Okay. Let’s talk about this.
There were three triggers for this blog entry.
- My ridiculously unflexible hamstrings.
- An online article talking about how men don’t flock to yoga and postulations about why.
- A video posted by a friend on FB of a Bikram Yoga champion (thanks, Amy).
Yes, when I was but a wee lad I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how someone could DO yogurt as an exercise. I mean, there was the kind with the fruit on the bottom but it didn’t really take that much effort to stir it up. And what yogurt had to do with my mom sitting super duper cross legged — stumped me.
I used to be somewhat flexible. Well, maybe not flexible but I had a good range of motion.
Karate helped with that, of course, when I was in college. Kendo and Naginata in my early Bay Area days helped some, too. Then I got older, neglected my joints, was physically active only during the warmer months and so on and voila.
I did yoga for about a year and a half at PIES. The “My Body Don’t Bend That Way” class. I went once a week. Despite its title it was not meant to be easy and it got more challenging along the way. Malyssa was incorporating budokan into the classes. Good stuff. The job moved and I tweaked my back in the gym, quietly and spontaneously re-tweaked it in yoga and lost my momentum. Regretfully, I broke a good habit due to logistics.
Fast forward to this past Summer. Yoga at Underground Athlete. Excellent. And now yoga at Ayurvedic Path via a timely Groupon. Good stuff, Ally C.
I figure that yoga once a week isn’t really enough. It’s something you really need to be intentional about if you have goals or really want to — in my case — regain and maintain flexibility and pliability. I get why people do it every day or even multiple times a day.
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
After the summer yoga I was noticing a greater range of motion and some limberness even. The strength training program in the gym was working on my lower back and hips. Opening up the hips, groin, and buttressing the glutes. (See what I did?)
Then one day out of nowhere I was sore. There was an occasional bzzzt in my lower back and my hip flexors felt pinched and unsettled. All of that newfound looseness disappeared and my muscles and joints were stiff and tight. I have no idea what happened or why.
The other day I got a little fed up with myself. I have a lot of exercises in my program that are targeting the glutes and hamstrings. Getting stronger but it seems like … well. Does all of that breaking down and building up muscle screw with the attempts to be more flexible?
It must. Right? Don’t get me wrong. The training includes mobility and flexibility but it’s not like you’re spending an hour on it. Also, I’m supposed to be doing mobility and flexibility homework.
So I googled “how does strength training affect flexibility” and came across a flexibility and resistance website. That’s not the right term. The claim is that if you want to be more flexible you have to stretch a muscle while it’s working. Stretch while the muscles are resisting. I buy it.
I started thinking about yoga and of course that’s pretty much what it is. You’re balancing on one leg while bending over into a perfect T. Your leg is working overtime and being stretched. You’re twisting and breathing and stretching.
Roll out more often. Stretch more often. Be more mindful and do yoga with intent.
Ugly Duckling is my favorite pose.
Now having said all of that. Let’s talk about men and yoga. Let’s do it by talking about me and yoga.
I feel awkward doing yoga. During my brief sporadic yoga history, much of the time I’ve looked awkward or felt like I looked stupid and I wondered what the hell I was doing there. Some people are gorgeous on the mat. I am not one of them.
I do strongly believe that men can benefit greatly from practicing yoga. No doubt about it. Especially athletes and people who train intensely.
Still, yoga is definitely geared toward certain body types. I’ll admit to having a fatalistic attitude about these things so feel free to correct me or talk me down. Any picture or video of an accomplished yogi or yogini is the same lean, thin, usually a little lanky physique. Or the 357 year old master with 2% body fat who floats an inch above the ground at all times and has an aura that is visible to the naked eye.
Fine. It is what it is. Every endeavor is going to have its models and semi-realistic body types, especially in the western world. Google “yoga” images and 99% of the images you see will be thin, athletic white women (as if yoga was invented in Southern California in the 70s) often in the outdoors in a state of apparent transcendence.
