In today's Guest Post Series, we're welcoming YBCer Jonathan, who is sharing a unique perspective we don't often hear about - male yoga teachers in a predominantly female industry. I hope you guys enjoy this as much as I did. Feel free to leave him some feedback in the comments section below! xoCandace
Yoga in the United States is such a diverse and widely used practice with claims to help fix whatever that ails you from back pain to anxiety. It is a beautiful vessel to strengthen the body and calm the mind. I probably do not have to tell you that yoga in the United States is done primarily by women. Pictures of women doing yoga dominate yoga magazines and yoga Instagram and Twitter accounts. And the numbers bear that out: according to a 2016 Yoga Journal study, 72% of yoga practitioners in the United States are women. Yoga teacher training manuals and anatomy guides have women as their models a great majority of the time. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, while I like to tell people that I started yoga as a way to improve my running and avoid injuries, I was also fascinated by the different graceful postures you see on social media and I wanted to achieve those too. Running suddenly became a very linear pursuit, where yoga felt so much more dynamic. Every day, there is something new and different to achieve in the yoga practice and the best feeling is nailing a pose you never thought you could do. I became a teacher to share that same pursuit with my students.
When I signed up for teacher training, I did not think much about the possibility of being one of the few male trainees. Throughout my various trainings, the female to male ratio has been upwards of 30 to 1 and I quickly heard all about the stereotypes: guys are not flexible enough for yoga, it's not a tough enough workout or it's just not a manly thing to do. To which I said, I don't really care. I love the flexibility I have gained through the practice; heated power vinyasa flows (not to mention meditation) are definitely not easy and our society is quickly redefining what it means to be a man, so why not embrace it?
Ever since seeing those graceful, beautiful poses that I referenced earlier, I have strengthened and opened my body to work into these postures. But one thing is always working against me. It isn't my "male bone structure". It is my clothes. While the yoga clothing industry is a booming one with a plethora of great styles and cuts, it's almost as if they think men have only wear one or two styles; neither of which look all that flattering when going upside down. I have noticed this at my local studio as well. In the middle of sweaty flow, I'll sometimes avoid a cued arm balance not because I am tired or do not have the confidence to do it, but because I will slip right out of it. Flying pigeon, in particular, requires open hips as well as a strong hook of your inside foot and knee that is near impossible without a decent grip. With over 10 million men now practicing yoga, you would think a more breathable yoga pant would be developed for men that would be practical yet not awkward.
My main intention in all of my classes to make sure each student feels safe, included and empowered to do what I am instructing. Only then can they feel at ease and start to have fun, de-stress, get a good workout or achieve anything else that they came to class for. As a male yoga teacher with primarily female students, I am hyper-aware that there may be women in the room who suffered some abuse or trauma. I am also aware of the popular archetype of the male yoga teacher in American media, whose primary motivation is to give sexually suggestive cues and adjusts with the hope of taking advantage of one of the women in the room. Yoga is an excellent vehicle to heal from trauma and I do not want my words or touch to be a trigger. There are also some cues that sound different coming from a male teacher than they would from a woman. For instance, I tend to the avoid the cue of "if you are on your period, you may want to avoid shoulder stand". Teacher training was a huge help in feeling comfortable adjusting many different types of bodies, but it was quite a bit different going into a live class for the first few times. In teacher training, there is an implied consent and a feeling of "we're all just trying this out for the first time together". In a live class (even though I ask permission to touch at the beginning of every class), I always have a feeling that an adjust I might give might give the wrong impression. A lot of that awkwardness has gone away with experience. I leave it up to the student to provide feedback or ask after class about an adjust I was not quite sure about in the moment. Feedback can be such a valuable tool for both teacher and student to improve the overall experience.
All good yogis know that yoga is so much more than the poses and becoming a yoga teacher has helped me grow my practice so much more. As a proud introvert, I have found teaching and connecting with students before and after class has helped me come out of my shell. I have met some great people in the industry but I would be happy to see more men take up the challenge. If you are a male reading this blog and haven't done yoga before, maybe for one of the reasons mentioned above, give it a try, even if it is at home with a short YouTube video. And for everyone, I encourage you to invite the males in your life to your next class. Yoga truly is an all-inclusive practice.
Jonathan Bohall is a yoga instructor in the greater Boston area. You can follow him on Twitter.