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Manly Yoga: The Four F’s of Male Yogaphobia

in In Class, MUST READS, YD News

Boy, people are really exerting their creative muscle to get dudes to try yoga! For some reason breathing and stretching has the stigma of stripping men of their masculinity, so we all have to bone up working overtime to think of clever ploys to convince the male sex they won’t lose the use of their cajones after yoga practice. In Minnesota, for example, Empowered Yoga is designed to be more welcoming for the “Paul Bunyons” because it focuses on the functionality of the body in practice, so it’s not all about getting fruity and flexi – hey guys you can get stronger! We’ve heard this bait before. Founder Johnny Gillespie’s explanation for male apprehension? Fear of the unknown! Oh and that they don’t think it’s a “serious workout” and maybe aren’t into the “spiritual” thing. But we can think of a few other reasons guys are yoga chicken and a big one has to do with involuntary release of excessive gas! This coming from personal accounts from manly friends.

Coincidentally, just the other day twitter was aflutter with #yogadorks getting real about male yogaphobia…and the concensus? The Four F’s! Farts, Fear, Fat, Flexibility (or lack thereof).

Guys, can you confirm? What else keeps you away from giving yoga a try? We know it helps with sex, so it can’t be that.


31 comments… add one
  • I have never sweat so much standing still in my life. Yoga is bad ass. If you’re a man who is afraid, nut up dude. Chicks dig a guy who can express his emotions, and who can bend over to tie his shoes without straining.

    There’s no reason to fear moving your body to improve the ability to move your body. Good grief!

  • I wish there were more farting in yoga. Yoga would be better with more farts. Get farty with it! Farts away!

  • Great article! I have 2 kids who take yoga classes and I sometimes practice with my former USMC platoon Sgt. whose wife is an instructor, but – aside from the errant fart here and there – still feel very self-conscious about being one of the only guys – mainly because I wonder if the other females are thinking, “what’s he doing here?” “is he a creep or something?”. Its mainly an irrational, egotistic kind of feeling since everyone has been very friendly – I just learned to “get over myself”. Yoga takes a lot of patience and is an activity where many of the females will be relatively stronger and more fit than males – maybe that puts guys off the track? Still, there is no better regimen for a weak lower back, so many middle-aged guys are missing out on a serious health benefit. Maybe if studios advertised classes aiming at lower back strengthening, they might pull some worn-out males in? I’m not sure.

  • mariodyogi

    It is funny because in eatern countries mostly men practice yoga. Yoga for me is more mental and less physical. I prepers you to face any situation just by controlling your breath. Its a mentally enpowering art form.

  • Yogini3

    If certain yoga instructors/yoga lineages were less fat-phobic and food-phobic, people of a certain size and yup, lack of flexibility would flock to yoga (maybe more guys, of course) ….

    I’ve always told my yoga teachers that if I, and many others, felt that ability to get into lotus were a prerequisite, you’d have one tenth the students you’ve got now … !!

    And also, try, try, try to feel what it’s like for a stiffie like me (it actually feels better (when it’s over, at least) than it does for you, Gumbylady … that’s why you have to contort yourself into tomorrow) … try to feel what it’s like in our bodies … !

  • Pastel colored yoga mats

  • kiwi

    I think there is more fear of the farting that we might think. I had a mother and daughter pair that came to few classes and finally the mother stopped coming, so I asked the daughter if her mum was going to come back and she said ” no, she is afraid that she will fart”.

  • David

    Yeah, I’ve heard people worry about farting during class but I don’t think that would stop most guys (never stopped me).
    I think the thing that puts off most guys is just the feeling of being incapable, I have had many fit men (weightlifters, mostly) never return to my class ’cause it was too hard. Feeling weak and clumsy in a room full of (often gorgeous) ladies is kind of hard on the old ego.


    during a big class. i’ve had someone fart straight into my face during prasarita padotanasana. i decided the yogic thing to do was not to look at/identify the farter–so as not mark him/her for life. tips to fartees: don’t even try to find out where that fart came from. to farters: hopefully, people who attend yoga will see/hear/smell beyond it. also avoid gassy foods a day before class.

