Where the Boys Are

 

Men making their way to the mat

By Lisa Moore
Photography by Meredith Jones

Men may run most of our government and dominate sports, but women rule the yoga mat. Even though more yoga studios are popping up, an estimated 75 percent of the yoga practitioners in America are female. Originally studied and taught primarily by men since its beginnings in India thousands of years ago, yoga has never caught on for men in the west.

Could it be the thought of entering a blissful room of spandex-clad women with pink toe nail polish and limber bodies is keeping the Y chromosome on yoga’s sidelines? We spoke with five local yogis about their personal yoga experiences and learned the physical, emotional and social realities that discourage men from hanging out in down dog.

No Pain, Lots of Gain

Doug Cosby, an avid rock climber and owner of Inner Peaks Climbing Center, had been encouraged for years to try yoga by his wife, Page. But it wasn’t until he suffered severe back pain from a bulging disc that he took her advice and began to bring his body back into balance.

“After two years of regular practice, I was completely functional again. I can climb and mountain bike and I am nearly pain free. I continue to improve,” said Cosby, who was so sold on yoga’s benefits that he and Page opened Inner Peace Yoga earlier this year.

From golf and tennis to football and cycling, cross training with yoga can enhance sports performance and decrease the chance of injuries. Beyond healing his back pain, Cosby noticed the difference yoga made as an athlete.

“Yoga opens up the neural pathways, allowing quicker, more efficient communication between your brain and your body, always a plus with sports,” said Cosby, 46.  “Most sports cause tightness and/or uneven development of muscles. Yoga is so well balanced, systematically working on individual sides of the body, pulling it back into alignment and working out the knots in the process.”

Stress Less, Realize More

Joey Barnes, a 49-year-old attorney, was drawn to yoga because of the stress and negativity he experienced as a mediator resolving conflict in court cases. Immersing himself in the positive, uplifting community of yoga seemed a perfect counter balance to the demands of his job.

But Barnes got much more than that: yoga helped him learn to respond to life’s daily challenges with equanimity – to act but not react.

He says he has noticed an ever-evolving acceptance of who he is – limitations and all- and an increased ability to simply be present, not dwelling on the past or future.

Now a power yoga instructor at Charlotte Yoga, Barnes says he has developed “an ability to find the true beauty in the present moment right before me, to be fully grateful for everything that I have in my life – even the hard things that probably help me grow the most- and an ability to find the inner peace that can seem so elusive in the midst of hardship, noise and trouble.”

Tanner Bazemore, a yoga instructor and owner of Y2 Yoga in Cotswold, has noticed a similar experience.

“I think my attitude has evolved since I began practicing. I bounce from one task to the next and my mind wanders aimlessly,” says the 29-year-old personal trainer. “My practice gives me the opportunity to consciously shut all of that down and use my energy for a purpose. It’s the one part of my day where I don’t have to speak, just breathe and be fully engaged on one thing: me.”

Bazemore believes yoga offers everything men are missing. “Men are pushers. They are go-getters. Yoga provides a completely opposite type of training. The must surrender; they must breathe; they must learn that sometimes the easiest way to get from point A to point B is by letting go. It can bring balance to their lives.”

Flex Your Mind, Not Your Biceps

Men are naturally tighter than women, but Steve Knight, who co-owns Yoga One Wellness with his wife, Sally, believes that shouldn’t keep them on off the mat.

“Most men I speak to wish they were more flexible, but it starts in the mind and manifests itself through our bodies,” says the 59-year-old Baron Baptiste certified instructor.

Knight feels men get a message at an early age to push their bodies to the limit. “It’s all about the ‘guns’ – looking strong so we can be strong, for ourselves and others. Start bringing those limits we call ‘the edge’ to your life from a physical and even tougher mental practice.”

A father to four sons under the age of 12, Steve and his wife get their boys up 20 minutes early three days a week to do a simple yoga practice and meditation to instill the subtle benefits of yoga at young age. “As we bring more awareness to ourselves we are creating space to be more understanding of others,” he says.

Never Fear, Consciousness Is Here

Hampton Thrower came to yoga at his doctor’s recommendation after a decade of football led to compression injuries in his head and neck. A Kripalu Yoga instructor since 1998, he deeply appreciates yoga’s revelation that weaknesses and discomforts present invaluable life opportunities for learning.

But the higher realms of yoga take time to cultivate and men must first drop the guards that keep them from setting foot in a studio.

“Men unfamiliar with yoga seem to believe that yoga postures are either harder or easier than they look, that focused breathing is of little value when compared to raw effort and that struggle yields maximum results,” says the 51-year-old instructor at Yoga for Life in Charlotte.

He also notes that from a very early age, women are culturally directed to take care of their bodies for the sake of health and future childbirth. Men realize the need for self-care more slowly.

All five yogis encourage men to give the science of yoga a try and believe that their first class may be an important turning point in their lives. They recommend looking for an experienced and nurturing teacher in either group or private classes and to try different styles to see what suits them best.

When it comes down to it, Thrower believes that the wisdom-filled journey of yoga essentially holds the same challenges for either gender.

“Yoga’s rewards increase exponentially when studentsmale or femaleagree to practice in a way that balances the willful (effortful) and the submissive (effortless) aspects of life.”

“Men or women who rely upon their combative strength to define relationships with others may also decide to fight their way through yoga class, gaining only a small part of the banquet of gifts truly offered there.”

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