On Men and Real Men Doing Yoga

Originally appeared at Ohmme

Every so often a well-meaning article pops up with the unfortunate title “Real Men Do Yoga.” They leave me dying to ask: What is a non-real man? Are men actually afraid that upon their firstom they will be swiftly ushered away into a non-real man universe of Celine Dion karaoke and petite-sized condoms? Beyond the offensive title, there usually are paragraphs filled with assurances that yoga is butch and hard and worth a manly man’s time. To me this tactic of attracting men to classes is a slimy mix of outdated gender norms, homophobia, and assumptions that women do foolish girly things that proper men shouldn’t waste their time on.

I’m a gay, 34 year-old, happily married, reasonably fit yoga teacher who can do some complicated arm balances, but I still remember the abusive chants from locker rooms of days past. The taunts that told me I was a weakling and a lesser form of man. Once I wasn’t a sensitive teenager, I knew it was all BS, and since then my yoga and meditation practice has given me a more sophisticated paradigm for understanding my existence beyond labels of self and prowess of physical body.  As a teacher, I long for classes to be filled with as many men as women, but don’t think we need to sell a fundamental untruth wrapped in not so subtle bigotry to get them there. We can have a little faith that our mates aren’t grunting cave men needing constant affirmation of their power.

If we’re that interested in gender, Yoga tradition teaches of the union of the male and female energies as fundamental to existence, and a reasonable person knows a well-functioning adult will need a blend of the masculine and feminine to have any sort of healthy social interaction with the world.  As a physical practice, yoga allows women to embrace strength and fire and allows men to embrace softness and compassion. We label these masculine and feminine because it is easy, but they are just two sides to the wholeness of the human experience.

There is a great historical tradition of male teachers and practitioners (that, for the record, women were mostly excluded from) that hasn’t quite translated to the modern Western environment. As men, we need to encourage other men to practice because we know the truth that it improves the richness of our lives and the vitality of our bodies. If you want hard and sweaty, you can find it. If you need relaxed and calming, go grab your bolster. If you long to chant your heart out to the Divine Mother, there’s a kirtan waiting for you. It’s all there and none of it affects your illusory state of manliness. Because, when we really get down to it, clinging to and defending these narrow ways of identifying ourselves isolates and produces conflict and suffering.

Practice yoga with your mates, with your brothers, with your sons, with your fathers, with your partners, and help us build a community of male practitioners.

Straight men do yoga. Gay men do yoga. Trans-men do yoga. Thin men do yoga. Fat men do yoga. Old men do yoga. Young men do yoga. Men do yoga. Get over it and get on your mat.