And then there I am with my stocky, overweight self and holding the world record for most resistant hamstrings.
I’m not putting myself down. Besides, we’re all well aware how people who aren’t Yoga Fitness Magazine cover models feel about the image of yoga. We’re all self-conscious.
YOGA AND THE MALE GAZE
Totally misleading section header. I kind of apologize.
If you want to talk about why men don’t flock to yoga I propose that it’s because it doesn’t feel right. It can be uncomfortable in a way that makes a body say, “This is. Wrong.”
For any beginner, regardless of gender, you don’t know how it’s supposed to feel. You have no concept of where the line is between good and bad discomfort. If you lift heavy things and put them down then you’re used to burning muscles and elevated heart rate and you know that you don’t F with your joints. When your joints, tendons and ligaments feel wonky that means you’re dong something wrong.
With yoga, when you don’t have much experience you don’t know if you’re supposed to be feeling that pinch or crunch there while breathing into a position. Shouldn’t your shoulders have stopped crackling by now when pushing up into Down Dog?
It always helps me when the instructor lets the class know that, yes, your muscles will probably be burning now. Or you’re likely going to feel a pinch in your hip. Or this is a fart prone position. Okay, maybe not that last one. That would be TMI and it would make me laugh out loud.
That brings me to this YouTube video of a man contorting himself.
It is amazing and a little grotesque to me but it’s still phenomenal. BUT seeing a wispy thin boy-bodied Nord excel at yoga in no way makes me feel like I have a hope of — I dunno. Being good at it. It doesn’t make my male ego say, “Well if he can do it…”
It’s like watching an 8 ft. basketball player dunk. Y’know. Whoa, that was awesome. Good for him.
I’m still waiting to see a muscular and/or stocky dude straight up rock a bind.
And yes, maybe western yoga is very feminine, but to tell you the truth I’d rather be instructed in an environment of feminine strength — open handed kung fu, so to speak — than some kind of macho pain-fueled do-or-die testosterone sauna. “I’m not hearing those spines cracking, you pansies! Is that Young over there sweating like a little bitch?!”
Not that there aren’t good male yoga instructors. I’m saying that it’s a gentle, mindful strength. Because good form isn’t about strength, generally speaking.
There must be some dude yoga classes out there, though. Bro yoga. Broga? I bet there is. Yoga for black people with natural hair who like frozen desserts. Fro-yoga? Okay. Sorry. I’m sorry. I’ll stop.
THE OVERSIMPLIFIED TRUTH: YOGA GOALS
Yogoals? Yogago… Yo’ gaols. Meh. Trying too hard for the portmanteau.
In short, people flock to what they’re good at. Yoga is prime territory for the lean, thin and limber among us. Then the rest of us trolls realize that there’s a place where attractive limber people gather and they’re doing something that could have great tangible (healthy, strength, resilience) and intangible (mental calming and centering, clarity, focus) benefits for us. Not necessarily in that order of importance.
Haha. Wisdom of the ages. You’re welcome.
- I want to be able to do a handstand.
- I want to be able to grab my hands behind my back, over-under.
- I want to be able to touch my head to my knees, seated with my legs out in front of me.
- Neutral hips.
- Wrist mobility (and shoulder) so I can do a proper front squat without feeling like my hands are going to pop off at the wrists like Pez dispensers.
One last thing. I got a picture book of yoga retreats. (Wow, the iPad camera is sucks.) I want to do yoga photoshoots (concepts TBD) and seeing the environments that people have created is amazing. From overlooking the ocean to caves in Italy to a clearing near a treehouse in a primal forest to a corner in a room. The possibilities. If any of you yogurts want to collaborate let’s talk.
I realize that I’ve written a blog entry about yoga that is all about the physicality of it. I know that’s only a part but that’s where I am right now.
For some it’s a lifestyle and for some it’s a spirituality. Rock on, you beautiful hippies. Live free.