Supporting Men's Yoga
My self-described challenge is to support our men’s Yoga community, and I am finding it difficult to find men that practice Yoga. There are plenty of men using postures found in Yoga as an exercise to promote a fitness program, an aspiring modeling career or to show off a dance or gymnastics background. I salute these men’s efforts, but I don’t aspire to be shredded, pretty, or super-bendy. These images fail to inspire me to deepen my Yoga practice mostly because they focus on looking cool while doing extreme postures. Yoga is so much more than what these images reflect. Studying The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga), you find that the poses are only a small part of the practice.
Inspire : to draw forth or bring out
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, appearing in India approximately 200 AD, describes the art and science of the union of mind (intellect and emotion), spirit and body as Yoga. The first and second limbs, Yama and Niyama are ethical and moral disciplines concerning how we relate to the world and our self. The third and fourth, Asana and Pranayama, focus on our body and breath. The remaining five limbs pertain to how we live and learn. We find Pratyahara, sense withdrawal, and using Dharana, concentration, we find Dhyana, meditation, to experience Samadhi, realization. It may be more natural and impressive to illustrate Asana than Pratyahara, but note, Pantanjali in the Yoga Sutras, defines Asana “to be seated in a position that is firm, but relaxed”. Yes, that’s correct, all those poses are meant to balance the body to help me sit comfortably and meditate. That yoga-shred class does not help me do this any better. In fact, in many ways, that power yoga class may take you further away from a union or balance. I understand vanity. I know being in love with my youthful body. I have experienced the pull of being center-stage in a one-man show. But if I define myself by my endurance, physical beauty, and flexibility, I will ultimately be disappointed. There is a reason why seventy-year-old men look the way they do. It is not a choice but rather the natural way seventy-year-old men look. We can do things that make seventy feel better. But doing a one-handed handstand on the ledge of a twenty-story building will not make you feel better at seventy. I make the argument that extreme postures will make seventy harder to bear with blown out knees, over-extended elbows, and bowed backs.
Harder is not better.
There are a handful of basic postures that you can repeat on your back, standing, and inverted that make a posture-only Yoga practice beneficial. There are no extra health benefits to performing extreme poses plus high-performance efforts can harm the body. Whether you are a professional athlete, model, or performance artist, I want you to feel good in a fully functional body. I support thinking deeply, taking what works for you, and changing to allow progress in your practice. I do this a lot. Each of us should work to what is good for us. But there is more to Yoga than posing, and inspiration does not result in jealousy, indifference, depression, or reflect the practitioner’s sense of vanity. Yoga is not harmful. So, harder Asanas are not better Asanas and having a harder body doesn’t make you a better yogi. This said, and with a smile on my face, Yogis, please, put your shirt on when you teach. It’s like a shirtless Facebook profile picture. Why would you do that? YJL