Mission Possible: Men on the Mat

As you may have noticed, my current mission is to get more guys into yoga class. This full-on initiative manifested following several independent signs that pointed me in the direction of specifically calling men to the mat. Firstly, over the course of the year I have been drawn to numerous articles/blogs featuring men and yoga (e.g., Emma Magenta’s 12 Reasons I Love Having Men in Yoga Class and Andrew Tilin’s Where Are All the Men?). I noticed that in March 2011 Yoga Journal even featured a man on the cover of their magazine, the first time in 8 years! I started really paying attention to how many men were showing up for (and coming back to) my classes. While students are in savasana, I have found myself doing a quick calculation of the percentage of men in my class (this week it was 25%). This is this first time that I am in any way acknowledging this to anyone, but I kind of started this internal competition with myself to strive for 100% retention of men who try out my class. Of course the goal is to always get 100% retention, but I really wanted to make sure the guys came back. While my retention hasn’t exactly been 100%, it has been very good and I have men (plural) in pretty much every single class that I teach. Not only do I notice how many guys are in the classes that I teach, I am quite observant of how many guys practice along side me in the classes that I take. Let’s just say that this year my awareness of men in yoga classes has heightened.

The second sign in this sequence of events was when my Capitol Hill Yoga (CHY) partner Betsy suggested that we feature the men of CHY in our October newsletter. In full support of her idea, I began researching statistics on male/female practitioners in the US and compared them to our metrics at CHY. I started reviewing the number of men in attendance and retention rates in all the classes at CHY. I asked men questions about why they come, what they hope to gain from the practice, and what they like/dislike about yoga class. Likewise I inquired with male friends who don’t practice yoga to find out why they haven’t even given it a chance. As I wrote in the October newsletter, yoga offers so many benefits and it matters not whether the recipient is a man or woman. So for any skeptical males out there, I suggest that you don’t just take my word for it. Read what some of the men at CHY have to say about yoga in our CHY Kula Members of the Month feature. Rave reviews aren’t just being shared by our guys at CHY; check out this article from the UK by Paul Clements entitled Do Real Men Do Yoga?

The third (and pinnacle) event that led to this men’s initiative came when we (CHY) participated in the Barrack’s Row Fall Festival. A very nice man approached our table and genuinely posed the question “Do you have any regular offerings – I mean for people who aren’t pregnant or for kids?” My initial reaction might have appeared defensive in nature – “Of course. In fact, only 2 out of our 24 regular classes per week are prenatal. There are plenty of opportunities and options for you to take a class.” But as the reality of his question sunk in, I thought to myself he really seems interested in yoga but for some reason he actually thinks it might just be for chicks, moms, and babies! Are other men in our community shying away from this timeless and transformative practice because the general association is that it is a girl thing? My response: Game on!

This was the birth of Mission Possible: Men on the Mat! I feel that if there are men out there who think that this is a girl thing, I have not been the best yoga ambassador. So here’s to a paradigm shift for those men out there who associate yoga with women! I want to spread the word that yoga is indeed for men as well. Men can reap the same rewards from this practice that women do.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not looking to replace women on the mat with men. I am simply trying to bring balance to the practice and to make all people aware that yoga has something to offer everyone, regardless of sex or age. The tantric roots of Anusara yoga, as well as the Universal Principles of Alignment, lead the way for me both on and off the mat. So how can these teachings be applied to Mission Possible? According to the tantric tradition, as one of my philosophy teachers Douglas Brooks always says, “you are nothing like me” followed by “you are a little like me” and then “you are nothing but me.” I think we can incorporate these stages of awareness and the Anusara Universal Principles of Alignment when contemplating men and women with regards to yoga. How so? Very generally speaking, it appears that the first principle of Anusara yoga, Open to Grace, is accessed more readily by women. I say this only because women are giving yoga a chance, whereas many men don’t appear to be as open to the possibility of all that this practice can offer. Not that I am keeping score or anything, but at the first principle: women = 1 and men = 0. It appears as if men and women are totally different. Next quarter. I mean, next principle, Muscular Energy. Again I am making broad generalizations here, but men usually have the upper hand with this one given their inherent strength. I always smile when men enter my class for the first time and I ask them if they have injuries or special conditions and more times than not the response will be “I am incredibly inflexible.” So guys – here’s the big secret: Muscular Energy (strength) comes BEFORE Organic Energy (flexibility)! Okay, it isn’t really a secret since they are Universal Principles of Alignment and they are taught and applied in order. But my point is, guys often times have a super incredible advantage here with their inherent strength and it is this strength that allows greater flexibility in a safe way. A lot of the super flexible gals out there have to work extremely hard at engaging muscular energy in order to protect themselves during the backbendy and flexible poses. So what’s the score now? women = 1 and men = 1. Perhaps we aren’t so different. And when we realize that at the end of the day all each of us wants is to be happy and to feel better, we see that men and women are in fact the same. So how about more men start Opening to Grace and give yoga a try? Then women can witness the men next to them in class as examples of how to access greater Muscular Energy in poses, tapping into strength that affords incredible amounts of freedom and flexibility. Then together we can all rock out the rest of the Universal Principles of Alignment (Inner Spiral, Outer Spiral, and Organic Energy) so that we can all tout the awesome benefits of yoga.

Please help me get the word out about men and yoga, and let’s change the putative association that this is primarily a woman’s practice. All you guys in the DC area: check out the Men on the Mat workshop that I will teach with my husband this Sunday 2:00-4:00 pm and/or try out any of my regular classes or another teacher’s classes. There are numerous fabulous Anusara Certified and Inspired teachers in the greater DC area who would warmly welcome more guys into class. And all you lady practitioners: let’s encourage the men in our lives to give it a shot and also please be sure to welcome the next guy who rolls out a mat in class next to you. This mission is indeed possible!

About Stacey

Stacey DeGrasse, CHY co-owner and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 500, E-RYT 200), teaches a style of hatha yoga that has been largely influenced by her extensive training in the Anusara method. She emphasizes optimal physical alignment, breath-linked movement, and inspiring heart-oriented themes with the goal of motivating students to discover their fullest potential both on and off the mat. Stacey began practicing yoga in 1997, graduated from the Willow Street Yoga Center teacher training program in 2005, and has been sharing the traditional yet timeless teachings of yoga on Capitol Hill since 2005. Stacey’s approach to training yoga teachers has also been greatly informed by knowledge and skills of general teaching methodologies she has gained through her rigorous training and experience as a PhD level scientist. Currently, Stacey’s most influential teachers include Noah Maze, Christina Sell, her students, and herself. Stacey and her budding-yogi husband Jeff, along with their wide range of freshwater and seawater critters, live in the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood and love being a part of such an invigorating community, which is located just steps away from Capitol Hill.

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