There will be no lack of opportunities to do stereotypical Guy Things next week — playing golf, watching the NBA playoffs, discussing the NFL draft and/or, of course, figuring out what to grill.
But how many guys are aware that Sunday marks the start of D.C. Yoga Week? Heck, how many guys have even tried yoga, despite its explosion in popularity?
Well, we can think of at least two dudes who hadn’t really tried it before: We, the two male MisFits. Recently, we decided to man up and unroll the mats. Here’s what we experienced.
Des: Namaste, bro.
Mike: Namaste to you. Did we ever figure out what namaste means? Something about “my awesomeness bows to your awesomeness”?
Des: Yeah, whatever it means, I’m pretty sure we’re allowed to say it, now that we’ve gone downward, dog.
Why aren’t men doing yoga?
Yoga in America is on the rise. One survey found that 9.5 percent of adults, nearly 21 million, practiced yoga in 2012. Another report estimates that there are more than 30,000 Pilates and yoga studios in the United States.
However, there’s something missing: men. On the whole, women make up three-quarters of yoga classes, a percentage representative of our recent experiences. Why is this?
First, it seems there is a major misconception among men that yoga doesn’t equal strength. In our culture, we have the image of a “strong and fit male,” who usually lifts weights and bulks up. Weightlifting does increase strength, but there’s more to being strong, like having good balance and mobility.
More so, stretching and flexibility exercises are generally seen as means to an end, not a worthy practice in and of itself. That’s a mistake.
“Guys have tighter shoulders, it seems — carry a lot of the weight of the world on their shoulders,” said Wes Smith, who has been teaching an all-male class at Circle Yoga for more than two years. “Hamstrings are tight, so [we’re] trying to loosen up all of that. So if you just do some basic poses, you will move everything in your body to wherever it needs to go.”
The spiritual elements of yoga may also be off-putting for some men. Mistrust of yoga’s religious implications, “New Age” oddness and meditation techniques conflict with many cultural assumptions about American masculinity.
Plus, yoga can be just plain hard. Many of the poses are awkward for a beginner, and can easily lead to insecurity about your body (especially in a room full of women). And what type of yoga practice do you pick? In looking for different yoga classes, Des and I saw restorative yoga, rocket yoga, power yoga and the like. Our yoga knowledge was nonexistent, so we relied on friends and co-workers to choose a studio.
We had thought about starting with a men-only class; it didn’t work out, but some beginners might want to try that option. As it turned out, we did wind up with two male instructors. We encountered the first, Michael Peterson, during our first baby step into yoga, not even leaving our own building. The Washington Post has its own gym, and we spent an hour there doing Vinyasa yoga with Peterson and several co-workers.
After that, we ventured not only outside, but into the scary world of Bikram yoga, which is hot these days, in more ways than one.
Mike: For me, a yoga class equals a course in major anxiety. Although I’ve followed a YouTube video on yoga for runners, I’ve never stepped into a class, never bought a mat and, God forbid, never thought about buying yoga pants.
Part of me hears the old church ladies from my childhood say, “That yoga business is of the devil!” (slight paraphrase, but that’s the general idea).
Des: My thing is, I often react with disdain to things I think are overly trendy, and I didn’t want to be one of these people walking around with a mat. But when Peterson asked me why I wasn’t doing yoga, I said something like, “Well, you know, there are a lot of things I should be doing.”
Vinyasa: Des’s first impressions
This was the first time I laid out a mat, with a bunch of other people and a teacher, and did what I would consider proper yoga. Vinyasa is a form of yoga in which one pose flows into another, and movements are linked to inhaling and exhaling. “That’s part of the connecting thing.” Peterson told us.
“You have to breathe and move at the same time, and you gotta pay attention to do that. So now you’ve got your mind paying attention to your body and your breath, and that lining up is where the yoga happens, in a sense.”
In order to help us line things up, Peterson, a full-time instructor for whom The Post is one of several clients, had atmospheric music playing softly in the background. He explained that music and low lighting contribute to “creating an atmosphere where you’re able to just focus.”
I wasn’t that nervous, but I also wasn’t exactly “focused.” I mean, right off the bat, I was having trouble keeping my eyes closed.
Peterson encouraged the class to focus on breathing, “listen for sound vibrations” and ignore our own internal commentary. Mike later said he found himself hearing the treadmills in the gym next to us and worrying about not running.
Personally, I was thinking about the story we were going to write, then I was thinking about how I was going to write about thinking about that.
Focusing on our breath did help distract us from the fact that we were the only male students in our group of seven, a ratio that was similar in the next class we took. After a little while the self-consciousness started to abate.
We tried to do crow pose, which seems a bit advanced, given that you place the weight of your body on your arms and lift your bent legs off the ground. Mike achieved liftoff — for just a moment. Then he quickly fell onto the floor. I had no shot at completing crow or bound side angle, which involves reaching a hand under the same side’s leg, then clasping it with the other hand, which happens to be behind your back. But I also didn’t feel like it was a hopeless cause; I just needed a lot more practice.
Mike: I took the time between Vinyasa class and Bikram yoga to practice my “anxious MisFit pose.”
Des: Not gonna lie, I was a little apprehensive about this one.
Bikram: Mike’s first impressions
A couple of days after Peterson’s class, we headed over to the Bikram Yoga Takoma Park studio, to see what that was all about. It’s often called “hot yoga,” and I think that might be a bit of an understatement. Bikram is a series of 26 poses done in a room heated to a humid 105 degrees or so. The heat is meant to loosen up the muscles and allow for greater flexibility.
Stephen Pleasant, the owner of the studio, looked at us with wary eyes when we paid the drop-in fee and explained our story idea. He said our goal as first-timers was merely to stay in the room the entire time and endure the heat. Ninety minutes is a long time to spend in a steamy environment, pushing oneself through unfamiliar activities.
While the first yoga class was quiet and meditative, this class was lively. The lights were on and there was no music. Although some poses were similar to those in the other class, Bikram felt harder. Pleasant, who taught the class, encouraged us to lie down to rest if needed — and at times, it was needed. When we got to rabbit pose, Pleasant told us to sit this one out because it’s hard to do. I said, “That’s not a problem,” which got a good laugh.
Des did attempt some version of all the poses, but for the most part, the only thing he had in common with the woman in front of him, who was actually executing them, was that they were both depositing perspiration into their towels, mats and the carpeted floor.
Pleasant said that Bikram is actually a good form of yoga for beginners, and that makes sense, because it is so structured. It’s the same 26 poses every time, in the same order, and the only goal is to get better at them.
While I don’t mind the spiritual elements of yoga, Des liked how Bikram dispensed with mysticism and focused on the physical activity. Pleasant told us to keep our eyes open. Unlike the other yoga class, where we tried to center ourselves, Bikram asked us to be where we were, in the class, sweating with everyone else.
In both classes, Des and I felt that all the poses were in some variety doable. We both can attest that our whole body got a workout, and believe us, it took a lot of strength to do it.
Mike: I can definitely say we got a workout out of both classes, wouldn’t you?
Des: Oh, I would. In both classes, there were several points at which the teacher would say, “And now, exhale.” And in my mind, I’d be like, “Dude, I’ve exhaled like three times already! I’m huffin’ and puffin’ over here.” I do kind of want to see what else is out there in Yogaland. You know: Have Mat, Will Travel.
Mike: I see new blog potential! And with that, my awesomeness bows to your awesomeness, Des.
Des: Thanks, and yes, let’s wrap this up. We’ve already over-nama-stayed our welcome.