  • Andrew

    There is usually a healthy amount of men, mostly middle-aged men, actually at the place that I go to. So that is pretty cool.

    But I think, unfortunately, there is a general sense that yoga is somehow a foofy, feminine activity. Something wives and girlfriends do. So much of American male culture is about doing everything you possibly can to exert your masculinity and make sure the world knows you’re not a “fag.” Sad, but true. If it’s not sports or quoting Will Ferrell, it ain’t worth doing.

  • Paloma

    Haha! This is a funny article. Although this is true, I have noticed a greater amount of men coming to work out at my yoga class.

  • I run and teach an all male yoga studio.
    I guess the most frequent response I hear is that it is too difficult.
    We have a great student return but business growth is slow.

  • Marc

    I am going more and more to different yoga classes, and I am in a mix.
    I have an advanced, experiemental class where I am male, instructor is male, and the women are much older than me, but they are cool with me, perhaps my presense motivates them. I feel completely incompetent, however in the advanced class, though I give 110%.
    In the beginner/intermediate classes I attend, they are attended by mostly diversely skilled and aged women, only a sprinkle of men, and the instructors are predominantly women, which means I can’t really achieve some of the hip, thigh and splitting poses they focus on.
    I will probably try smaller classes with all men eventually, if they are available, only because I am a jock type who wants to push the envelop with those with similar athletic goals, and in that setting one wouldn’t presumably have to worry about clothes.

  • johnnystretchable

    It’s ok to fart, but when that little turtle head pops out of the arse, you should probably take the stretch back “just a little bit”……………

  • sr

    I am a guy who started yoga about a month ago. I don’t think men want to do things that are identified with women. You’re also competing (men tend to make everything into a competition) with women, and losing, displaying lower value to them, at least at first. The gracefulness of it is effeminate by the standards of guys, who aren’t big on dancing either, at least not white western guys.

    I really don’t give a crap about any of that, as long as I don’t feel like I’m an unwelcome invader in some girls’ club, but I can see how it would put other guys off.

  • Mark LaPorta

    The 40-year experienced male teacher was telling the basic hatha/vinyasa class at the local gym why there are so few men in yoga: that yoga is something that women can do just as well (which to me translates as gender-less) so men don’t wish to be shown up.
    I can take that or leave it. I asked him for “the floor” and explained to him and the class that in general I do not consider myself an athlete and that yoga is one of the very few ways in which I can express my physicality and thus integrate unity.
    Besides, in most yoga classes do I really care if it’s only 10% men? A good class with good spirit in a good location; that’s gender-less.

    Union is gender-less.

  • kat

    the link to Empowered Yoga is in Delaware…i was confused because i live in MN. not sure why it says MN?

  • Loads of guys come to my classes in Oz. Honestly, the girls love a man who is into yoga! It’s an awesome way to pull I reckon. Get on it!

  • I think Mark’s comment about a good class being gender-less hits the mark (excuse the pun). A key point of all practice is that it should very quickly allow us to move beyond that which we tend to identify with.
    “I am (fill in the blank)”, keeps attention focussed on that which is seperate. There is a much bigger internal experience awaiting all of us, and through meditation and activities which demand attention to the moment (including asana practice) we can access it. Identification with gender is another thing we drop when we are fully engrossed in the present. If you’re spending time thinking about the others in the class then you’re not fully taking part.
    Having said that, there is obviously an issue in getting guys into classes (in the West, certainly). I’m no expert, but as the publisher of a yoga website aimed at guys it’s something I’ve given a bit of consideration.
    A couple of things come to mind. One is that, in general, most men don’t want to appear to be out of control. Put a guy in a yoga class full of women and (typically) he will be less flexible. No matter how many times the teacher says that yoga isn’t about competition, there is a life-time worth of ideas about achievement and winning in his head that say to the guy who can’t get beyond his shins in Paschimottanasana that he has failed. You can’t win at yoga, and that’s a stretch (excuse the pun, again!) for some guys.
    Secondly, the perception of yoga in the West is that it is mostly a female thing. In some stores you’ll find Yoga Journal in the women’s magazine section (and have they ever had a guy on the cover?). For someone who feels a bit insecure about their masculinity (and most guys do at some level) then hanging out with the girls whilst your buddies are at the gym or playing sports is a big no-no.
    Yet, lots of guys do yoga. But I would reckon that a huge number of them do so to audio, dvd or book instruction, safe in the privacy of their home, away from the eyes of others.
    In my opinion the tide is turning and I think we’ll see more and more guys “coming out” about doing yoga. The bottom line, as we know, is that it works. And guys need it. They need the mental and emotional benefits, and they need the physical benefits of asana practice. It’s just a matter of time, and discussions like this one are a great constribution.

