When it comes to my personal fitness practice, I can be a bit of a “dude.” If I’m not sweating my way through a routine, pounding every muscle into submission, then I’m not working out. So although I’d heard great things about yoga from my friends and colleagues, the first time I tried it I felt the same skepticism about what it could possibly offer me that many guys still feel today.
And, unfortunately, my first class confirmed my fears. It was in my local gym, there was new-age synthesizer music playing, and the class was filled entirely with women. I didn’t break a sweat and I vowed never to go again.
Then, a series of events—one of which included a little trash-talking on yoga via my YouTube channel—got me an invitation to a New York City studio, Strala Yoga. Two key things happened there that changed my whole perspective on yoga: I got the workout of my life and I finally took a class with dudes!
These were guys with muscles who looked like the guys I hung out with in the weight room. They looked like football players—but they were football players in pigeon pose. I was excited by this new experience and energized by the male presence in the room. On that drive home and in the time that has followed, I’ve also been asking myself the question, “Why don’t more dudes do yoga?”
In New York—I teach a class there once a week—I see more and more guys taking yoga classes. Maybe they’re just more progressive or open to new experiences. But when I’m in class near home in South Jersey, even seeing one or two men in a crowded room full of women is still a surprise. As an honorary dude who is a full-on yoga convert, I find this unacceptable. Guys need to know how awesome yoga can be. I went on a mission to figure out where the boys are and how we can get them on the mat.
I have a favorite studio in South Jersey that I found after many months of searching. Yogawood has two studios in Riverton and Collingswood. I took a class with one of their teachers, Erik Marrero, to find out if he could offer any perspective on what the disconnect was between regular dudes and yoga was all about.
Erik is the perfect subject. He’s an ex-collegiate level soccer player for Ohio State, an athlete and lifelong fitness enthusiast that thought yoga had nothing new to offer him. It took a recommendation from his oncologist who was treating him for advanced prostate cancer to get him to take up yoga. He’s now 42 months into his practice and it’s nothing short of amazing to watch. I took his 9:30 a.m. Vinyasa Flow class along with my 6’ 9” dude-friend, Kevin, and we were both left sweaty and sufficiently worked out by the end. Afterwards, Erik shared a couple of his thoughts on why men aren’t as quick to embrace yoga.
“Typically, the more jock they are – the bulkier they are - the more difficulty they have with yoga. I think they’re just intimidated. Guys have an ego thing, which is not really yoga. They don’t want to go in there and appear stiff. Guys want to dominate in everything - it’s something they need to let go of. And typically the guys that come in and try it are just blown away, because they realize that it’s not competitive - it’s not a competition.”
Hadji Jones (@Hadji4ever on Twitter) is one of 12 male yoga teachers at Dhyana Yoga, which has four locations throughout Philadelphia. “There’s a stigma around yoga about it being an effeminate way of working out, a stigma that society puts around it because they’re just not sure about it," Hadji told me. "And that’s the thing about yoga — you really don’t know what yoga is until you actually take a class.”
I asked him how he thinks we can get men to yoga.
“The easy way? Women!”
Okay, so it’s up to the ladies to convince them to come to class? If we keep wearing our cute yoga spandex and showing up in droves, the men will come … eventually?
Maybe the key to getting guys to hit the yoga mat is in the marketing. Make it tougher. Add “extreme” or “guerilla” into the class description. Fitness companies can produce high performance yoga-wear with materials that promise to make your handstand more vertical or your crow fly higher. Less yoga, more “broga.”
I don’t know what it’s going to take to convince dudes to downward dog, but I know that when they try it, they’ll probably like it, especially the more athletic versions like power or flow yoga. Dude or no dude, it’s hard to deny the athleticism, mental concentration, and control it takes to develop a good yoga practice.
And, guys, it’s not completely true that there’s no competition in yoga. You’re constantly competing with yourself to stretch further, bend deeper, and eventually nail that pose.
Even hardcore dudes should be able to get down with that.
Rebekah “Bex” Borucki is a mother-of-three, a personal trainer, and an urban farming hobbyist raising backyard chickens and growing her own organic garden in a small urban space in Burlington County, New Jersey. You can find out more about Bex’ work and family on her website, BexLife.com.