The Past, Present, and Future of Yoga

By Andrea J

Yoga combines physical postures, breathing exercises, meditation, and a distinct philosophy in numerous different styles and intensities. The most common style practiced in the United States is Hatha yoga: emphasizing postures, breathing, and meditation. The combination of these practices strengthens the mind-body connection. I had the opportunity to try a yoga class last year and thoroughly enjoyed the challenges and benefits it presented. For a few years, I have had friends and family who have gone to classes and liked them. I have never found a time that fit my schedule or knew what to expect. This term, there was a class offered at UREC and I decided to try it.

Yoga has been proven to build strength, increase flexibility, and improve balance, stability, sleep and relaxation. It is truly a full-body workout that focuses on the mind-body connection as one pushes further into a pose or a specific muscle or group of muscles. Practicing yoga in addition to other forms of exercise has been suggested by studies to reduce heart rate and blood pressure as well as anxiety and depression.

Over 20 million people practice yoga, of which only 18% are men (Freytag, 2014). Yoga is thought to have originated over 5000 years ago in India to be performed by men. In the North American culture, yoga evolved from its origins to suit the needs of Hollywood celebrities and middle-class women. The practice became a more meditative style that deviated from the original practice of developing the strong minds and bodies of men (Tilin, 2012). Due to stereotypes and the evolution of yoga in the 21st century, the practice is viewed as feminine and too touchy-feely for men (Tilin, 2012). These changes lead to the stereotypes that yoga was only for women and companies utilised this to their advantage through advertising and clothing. Today, many yoga studios are trying to defeat this stereotype and show that yoga can benefit everyone through creating men-only classes or more demanding classes that emphasize what men are typically looking for in exercise and bring the practice back to its roots (Tilin, 2012).

The increasing number of males showing up in yoga classes, in recent years, is due to the new studios and classes that focus on integration and mobility of the muscles that most men build in the gym through their focus on individual muscles (Tilin, 2012). These classes are structured more around the origins of yoga and less on how the Western world has interpreted it, with a focus on the more vigorous and no non-sense styles. The most common reason for men, or anyone, not practicing yoga is that they are not flexible. Just as one goes to a gym to build strength and endurance, one can go to yoga to improve their flexibility.

There have been several pro-athletes in recent years that have begun to practice yoga for various reasons and now speak to how it has helped them improve their game. Keith Mitchell is a former NFL linebacker who now is a certified yoga instructor. With one hit, he was down and suffered a spinal contusion. Yoga was suggested as a therapy to help him regain some function and may have been the reason he was able to get back in the game. I am including the link to a video down below about his story. Other pro-athletes such as LeBron James and Tim Thomas also practice yoga in addition to their playing.

What is an athlete? An athlete is someone who surrenders himself to a greater purpose by sacrificing day in and day out in order to attain a dream. Having role models in pro-athletes that speak of the benefits of establishing a mind-body connection to improve their athletic skill has played a part in increasing the number of people and especially men who have taken up yoga. I think this is a good way to increase participation rates and promotion of a sport without the use of sexualisation. It shows that two things that are so very different can work together to create an athlete and give more meaning to their lives. Men and women have very distinct gender roles in society that dictate how they move, work, eat, and connect with others. Yoga is one example of how these roles are blurring together so that anyone can benefit from participating.

References:

Keith Mitchell and Yoga
http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-films-presents/0ap2000000259627/NFL-Films-Presents-Yoga-and-football

Tilin, A. (2012). “The Man Factor” from the Yoga Journal. Retrieved from http://www.yogajournal.com/article/health/man-factor/

Freytag, C. (2014). Why dudes should do yoga. Retrieved from http://greatist.com/fitness/men-
yoga-stereotypes

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4 responses

  1. I really enjoyed this post, Andrea!

    Alike you, I have recently started to practice yoga myself. However, my interest is directed towards practicing hot yoga more so than regular yoga. In my opinion, hot yoga has gained a lot of attention in the last few years, thus, has attracted a large quota of male participants. After having attended my first session, I was curious as to what benefits were associated with yoga, as I was truly never a strong believer that it was linked to many health benefits. To my surprise, and as you also mentioned in your post, there are many benefits that are linked to practicing yoga regularly: building muscle strength, increasing flexibility, improving balance, and also, yoga is a helpful tool to prevent injuries. Moreover, I think the long list of benefits are a major reason why male athletes have begun to associate yoga with the credibility it deserves.