  • I agree with the comment that it is often simply too hard for men, particularly in a drop in class where they are with others who have been doing yoga for years.
    Because it’s tough, and because they will likely be sore after the first class, since they don’t stretch that much in their daily lives, getting past the first class is key. Once you start coming regularly, the stiffness subsides and you begin to feel the benefits.

  • Mark LaPorta

    PS> I’m a primary care doctor.
    I worked in a pain clinic.
    I tell almost everyone about yoga’s benefits — and I’m not tall or skinny.

  • JeffreyD

    I do yoga and I love it. But I think a better question is, why don’t women weightlift? Yoga is superior for gaining flexibility and establishing balance, obviously, but 98% of people don’t really care about that.

    Yoga-as-exercise is typically done to look better and increase fitness, and weightlifting is far superior for these purposes. I think women are often afraid that touching a heavy weight will make them look big and bulky like the women on fitness magazine covers who use steroids and male hormones. This drives them to cardio machines and spinning classes and yoga, and other programs which are generally less effective.

    Spiritually, there’s no comparison. Weightlifting is better.

  • Carrie

    Jeffrey, I disagree…that reasoning is very stereotypical of someone who doesn’t understand what motivates women to work out. Flexibility and balance are my number one and three reasons for doing yoga (with stress relief being number two), and many women surveyed would say the same. Also, lifting weights does next to nothing for my cardiovascular fitness and endurance, whereas cycling (my cardio exercise of choice) does wonders (plus it gives me killer legs!). Cardio endurance is far more important to me than being strong enough to lift X number of pounds or having visible muscles. Yoga is all I need, and all many women need, for the strength aspect.

    Also, just going from personal experience (since I can’t speak for all women here), when I lift weights I do not build the same kinds of long, lean muscles that I build when I do yoga or pilates. I FEEL noticeably more bulky, even if it’s not visible to you, so that is another in the long list of reasons I don’t lift weights.

  • Go Jeffrey D.! Many if not most public yoga classes in America are highly feminized: they emphasize things that are easier for women (flexibility and hip work) and shy away from anything that requires (in particular) upper body strength, cause women generally have less of it than men do and are pretty phobic about it to boot.

    The question isn’t only why men are yogaphobic, but why women in yoga ignore the other meaning of the term hatha, which is “forceful,” and don’t do more to develop a balanced male/female environment rather than treating men who show up as an odd egg in girl’s game.

  • William

    My own experience in starting yoga several years ago was that I was often the only man in the class. Was it a problem? Not really. I felt a bit uncomfortable at first due to my lack of experience, but that went away as I improved.

    Even so, after 8 years and hundreds of classes at many different studios and a few gyms, I can only remember 2 times where there were more men than women in class! Some classes can definitely have a feminine vibe–pastel mats with butterflies, matching lululemon outfits, and the teacher using terms like “barbie doll feet”, “just below your bra line” or “not recommended if you are on your cycle”. You can see how some guys might bolt at the end of class and never come back…

    I signed up for a “Yoga for Men” workshop a couple years ago. It was awesome–challenging, well-taught, fun. There were only 5 guys there.

    Based on what I hear from male friends that I’ve discussed this with, more guys don’t try yoga because:
    * they aren’t flexible and think that prevents them from starting
    * they are afraid of looking stupid
    * the Oms and chanting make them feel awkward

  • Just got my copy of the latest Yoga Journal through the post. There is a guy on the cover! The times, they are a changing…

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