported a variety of physical improvements, which in turn extended to mental health benefits.
“Patience is a virtue.“– Prudentius
From a physical point of view, this could be perceived as endurance, but from a psychological perspective, the act of holding poses for several breaths breeds patience and calm.
This is an incredible tool to have in your arsenal. Yoga teaches us that we are stronger than we could ever have imagined, and that we can deal with whatever life throws at us.
The unfortunate side effect of the aforementioned suppressed emotions is the lack of empathy. By unlocking the ability to freely express one’s feelings, yoga can be a key to developing compassion for other people and even animals.
Furthermore, one of yogic main ethical principles is ahimsa, non-violence in thought, word, or action.
In case you’re wondering how empathy and compassion contribute to a person’s life, consider the difference you make in the world.
Every action has a knock-on effect. As such, when our existence is fuelled by compassion, we are more likely to be considerate of everything we do and say, as well as putting more effort into actions that will have a positive impact on your loved ones and the world around you.
Whether you play sports, enjoy an active hobby, or work a physically demanding job, yoga can provide your body with a reset it needs.
The ability to decompress, stretch out, relax, and breathe is a great way to help your body be more resilient long-term.
Yoga has also been linked to better sleep, including such factors as longer duration of sleep, improved quality of sleep, ability to fall asleep faster, and fewer interruptions.
Better sleep leads to being more alert of your surroundings and aware of your physical body. Both are integral in order to safeguard yourself from injuries, especially if you work in a hazardous environment or practice a high-risk sport.
Misconceptions About Men’s Yoga
Part of the reason why such a small percentage of yoga practitioners are male is myriad of stereotypes surrounding yoga.
Rest assured, while some of the following statements may appear true, an objective approach shows that these misconceptions stem from lack of information.
Yoga is too easy!
Let’s think about this for a moment. As a low-impact form of exercise, could yoga feel easy? Absolutely!
But ease depends on the context. Someone who regularly engages in high-impact exercise may find the slower pace and inclusive approach of yoga as “‘too easy”.
That said, the discipline of yoga is so varied and complex, that someone looking for a challenge can certainly find a type of yoga that will provide that for them.
What each individual will find easy or difficult depends on their fitness level and experiences outside of yoga.
For instance, someone who engages in cardio activities like running or cycling, is likely to find a fast Vinyasa Flow quite manageable. But what happens when they have to embrace the stillness of Yin Yoga, or tackle an arm balance as part of Rocket Yoga practice?
Even within each style of yoga, there are poses or sequences that will make it more challenging for the practitioner.
In short, if you find that yoga is too easy, you just haven’t find the right class yet!
Yoga is for women
Undoubtedly, yoga can have an amazing impact on the health of female practitioners, even when it comes to gender-specific issues like thyroid imbalance or perimenopause.
As we already established, yoga was invented for men and by men! And the same practice can have a different affect of a male practitioner’s body.
As a matter of fact, yoga has a positive effect on the parasympathetic nervous system, which can stimulate testosterone production or balance hormone levels in men.
Men are not flexible enough for yoga
Ironically, the lack of flexibility is often quoted by men as a reason not to do yoga.
The thing is, flexibility is not a requirement! Saying “I am not flexible enough to do yoga” is like saying that you’re not clean enough to take a shower.
If flexibility is one of your goals, yoga is a great means of getting there.
Yoga is not an effective exercise
Some people may not appreciate the measured approach that yoga promotes, and therefore see it as ineffective.
However, yoga is actually one of the most sustainable types of exercise, with long-term effects on the body and mind. Through regular practice, it conditions the body to be strong, resilient, and adaptive.
Remember, slow and steady wins the race!
Yoga is too wishy washy
Some men feel uncomfortable with the mindfulness or spirituality aspects so prevalent in yoga. The truth is, if that side of yoga doesn’t resonate with you… That’s okay!
Many people start off with yoga purely as a physical exercise, whether it’s at the local gym, a modern yoga studio, or an online class.
If chanting or talking about chakras doesn’t sit well with you, you could still enjoy a class where the main focus is the asana practice and breathing exercises.
Yoga makes you too sensitive
It is true that yoga opens your mind and heart and brings you more in tune with yourself, your loved ones, and the world around you.
But since when is being sensitive a bad thing? And is there really such a thing as “too sensitive”?
The truth is, yoga can bring some strong emotions to the surface, and dealing with those feelings can be scary and uncomfortable. However, being in touch with our emotions is the key to empathy and kindness.
Who wouldn’t want to be kinder and more compassionate?
What should men wear to practice yoga?
Just like with any other physical activity, you want to be comfortable and have a full range of movement.
Avoid clothing that is too loose. Otherwise, your vision may be obstructed in inverted yoga poses, or you may end up constantly adjusting your clothes.
The other important factor to consider is temperature and intensity. Dress warm enough to be comfortable if you practice in a colder environment, but leave some room for adjustment for when you warm up.
For example, you could wear comfortable shorts or pants appropriate for the season, along with a t-shirt and a long-sleeve layer that you could remove if necessary.
You could also keep a pair of warm socks and a blanket for the final portion of the class when you relax in Savasana. As you wind down from the practice, your body will cool off, so it’s important to maintain a comfortable temperature to avoid any distraction.
What are the best types of yoga for men?
Truthfully, there isn’t a specific style of yoga that male practitioners would benefit from on the sole basis of their gender.
Therefore, when choosing a yoga class, think about your goals. If you want to relax and decompress, you may enjoy Yin Yoga. If you want to work on your cardio fitness, try Vinyasa Flow or Ashtanga.
If you want a yoga class that gives you little bit of everything, Hatha yoga may be best for you.
You should also consider the options that are available to you in terms of the venue (commute, cost), difficulty, and the overall environment.
The Deakin University study we previously touched upon also included first-person accounts from men who felt awkward or embarrassed in a yoga class due to the low number of male students.
Consider if, like the subjects of the study, you would feel more comfortable in a men’s-only class or a private lesson.
As a guy, what should you be wary of during yoga?
While challenging one’s body and mind is an integral part of yoga practice, it is also important to know when to pull back.
If you’re used to always push yourself as hard and as far as possible, there will be a learning curve where you become more familiar with your body and its limits.
In yoga, it’s all about sustainability and long-term progress.
Can natural bodily functions interrupt the practice?
Another aspect of yoga that rarely gets discussed are the bodily functions. Movement affects our bodies in a myriad of different ways, and it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this.
For instance, as your heart rate increases and your breaths are affected, you may also start sweating. This is completely normal!
If exercise causes extreme perspiration in your body, just have a small towel on hand to wipe off the sweat if needed.
You may also invest into a quality yoga mat that will prevent you from slipping.
Similarly, as we bend and twist our bodies, it may have an effect on your digestive system. One of the common “side effects” is flatulence, and that is nothing to be embarrassed about!
Is it best to start at home or at a studio?
Many people prefer to do yoga at home due to comfort and convenience this option offers to the practitioner. From making your own schedule to avoiding commute, home practice is a great option!
Additionally, those who feel a little shy or self-conscious may choose home practice due to the privacy preferences.
On the other hand, a studio environment can be very supportive and encouraging. For many adult men, a yoga class can also be a way to connect to their peers.
Of course, another benefit of practicing yoga at a studio is the teacher’s presence. This could help the practitioners stay safe and get more out of the session.
Your best option is to combine the best of both worlds. How is that possible?
Having a private lesson can provide you with the supervision and guidance you need, while also allowing you remain in your safe space.
If it makes you more comfortable, you should seek tuition from a male teacher who knows the intricacies of the male body.