Yoga for Men: Know Your Yo!-sha

by Jeff Martens

Attention all Men!   Do your joints sound like a fourth of July celebration gone horribly wrong?  Does the only time you breathe deeply occur when police lights flash in your rear-view mirror?  Does the extent of your stretching routine take place during commercials when you reach between the sofa cushions into a sleeper mattress that nothing but a hairball, a half bag of cheese whips and the lost TV remote has used in over a decade?

“Maybe,” you say after looking around to see if anyone is watching you read this.  Okay men, now consider this: Would you like to be strong enough to carry your mate through the doorway, focused enough to watch a golf match AND the playoffs (using picture in picture technology) and STILL have the flexibility to bend over and clip your own toenails without sounding like you were just tackled by the entire defensive line?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then yoga is the path for you.  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions out loud, then yoga is definitely the path for you!

Wait a minute, you say, aren’t yoga classes all filled with women?  Well, in a word, yes.  And, you boldly continue, isn’t yoga all squishy with chanting and music and meditation and womanly stuff?  To which we respond: are you sure that you want to be using that word, “squishy”?  First of all, men, you need to know that there are dozens of different styles of yoga including Yin, Bikram, Raja, Iyengar, Jnana, Ashtanga, Neopolitan and Tutti Fruiti.  Men also need to know that Yoga offers far more benefits than just silencing your knee joints when you stand up from your lunch break, thereby saving you from the embarrassment of having to explain to all your coworkers who ducked under the table that they weren’t actually the victims of a drive-by shooting.  A regular yoga practice will help you to experience more strength, focus and flexibility in your life.  And isn’t that a good thing in these trying times when they have not yet invented a TV remote with cell-phone capabilities that you can call to find out where the darn thing is hiding?

Okay, you say, so there are lots of women in a yoga class.  Maybe I’ll give it a try.  At this point most men will divide themselves into one of three different camps.  The “I want to go to yoga because there are so many women there” camp, the “I don’t want to go to yoga because there are so many women there” camp, and finally, the “I never heard of yoga except that some female celebrities are doing it and they look fairly hot and maybe I should give it a try because my toenails are getting pretty long” camp.  In technical Sanskrit terms, learning which camp you belong to is called “Knowing your ‘Yo!sha’.”  Let’s explore together which camp you belong to and then see which type of yoga might work best for your camp.  Then we’ll see if there are any bears prowling around the campfire.

Camp one: The “I want to go to yoga because there are so many women there” camp.  If you belong to this camp you will show up for yoga class freshly showered and doused in cologne, most likely purchased from the same convenience store where you get your groceries.  Your eyes will be wandering like a kid in a candy store and you will choose to set up your mat next to the most fit woman in class.  Just as you try to make eye contact, the class will begin and you will find that not only is the woman next to you able to 1) stretch further, 2) hold poses longer, and 3) breathe deeper than you have since you were in the womb, so too can just about every other woman in class, including the 72 year old grandmother in the back who is suddenly looking to you like an Olympic athlete in disguise.  After five minutes of intense embarrassment (perpetuated solely by you since no one else is even glancing in your direction), you may collapse under the pressure of constant mental comparison while choking on the vapors of your own cologne.  Best type of yoga for Camp One: Heated or Bikram yoga where the ratio of men to women is a little more equal and you will be forced to focus on your own practice in a full-length mirror while feeling the sting of aftershave mixed with sweat rolling into your eyes as soon as you walk into the room.

Camp Two: The “I don’t want to go to yoga because there are so many women there” camp.  Men, if you find yourself in this coalition, take heart!  Women are your friends!  Women are your support group!  And it will most likely be a woman who calls 911 if you find yourself trapped in a difficult pose.  If you belong to Camp Two, you are usually shy and unobtrusive in class, trying to squeeze into the furthest corner of the room.  In a misguided attempt to blend in with the female crowd, you might purchase the best yoga supplies and wear bona-fide, color coordinated outfits.  After 10 minutes of class you may notice that you are initially more flexible than you thought but still wonder why you can’t hold your own arm over your own head for more than five seconds without crying your own tears.  In the meantime, the women in front of you actually look like they are having fun.  As you wipe the tears away, pretending they are sweat, you also notice that the only other guy in class smells like he rolled in cologne samples from a popular men’s magazine.  Best type of yoga for Camp Two: Level One or Slow Flow classes where you can explore your tightness carefully and come to realize just how astronomically high the pain threshold is for women, all the while offering thanks that, for your gender, giving birth is not an option.

Camp Three: The “I never heard of yoga except that some female celebrities are doing it and they look fairly hot and maybe I should give it a try because my toenails are getting pretty long” camp.  If you belong to this camp you will not make it to the yoga studio because something came up.  Best type of yoga for camp three: Clipping your own toenails.

So there you have it: a thorough and complete male guide for knowing your Yo!sha.  We hope that you realize by now, men, that women are pretty harmless in a yoga class if you follow some fairly basic guidelines: 1) Do not ask someone out for tea after class unless you are able to speak without gasping for air.  2) Leave the toenail clippers at home. 3) If you feel squishy, consult a doctor or health care practitioner.  This concludes our campfire exploration of finding out your Yo!sha and it’s a good thing too, as all that manly cologne is raising the interest of several nearby bears!

Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga.  All suggestions are voluntary.  Consult a qualified teacher or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar, including advanced toenail clipping.