“Yoga — that’s not a real man’s workout, it’s a women’s class, bro. Soft dudes do that; it’s not real weightlifting, man. It’s not worth attempting.”
These are the many negative and dismissive perceptions of yoga created and passed down by men for decades. But history shows that men were the first yogis and that real men today are picking the practice up at increasing rates because of its numerous benefits.
Dating back to 2700 B.C.E., what we now know as yoga came into being from a Sanskrit word yuj, meaning to join and unite. Per yogic scriptures, the practice helps unite individual consciousness with that of Universal Consciousness, creating “a perfect harmony between the mind, body, man, and nature.” Thus, as the Indian Government’s Ministry of Extra Affairs notes in its history of yoga, “the aim of yoga is self-realization to overcome all kinds of sufferings leading to the state of liberation.”
Yoga doesn’t adhere to any religion, belief system, or community. It’s always been used as an approach for inner well-being. Buddhists, Jains, Atheists, Christians, and Muslims practiced yoga and wrote books about it, like Islamic Yoga: (Islam Fitrah) by Amir Fatir for example.
This may come as a surprise to modern yogis, but ancient texts on yoga were written only from the point of view of male practitioners. As Yoga Journal notes, “There are no pre-modern depictions of women practicing yogic postures.” Even Sanskrit and vernacular poems of North Indian ascetic traditions were prejudiced against women.
While women haven’t been overtly barred from practicing yoga in the past or present, medieval Hatha texts commonly insisted male yogis avoid the company of women — unless, of course, they needed to consummate, because from that interaction comes their “superpowers.” No Superman without Superwoman, huh!
Last, but not least, medieval yogis were obsessed with thinness. In many Hatha texts, as Yoga Journal says, there were preparatory cleansing techniques centered on slimming down. Thin body image perceptions have been around longer than we may think.
Positive effects on manhood and life
Simply adding yoga to your routine only adds extreme value and benefits to your life, hands down. According to Yoga Journal, women make up 80% of the global yoga culture. However, yoga has been on the rise with male athletes. Professional athletes are using yoga to enhance and prolong their careers in their respective sports.
Here are some benefits from a professional athlete on what yoga has done for him professionally and personally:
“Yoga helped me to avoid injuries and made me stronger, particularly in the upper body. It gives me a competitive edge.”
—former NFL player & Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George in Real Men Do Yoga
How is it that we are a copycat society, but when it comes to great health and prolonged life, options like yoga have become so trivialized by men, and the public for the most part?
One major component of manhood that actually is relevant for all people is self-sufficiency. This was a dominant theme of medieval pranayama, the ancient practice of controlling your breath. You control the timing, duration, and frequency of every breath and hold. The goal of pranayama is to connect your body and mind. It also supplies your body with oxygen, while removing toxins. This is meant to provide healing physiological benefits. Learning to utilize this one component from the practice can help in an array of ways in any man’s life.
Here are 10 more benefits that all men can/will see upon consistent yoga practice:
- Vast flexibility improvements
- Increased strength and muscle tone
- Superior balance and body control
- Improved breathing and oxygen intake
- Injury prevention and shorter recovery times
- Back pain alleviation
- Recharged sex life
- The best sleep of your life
- Stress reduction and minimizes its harmful effects on the body
- Better focus & concentration so you can perform at your peak
What we can learn from the legacy of yoga is that women are a vital piece of this ancient practice. But men, let’s re-evaluate why women are the face of yoga in our modern world and what they truly get from the practice that we’re missing. How has yoga positively affected the women in your life who practice? How was she before she started practicing? Was practicing before you met her? How does she bless you in your relationship with her practice? Are those benefits things you want to foster in your own life?
So for all the men out there, yoga is an amazing exercise system with thousands of years of tried and tested methods to benefit you. A growing body of medical history and more and more reports of men practicing yoga presently tell us this: If you’re a man who wants to get in shape — maybe the best shape of your life — yoga is the training system for you.
Dimitrius Glenn is Director of the Ensō Apothecary Yoga program, he hosts a monthly workshop called Zen for Men to help men in diverse communities overcome the stigma of practicing yoga. To find out more about him and his work, please book one of his classes, or visit his website.