For years I believed that men and yoga did not as a rule seem to flow in the same circles. As time and my practice marched on I saw how untrue that belief was. I’ve encountered many dedicated male yogis over the years, but it’s still rare to see more than two in a class at a time. After practicing in a class of only men for the last few months, I see now that these classes are severely lacking a core element, the yang to the majority of yin. The evolution of their minds, their practices and the class itself has kept my mind reeling and in turn has opened many insights into my own practice.
In the last three months I have watched the yoga evolution of four men, all of whom were yoga newbies. The experiment began when my boss decided to hire a yoga teacher to come teach a class twice a week. Once my fellow co-workers got a look at the comely teacher, interest rose, as well as the added bonus of getting out of work for an hour twice a week. There were jokes made about yoga being a woman’s thing, an over-blown stretching class, a weak workout, etc. Smiling to myself, I knew what they were in for. To no surprise, the complaints started rolling in and slowly minds began to open.
As the weeks passed, emotions began to emerge. Competitive natures took hold and all of a sudden a full crow or a shoulder stand became a way to peacock one’s physical prowess. No longer was yoga considered a ‘female’ pursuit, instead the guy’s began to slowly uncover natural abilities they hadn’t known existed. One former soccer player found that he could attempt a headstand with ease. A boss cloaked in stress began to smile in the face of adversity and a man who couldn’t sit still began to find a reason to pause.
Despite our teacher Danielle’s ability to balance the various energies in the room, I began to question my ability to rise to a challenge. I had always embraced the more spiritual aspects of yoga, the asanas always taking a back seat. Yet, while observing my co-workers give everything they had I began to see where my own practice was lacking. Realizing for the first time that breathe work during asana was just as important as the meditation in savasana after. My life began to feel my yoga more and in turn, my yoga began to feel my life less.
At one point, Danielle reminded us that our practice is about where we are now, not where we want to be. Once I allowed that thought to germinate I began to see a change. I went to the next class with a more open mind. I looked around the room and saw with fresh eyes how each of us had our strengths and our weaknesses. I learned what it felt like to go to my edge and settle in, and in doing so, began to learn more about myself.
As more time passed I started to notice differences within my co-workers as well. While ego still remained heavy in the air, the guys started focusing on their own breath. Keeping their eyes straight ahead, rather than sending them flying around the room. And soon a watery man found earth, the faithful remained devout, the rigid found a twist and the storm found a port.
For some small changes became prevalent ones. “I’m more aware of what different muscles are doing and need to do. Before I started doing yoga I really hadn’t given it much though or cared to for that matter. After doing a couple of classes and seeing how relaxing it is for me while I’m doing it, I’ve grown to really enjoy it and actually throughout my day I find myself stopping everything I’m doing from time to time to stretch in a yoga pose.”
For others their practice has become a permanent fixture in their lives. “Yoga has had a pretty dramatic effect on my life, but not in the ways I expected. I thought yoga was going to help me be calmer, but instead, in the beginning it actually frustrated me to no end! I have been surprised by the strength and conditioning yoga provides, as well as the emotional releases. I am a ‘guy’s guy,’ but certain stretches really made me get in touch with my emotional side. I wouldn’t trade yoga for anything, and after only three months, I plan to make it a permanent part of my life.”
I now look forward to my bi-weekly class with a renewed sense of vigor. I have learned how ego can throw a practice off course and how not going to your personal edge can limit you. It really is all about balance, when to work and when to rest, when to push and when to give. I don’t know where my future practice will lead but I do know now that yoga is made for all of us. Male and female energies in harmony. I find myself lucky to be a part of a unique class and look forward to see what yoga has in store for us down the next path. Hopefully one day all yoga classes will be raining men!