slow, mindful yoga & small group classes in St Kilda, Balaclava, Elwood, bayside

Yoga Me Well Blog

Yoga for Blokes

Inside every man is a tree waiting to grow ...

Yoga may still be a symphony of female limbs ‒ 85.5 per
cent of students and 82.6 per cent of teachers, according to the Yoga Australia
survey (3830 responses) ‒ but once enticed, men are more and more often glad
they stayed. While the physical benefits are the initial drawcard, anecdotally
it’s the ability to relax and release that convinces them.

But we need more blokes. Not because of the gender imbalance, but because men deserve to be let in on women’s biggest health and sanity secret.

David Burke, 31, is typical of the younger crew: “If I’m going to spend an hour doing something, I like to get the endorphin kick … It helps me recover from tough training and is very effective in reducing muscle tightness. Without yoga, I’d have more soft-tissue tears.”

David’s  ultimate yoga class is online: currently in the
Netherlands and Wyoming. Beats traffic, he says, and he likes the convenience with a bub at home and when he is away on business. And yes, the “mental release” counts too.

And 55-year-old social worker Greg Smith is typical of the
gents: yoga “reminds” him that he can relax and clear his head, which are “big
challenges” for him. “I would like to think it has helped me be more ‘present’
with people (at work).”

Constantly building muscle mass without stretching
concretises blokes in the shoulders, hamstrings and hips so it must take a
little courage to enter such bendy female territory. For those worried about
floundering, relax, women are generally too focused on getting mat-happy.

Tony Rothberg, footy’s favourite yoga teacher (currently
with Hawthorn, formerly with Richmond, St Kilda, Collingwood and North Melbourne) remembers sorely “feeling foolish” at gym aerobics – “they were all going one way, I was going the other” – and reckons men are “a bit nervous about how they’re going to appear in a yoga class”.

The other yoga repellent may be a man’s natural competitiveness, says Tony, and the tendency to use gym workouts for stress release rather than yoga for “work-ins”. A passive style yoga class would be a turn-off for plenty of blokes, he says: “But you don’t just go to one place and judge all yoga on that”.

Greg reckons it wasn’t easy, at first, seeing “female body parts stuck in the air”, or “feeling pretty hopeless at it”. “I recently noticed that my downward-facing dog looked more like an imitation of a coffee table. But Lisa keeps reminding us that it’s not about competition. Maybe that’s a harder lesson to learn for males, but I have learned it … I always finish the session in a better place than I started.” (He doesn’t look like a coffee table!).

Lance Coughlin, who started the Agama Centre’s successful Yoga for Blokes class (www.yogapractice.com.au), suspects that a strong grounding in sports culture from an early age doesn’t endear yoga to Aussie males. In India, yoga for men is an entirely different beast!

Head in sand pose

At 61, swimmer and walker Keith Badger was the first to enrol in Lance’s class, and later took private classes with him to train for a 2400 kilometre walk across Britain. He credits the classes with saving him from a disastrous fall thanks to better balance and flexibility. Yoga also gives him excellent core and general strength.

“Before the walk I also went to the doctor who did a battery of tests … she said I was a centimetre taller. Clearly an error, I thought, but she’d seen it before in others (who practised yoga),” Keith says.

He has successfully introduced a few friends to yoga but there have also been a few discouraged by their lack of flexibility.  “I think it’s a great shame. They haven’t
really understood that it’s ok to do yoga wherever you start, and your
flexibility grows as you go, rather than having to reach a certain level at day
one.”

Long-time devotee David Collett says one of his greatest yoga moments was “realising that fear of breaking was preventing me from moving into certain postures … I like the exploration … finding out that if I stretch in a certain way, or hinge a certain joint, or change an aspect of my posture, I can get an extra flexibility, or lift, or strength or balance.”

What about the spiritual side … are blokes into it?

I can’t forget the 30-something triathlete in his prime who turned up to my community centre class of all sorts.  He had that Bikram look about him – hard-bodied, up for a challenge, determinedly focussed. At the end of our “gently progressive spiritual class”, he hissed vehemently, “This is not what I came for!”, and tore away in a fireball.

David Burke isn’t convinced that the average male gives a toss but his mother has evidence. Belinda Burke teaches in the bullish dominion of stockbroking at EL & C Baillieu, which has run a yoga class for 13 years. Her gents are fine with “peace breathing” and the odd spiritual poem and move swiftly into mindfulness. “They move into it quickly now [mindful state]
because they’re practised at it and their breathing changes. You can see the
change from start to finish.”

Tony  introduces yogic philosophy in a safe, “jokey” way.  Keith describes Lance’s teaching style as comfortably irreverent: “He knows he has a bunch of blokes who tend to be a bit that way in normal life and he lets that be OK.”

I don’t dress it down for my mixed class.  Finding that spiritual anchor is  what attracts people, but I do aim to make it relevant to life off the mat, rather than discussing spirituality in a wafty, inaccessible way.

Come the end-of-class relaxation, it’s wonderful to watch these lovely blokes drift into their solitary space, that shed in the head where no voice or expectation can touch them. The ones  who persevere seem to break through initial misconceptions or dud classes to find their treasure.

My dear buddy Brian, who describes himself as a “fairly sedentary” executive recruitment
consultant in his 40s, tried his first class this year, hoping “to mitigate
against the pitfalls of an ageing frame”.  He’s a natural and drifted easily into alpha state after allowing himself the space and time to explore yoga.  “The combination of relaxation and stretching has meant I can tap into energy I didn’t think I had.”  Good for you Bri.

I think Greg’s right, perhaps we need to market yoga differently to men: “Maybe emphasising the links to meditation and relaxation would help collect more men. I suspect men are generally thinking more about stress and ways of reducing it.”

 

 

 

 

Liv Mitchell

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Liv Mitchell is a senior teacher of yoga, mindfulness and a freelance writer.

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