Getting men to strike a yoga pose can prove difficult, but area instructors are noticing it’s becoming more and more popular in New Hampshire.
For men, there can be an element of fear — yoga is an unknown, while just going to the gym, lifting weights or running on a treadmill is familiar. Kc Cooley, yoga instructor with Symmetry Pilates Center (www.symmetrypilatescenter.com) in Bedford, said she sees New Hampshire as a little more conservative than other places, and some men may be afraid that they’ll be seen as doing something feminine. Maybe a man is comfortable with doing yoga, but it’s still not easy for someone to tell his buddies he’s skipping Monday Night Football for a yoga class, Cooley said.
Cooley has noticed that men usually inquire about yoga because of a referral from their doctor, because they’re looking to meet someone who is devoted to fitness and being healthy, or because of a general interest in yoga. Cooley said men don’t typically approach yoga with the spirituality component of the practice in mind, though spirituality is central to the practice.
There is potentially the fear of being the only man in a class full of women who all know what they’re doing. (Instructors acknowledged that some men would probably enjoy that situation.)
Cooley, who hails from New York City where yoga is much more broadly accepted, said yoga’s popularity is definitely growing in New Hampshire.
Yoga’s history, interestingly enough, is tied to men more than to women. Roseann Latona, owner of White Swan Yoga (www.whiteswanyogastudio.com) in Manchester, said yoga was started by men, and initially women weren’t even allowed to participate.
“Men need yoga just as much as women do,” Latona said.
“Men get stressed just like women,” Latona said, adding that yoga is beneficial for people who have trouble and pain stemming from their hips and back. “It helps you stay healthy and to stretch your body.”
The benefits of practicing yoga are many, including muscle tone, increased energy and vitality, a more balanced metabolism, stress reduction and circulatory health, as well as spiritual benefits, according to www.yogamovement.com.
Latona estimated in any given yoga class, at least three-quarters of participants were female. That could be different depending on the yoga style and whether there is a male instructor. There is certainly a need for more male yoga instructors. That’s not to say there aren’t any, but more male instructors would potentially get more men, in general, into the practice. Latona does have a group of men who take part in a private yoga class with her.
For men, just like women, the physical benefits are substantial. Men who like to golf or ski, or who participate in any sport, will see benefits from yoga. Yoga works and stretches smaller stabilizing muscles that people often disregard. It’s perfect for someone who is recovering from an injury, instructors say. While men might be accustomed to lifting weights, yoga is more about lengthening and toning muscles, increasing the range of motion.
But there are stigmas.
“[Men] might think it’s too easy,” Latona said.
“Men are usually surprised by how physically aggressive yoga is,” Cooley said. “They think yoga is just peaceful, sitting around saying Ohm all day, and there is that.... In yoga, you are constantly putting yourself into difficult, painful, sometimes frustrating positions and learning how to breathe through them.”
Experiencing the frustrations of difficult positions helps people in everyday life — that’s why yogis have an easier time dealing with and breathing through difficult and stressful life situations, Cooley said.
With yoga, participants are very mindful of what they’re doing the entire time. Instructors show participants how to engage certain muscles — perhaps muscles people aren’t used to engaging — and to hold positions, Latona said.
“It’s a different type of work,” Latona said. “It is active even though it is still thought of as still and focused.”
“There is a certain flow to it,” Latona said. “For men, that can be a foreign thing. It feels good but they might not be used to it.”
Yoga, itself, is an umbrella. Underneath that umbrella lies a variety of styles and not every style fits with every person. Cooley said she believes yoga is for everyone, but every style isn’t for everyone.
“Shop around,” Cooley said. “Do your homework. It’s very important to find a good teacher. Be very open-minded before you commit or before you cast it aside.”
“Once they’re in there, they’re down for it,” Cooley added.
As far as expectations go for men: expect the unexpected, Cooley said.
“Expect to be pushed to the limit,” Cooley said. “You’re learning to breathe consciously throughout different poses.... If you have no experience, go in and do what you can.”
It’s not a competition, which is another fact that might be foreign to men. Latona said she thought men were more competitive by nature, and she stressed that yoga is not a sport; it’s a practice.
“You have your little space on your mat and you’re only competing with yourself,” Latona said.
Cooley said she prefers to teach in studios without mirrors. She said people often focus too much on what they look like if there are mirrors to look at. Additionally, she prefers not to practice herself while she’s teaching.