I often hear the words, “My husband/boyfriend would love yoga, but I just can’t get him to try it”.
There seems to be a gender imbalance in many yoga classes. I have quite a few men in my classes, but the split is never 50/50.
I have been wondering why this is. Why don’t more men practice yoga in the West? After all, it was almost exclusively men who practiced way back at the beginnings of yoga.
Do men not need the benefits that yoga can bring? Do men have other activities that build strength, improve flexibility and help to develop a calm and balanced mind?
I do not know the answer to this, but something I read this week made me consider how more men practicing yoga might be a small part of a solution to a very serious problem.
The statistic I read was that the leading cause of death in the UK for men under 45 was suicide. Sadly, this is not just the pattern in the UK, it is a worldwide issue.
While there are probably many different reasons behind this, it is clear that poor mental health is a salient factor. With my background in Psychology, this is a subject that I feel strongly about.
Could be the culture of ‘toxic masculinity’ that is present in society have a part to play in this? Men are often judged negatively for talking about any problems, especially mental health issues or expressing emotions. The phrases ‘Man up’ or ‘Grow a pair’ are still uttered by some when someone is having a hard time and tries to talk about it. This lack of outlet is thought to increase the likelihood of behaviours such as excessive drinking or other destructive ‘self-medicating’ activities.
I am aware that it is a bit rich, me, a woman, talking about toxic masculinity, but I have been becoming increasingly aware of the effects thanks to the band Idles, who explore the issue in their song Samaritans, in which they talk about ‘the mask of masculinity’ (click here to watch the video, I also recommend having a look at the lyrics so you can appreciate the sentiment even if you are not into a bit of punk).
Alongside this, I have friends who are trying to raise boys to be unafraid to cry and express themselves – not an easy task!
Could this same toxic culture be holding men back from attending yoga classes? If we have a mental health crisis amongst this group, maybe yoga could possibly have a positive impact.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali define yoga as, “the removal of the fluctuations of the mind”. Those who attend yoga classes tend to notice physical benefits, but also mental benefits. This mental balance is what yoga was originally about and this is still really important in contemporary life.
I am beginning to feel that yoga could possibly be a tiny part of the solution to banishing toxic masculinity and promoting men’s good mental health.
Many yoga classes aimed at men have found the need to present it as very physical and ‘rebrand’ with titles like Broga – men’s ‘fitness’ yoga. Does this just perpetuate toxic masculinity?
There is no special ‘yoga for men’ and ‘yoga for women’. There is just yoga for people.
I am going to put it out there – if you are a man and want to look after your mental health, try a yoga class, any yoga class.
If you are affected by the issues raised in this post and feel you need help, please call The Samaritans on 116 123 (free to call, open 24 hours) or email firstname.lastname@example.org (response time 24 hours)