Yoga Myths and Excuses: #9 Yoga and Pilates are for Women (and I’m a Man)

Photos: Joel Simpson (a friend and one of my early students who continued his practice long after I left the area.)

Guys say this to me literally all the time. They often start talking to me about an ache or pain they have or how they are not flexible or how they are training really hard, but it is causing some undesired consequence in addition to the desired results or how stressed out they are. I tell them they should take my yoga class or any yoga class. Because I also teach Pilates, I will often suggest one or the other or both depending on what ails the gentleman. Often a wife or other female partner chimes in and says she has tried to tell him this. He often looks at us skeptically and usually offers one of a few excuses:

“I’m not flexible enough.”
“Yoga is boring.”

AND…
“Isn’t yoga for women?”

I really have no idea where this particular myth started. My best guess is that as gyms flourished, in an effort to make them appealing to women, who often did not like the classic weight room and often do like solidarity, classes started popping up. Classes were never only for women, but aside from a few flamboyant men, Richard Simmons comes to mind, the workout world was dominated by Jane Fonda and other women. Classes in gyms, at some point, began offering yoga and Pilates. I suppose as studios cropped up, yoga and Pilates became activities for the stay-at-home moms of America. I am just guessing here, but for whatever reason, most teachers and practitioners in the US are women. In their article exploring why men don’t practice yoga, the Washington Post reported that only 18% of American practitioners are men . They reported some of the same reasons I believe to be true.

Men, may be inherently less flexible, but that is debatable. The reality is, most adult women are not naturally flexible either. If you take a relatively out of shape man and an equally out of shape woman, I would be willing to bet that they are more or less the same in their inflexibility. However, if you have a more fit man and woman, I think that maybe because women do tend to do certain types of exercise, they may be marginally more flexible, but honestly, there is no advantage of sex really. And the reason for doing yoga, is in part, to improve flexibility, so how flexible you are when you start may make some poses easier, but it is not a prerequisite.

It’s like saying you can’t lift weights because you aren’t strong.
That’s why you train.

The fact of the matter is, both yoga and Pilates were developed by and for men. In India, women were not even allowed to practice yoga, and Indra Devi, mentioned in my last post, was perhaps the first woman to become a master and teacher, but she was not Indian born and she had to fight her way in. Yoga was used to train male Indian athletes and it was taught in school to teach self-discipline to men.

The early yoga books that gained popularity in the West in the 60s and 70s almost always featured male Indians performing the poses. The most famous (and infamous) yoga teachers that people have heard of in the west, Bikram and Iynegar, for example, were men.

Pilates is named for its developer, Joseph Pilates. (He called it “controlology,” his students later renamed it after him.) He was a soldier, athlete and professional body builder, who developed Pilates as a way of creating balance in the body due to having been very sickly as a child and looking for ways to be healthier. He first used his techniques on other interred, German prisoners and, as the story goes, those under his tutelage stayed more healthy during the harsh winters than the rest. Later, her worked with dancers from the New York Ballet, and his protegees who carried on his work were both male and female.

Yet, today, in the West, both yoga and Pilates are associated with women. Men, let me ask you the following questions:

  • Do you have back pain?
  • Do you sit for long hours or stand for long hours in your work?
  • Do you have to ever lift heavy things?
  • Do you breathe? Do you ever find yourself out of breath or mouth breathing?
  • Do you have joints that maybe have taken some abuse over the years?
  • Do you have old sports injuries and/or chronic pain?
  • Do you like to stay in shape?
  • Do you like having a toned abdomen?
  • Do you like sex?
  • Do you have stress in your life?
  • Do you struggle to touch your toes?
  • Do you lift weights and have bulky muscles?
  • You run, bike or swim?
  • Do you just want to be in better shape?
  • Do you have a partner who would like you to join them in their yoga class?

If you answered “Yes” to even one of these questions, you could benefit from yoga and/or Pilates. I promise.

I have one male friend who confided in me that he started going to yoga to meet women. While that is a bit creepy, he ended up loving it and went on to train as a teacher. I have another friend who played high school and college football, but in his 30s, started experiencing a lot of chronic pain. He found a private Pilates instructor he trusted, and it changed his life. Over the years, I have had males of all ages, sizes and fitness levels attend my classes, and while they are usually in the minority, I have seen just as much growth from them as any of the women I have taught, and when they stick with it, they see results.

If you are a guy who trains hard, lift weights, does cross fit, etc. I PROMISE you, you will benefit from yoga. You are building short, compact muscles, and yoga will balance this and help create some flexibility. You are often focusing on the sexy muscles, Pilates will help you build strength in the important core muscles that support your spine. I want to scream when I see guys using weight belts in the gym. Work on your core, not your six-pack, and you won’t need that belt!

Are you a runner, biker, swimmer or triathlete? Yoga will help your joints and is an excellent way to relieve the muscle tension you likely suffer from. Also, these sports are very specialized and ignore major muscle groups. If that is all you do, you will struggle as you get older because you are fit in some areas, but not in others. Use yoga to work the muscles your sport ignores.

Are you a competitive athlete? Team sports fanatic? Aside from the physical benefits, yoga will develop your mental health and focus. There’s a reason LeBron James meditates and offers a “Train Your Brain” series on Calm. He believes meditation (part of yoga) improves his basketball game. He and other male athletes practice yoga because it makes them better athletes and competitors.

Do you hate exercise but realize you need to get in shape? Try out a few classes and teachers and styles. Yoga is not like other forms of exercise, so for non-athletes (like me!), it may resonate.

Do you have stressors in your life? Men are no less likely than women to suffer stress from work or family pressures. Heart disease and high blood pressure are common among men. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues impact men too. Yoga may help address any or all of those concerns for men, who are statistically less likely to seek help.

At the end of the day, there is no place for ego in yoga.

Let go of the preconceived notions you have. Accept the fact that if you go to a gym or studio, you may be the only male in the class, but maybe not. Recognize that yoga will benefit you and commit to doing all that you can to take care of yourself mentally and physically. And then, go for it! Join me, join another Zoom class, go to a studio when you can, try a class at your gym. As I have said, repeatedly, if you don’t like one class, try another. Read my other posts. Read other writers and yogis. Make a plan and stick to it. You are no quitter; you got this!

Yoga and Pilates are not just for women, they are for everyone,
so give them a try.

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  1. Yoga Myths (and excuses) #1 & 2#: “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga” and “I am not good at yoga”
  2. Yoga Myths (and excuses) #3: “I don’t like yoga”
  3. Yoga Myths (and excuses): #4 “Yoga isn’t enough of a workout for me” & #5 “I don’t like to exercise”
  4. Yoga Myths (and excuses): #6 I am Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic, etc., so I Can’t Practice Yoga
  5. Yoga Myths: #7 Yoga is Just Another Type of Exercise
  6. Yoga myths, excuses and questions: #8 Is Yoga an Example of Cultural Appropriation?
  7. Yoga Myths and Excuses: #10 I Don’t Have Enough Time (or energy) for Yoga

8 thoughts on “Yoga Myths and Excuses: #9 Yoga and Pilates are for Women (and I’m a Man)

Add yours

  1. Awesome response to that tired and common objection. At my wife’s urging, I reluctantly started yoga to rehabilitate from a bad ski injury, but quickly got over myself and saw that this objection has no basis. For me, yoga was a perfect complement to skiing and later, heavier resistance training.

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