A Yoga Journal article Where are the Men says “We still run most of the government and hit the major league home runs, but yoga is a woman’s domain. According to a 2005 Yoga Journal market study, 77 percent of the yoga practitioners in America are female. It’s not that men don’t know what we’re missing. Nowadays, there seems to be a yoga studio on every corner.
There are social, physical, and emotional realities that discourage men from practicing.
Getting men to identify with yoga has long been a challenge in this country. It doesn’t matter that yoga, since its beginnings in India thousands of years ago, has mainly been taught and studied by men. Restrictive American immigration laws of the early 1900s stunted the spread of Indian culture on these shores, and only a handful of influential yogis arrived here through the decades. One such important teacher was Indra Devi. Russian born and Indian taught, she came to the United States in the 1940s and was championed by none other than celebrity cosmetologist Elizabeth Arden. That name resonated, of course, with the women who gobbled up her products, and Arden encouraged her customers to try yoga. A few years later, teacher Richard Hittleman published yoga books and landed on TV—but always had women perform the poses. Yoga’s next media celebrity was a young instructor named Lilias Folan, who began teaching asanas on public television in the 1970s. Folan had a gentle style that empowered millions of stay-at-home moms to follow right along. By the time Power Yoga emerged in the 1980s and began attracting more men, the mainstream view of the practice had, fairly or not, taken root: Yoga was for housewives.
A guy’s first act of yogic bravery, says the article, “is to introduce himself to the teacher. Find out if the class is appropriate… admit any fears or anxieties.”
Once the line of communication is open, a good instructor will tailor a class for individual students—male or female. Scott Achelis, a 54-year-old general contractor in Walnut Creek, California, began taking classes locally early last year because his back was tweaked from decades of construction work. The key was a positive first experience at the Yoga & Movement Center: a men’s only, one-day workshop held by studio director Diane Valentine. Her agenda? Make it fun, and let guys be guys. “It was unthreatening,” Achelis says. “We were all stretching and making off-color jokes.”
Men, it seems, are naturally tight. Boys and girls may be born equally limber, with an ability to comfortably put their feet behind their heads. But by adolescence, boys generally lose flexibility faster than girls, and as boys become men, the differences in flexibility tend to grow. Researchers have noted this gap, although they can’t specifically link it to differences in hormones, musculature, or connective tissue. “It’s hard to attribute to any one thing,” says Lynn Millar, a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan.
Whatever is to blame, the typical man’s pursuits and lifestyle, from sitting at a desk all day to grabbing beers after a twilight softball game, put little importance on flexibility.
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 and the author of The Female Brain.
For men…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. But until then, men enter the yoga studio at a disadvantage. New poses will be harder for them to get right. “The instructors need to be more patient with the male students,” Brizendine says. “They have to perform more demonstrations for them.”
Yoga not only exercises the body, it improves mental clarity and provides a centering and relaxing focus that can be taken away from class.
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