Double jointed, lycra clad females and a veneer of middle class ‘spirituality’ can prevent men joining in with hatha yoga. At Yoga for Blokes™ nearly all first time attendees say they felt ‘intimidated’ participating in mixed classes.
Certainly, in my own experience of attending yoga sessions in London and the South West, I have nearly always been the only male amongst a group of females and the instructor has never been male. This stigmatizes the lone male attendee, who under the circumstances only seems accepted by the group as a pervert or just downright weird. It’s not a place for ‘a proper man’. Aside from this, pitching in with long Sanskrit chants when you’re the only man present or lying about ‘flexing all the openings in the pelvic floor’ is something most males would genuinely have trouble with.
Then of course there’s the problem of ‘adjusting oneself’ in class. Garudasana (the Eagle) and other such poses require a man to re-position his genitals, lest they become uncomfortably crushed. Stuffing your hands down your trousers and yanking your nuts out of the way, when stood amongst a group of women can be rather embarrassing. I recall the look of alarm on the face of a female instructor when I did this in front of her. She obviously forgot men aren’t quite the same ‘down there’.
Another facet of female dominated yoga classes is a dearth of humour. Inevitably, cranking one’s body around can give rise to flatulence. Suppressing this for the sake of decorum can be bad for a person’s health. I like to position myself close to a yoga instructor so I can observe subtleties of movement which aren’t always verbalised.
After some yogic rocking one evening, I sat upright, simultaneously breaking wind in a harsh, uncontrollable manner. Such violent effulgence against a wooden floor rattled my ring, making a loud rasping sound. Suppressing laughter is also detrimental to health. Our instructor ignored my talents, merely rolling her eyes towards the ceiling as if nothing happened. So I further stifled my inclinations and pretended to explore the floorboards for faults ‘that may have produced the sound’.
Generally speaking, this is the case with female yoga instructors – they don’t find farting the least bit funny, whereas most men do. Flatulence can be unpleasant and isn’t to be encouraged in class, but I suspect apart from the usual inability to empathise with male humour, women don’t like it due to potential confusion with ‘queefs’ or fanny-farts. Yoga is an organic activity, being embarrassed about bodily functions is contrary to the nature of the subject.
Frequently, males lack physical (and probably mental) flexibility. Taking time to ‘indulge in’ a bit of body maintenance and alternative spirituality is something they often have difficulty doing. Compared with ‘pumping iron’ in trad gyms, yoga is seen as a bit light-weight, for pooftas and nimbys. Hatha yoga (the most widely known aspect of the ancient practice) requires discipline, devotion, perseverance and of course – time.
The ‘traditional male’ is often cash-rich/time poor, having committed to mortgage, marriage and family. Strapped to a desk or the wheel of a vehicle, according to a Protestant work ethic and unchanging social expectations, most are ‘not yet at liberty’ to attend yoga classes after dropping the kids at school. Often men’s work habits mean they use their bodies as tools. The muscular stresses of repetitive physical work and psychological tensions of sedentary jobs can be countered by taking up yoga.
The sage Patanjali stated: ‘ Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind’ (the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Edwin F. Bryant); this was echoed by Panditji Mr. Bhatt, at Bristol Hindu temple when we discussed the matter recently. As part of a rolling curriculum, Yoga for Blokes™ incorporates Buddhist meditation to effect this. Regular, organised Vipasana, along with some Pranayama and conventional asanas is a great way for anyone to step outside of ‘the box’ of their own existence.
The grounding calm that can be felt through one’s entire being as a consequence of doing yoga, can release us from habits we impose on ourselves. Doing this within ‘the safety’ of an all male group can stimulate positive bonding amongst an increasingly vilified section of the populace. At Yoga for Blokes™ we stand in a circle, holding hands (like Nepalese policemen) and chant the sacred syllable ‘Om’. Weird? Yes, in a word it is. But the practice blasts away inhibition and unifies a group through sound. Lengthy chants are impractical because they need to be learned, committed to memory; getting musical flow and harmony is difficult.
Nobody owns yoga. By branding the subject Yoga for Blokes™ we assert Western males can have a stake in the activity – in their own way, which includes drinking beer, smoking tabs, playing golf, farting and occasionally using expletives. Yoga is one of those basic freedoms like drawing or cycling, any attempt to regulate the activity as mooted in the Guardian during 2016, is unlikely to work.
The headstand or Sirsasana, is not really a beginners pose. It is something I learned on my own through observing a flatmate (Commander Knight) in London after he returned from a trip to India.
Swami Sivananda extols the virtues of Sirsasana – but I have attended Sivananda classes where no-one does the headstand. Why? Probably due to fear of risk and potential litigation in the event of injury. Without risk, progress becomes limited in any human endeavour. An article in the New York Times reports frightening accounts of ‘yoga gone wrong’ under the auspices of both male and female practitioners and teachers. I have suffered injury as a result of following instruction from an experienced (female) yoga teacher. The activity is not always benign but on the whole it is a boon to anyone who has the tenacity to persist, Roger Mellie included.
Yoga for Blokes TM is the trading identity for yoga classes organised and run by Alan Dedman.
Roger Mellie reproduced with kind permission of Viz magazine.