    I came across this short clip that I really enjoyed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCXHz-WfykM); Brendon Ayanbadejo whom plays with the Baltimore Ravens shares his insight on why he has been practicing yoga for the last few years, and encourages other male participants to do so as well. For athletes, like Brendan, whom place a lot of stress on their body during practices and games, yoga is a fantastic way to relax the body and mind after a long week.

    Finally, I strongly agree with how you mentioned that most people perceive not being flexible as an excuse to not practice yoga, as I was a victim of this myself. However, as shown in the video, and as I have witnessed for myself first hand in studios, yoga or hot yoga is great for anyone of all ages or of any experience level. I hope to continue to see male participation rates increasing, hopefully well above 18% in years to come!

  2. Great post Andrea.

    Participating in Yoga has been a fairly new activity that I have experienced. Alike you, I have practiced yoga on campus, as part of an activity class for my university degree. Prior to this class; in aim of gaining benefits from yoga, I partook in some sessions as an athlete. For a long time I associated yoga with stretching and flexibility however, it wasn’t until I participated in yoga during my time at the academy for two years, that I realised that yoga not only promoted flexibility but offered me relaxation.

    Yoga class at UNB with Wendy raised the importance of meditation, breathing techniques and how challenging yoga can be. The class definitely developed my connection with my mind and body, which enabled me to determine how I actually feel; for example, when I was stressed.

    I agree with the most common reason for men, or anyone, not practicing yoga is that they are not flexible. I have experienced situations like this first hand, with myself and others. Both players from the men’s and women’s team participated in yoga to improve their athletic performance. Speaking with them after the sessions, the men were hesitant to go, due to their perception of yoga (an activity they had not experienced before) i.e. viewed yoga as a “feminine” or wimpy activity. Again, many of my male friend’s attended the sessions as they only understood that yoga would look to improve their flexibility, to benefit their athletic performance.

    My yoga class helped me to appreciate that yoga has more means than flexibility, and that yoga can influence my sporting performance, for instance dealing with situations when under pressure i.e. close matches. Moreover, yoga also helped me in everyday life, for example improving the connection between the mind and body. Developing breathing techniques has enabled me to overcome stressful situations such as exam period at school. I believe it’s important that everyone should be able to reach a relaxed state of mind, even if it is through techniques of yoga.

  3. Great post Andrea!

    I agree with you 100% on your point stating that male athletes need role models in terms of yoga!

    This reminds me of the exam question we had a while back asking when can stereotypes be utilized for good. We can use society’s hegemonic masculinity to our advantage to bring in the desired population, in this case men, for the betterment of mind and body and even for the betterment of performance in sport. We do this by using male athletes – Lebron James would be a perfect candidate as he’s a large, strong, and by definition of a masculine basketball player – in an ad creating a hegemonic masculine setting (i.e. focusing on his muscles, sweat, amount of effort in certain poses) with a clear description of benefits in regards to athletic performance. This can change the perception of yoga to men from something that they believed was merely just stretching and needing to have flexibility, to thinking that it’s another way to workout their body and their mind together.

  4. I am very interested in your Blog Andrea, I have tried yoga a few times it seems to be very interesting, you don’t feel like you’re getting much of a workout until the next day when you can barely move. I know every time I have tried yoga there was always 0-2 guys a time. I feel there is a huge stereotype on yoga being for woman which is not good because of all the positive outcomes it could have for both men and woman. I had no idea that yoga studios were trying to defeat this stereotype by creating men only yoga classes. That is the best idea ever! Men would feel more comfortable going to this type of class and feel more belonged to the atmosphere. I feel like when one man goes to yoga most of the woman have that stereotype thinking oh well he is just here to check out girls and get a woman. But for most cases that man could osteoarthritis and was recommend by a doctor. Yoga is a type of exercise that could be beneficial in all types of sports it should be something we are practicing every day. Thanks for the great read !
    Desiray Wells

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