Why More and More Men are turning to Yoga Teacher Training
As opposed to my own 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training earlier this year where there was only one male student, I noticed that there were several men both attending and teaching the course at Sampoorna Yoga School in November this year. On International Men’s Day, I spoke to a few of them to find out how they’d got into yoga, a largely female-dominated activity in the west, in the first place, and what had made them want to take, or ultimately teach, the yoga teacher training here at Sampoorna.
It wasn’t a surprise to hear that most of the guys I spoke to had been taken to a yoga class either by a female friend, relative, a girlfriend or a woman they were trying to impress. Adri, 31, from Spain, is about to embark on his 200-hour training in Spanish at Sampoorna (a new multilingual course at the school – for more details click here). He told me that he thought “yoga was for girls” and not as physically strengthening as other sports. Adri went to a Bikram (hot) yoga class with his now girlfriend to impress her, and in his own words, “almost died” in the 40-degree heat. His theory is that your body gets used to using certain muscles in traditional male sports like football, so it can come as a shock to find yoga is working on muscles you didn’t even know you had. “It doesn’t matter if you can lift 40kgs in the gym,” he said, “yoga is a completely different strength. It has given me strength, balance and flexibility.”
Once he completes his 200-hour YTT, Adri will join his girlfriend Meritxell as a yoga teacher on their new non-profit organisation, Yoga Without Borders (yogasinfronteras.org). Together they have started to offer yoga to disadvantaged people around the world – to refugees, the elderly, children and traumatised women, and they’re building a community of yoga teachers around the world.
Some of the men I spoke to had arrived on the yoga mat after an injury sustained in sport. 200-hour ashtanga-vinyasa teacher Sean, 28, from England, broke his coccyx in a BMX accident and wanted to heal his body. He was introduced to yoga by a female friend. He spoke of the social pressure on men to be the “the strongest, the smartest and the most attractive” and how he could just arrive on the mat and be a humbler self. “As a man, you can have the strength to push your body into the air using your arms but you’ll look round and there’s a woman right next to you doing the same thing with only one arm.” Sean now runs his own yoga business in Sri Lanka and teaches Ashtanga on Sampoorna’s 200-hour ashtanga vinyasa course. “Because of that one single act,” he says, “that one choice to arrive on the mat every day, everything in my life is better.”
Roger, 69 from England, is an ex-GP who sustained a knee injury playing rugby and like Sean, wanted to heal his body. He taught himself yoga at home and enrolled on the 200-hour course at Sampoorna the first time around, without ever having been to a public class. He clearly had a lot to learn back then, he told me. Since then, Roger has battled throat cancer and the loss of his wife, but yoga is the mainstay in his life. He is back in Goa to complete the 200-hour training again (imagine doing it all again a second time!) with the benefit of more knowledge and many hours teaching in his local village. You can simply see the effect that yoga has had on Roger just by looking at him, he looks about thirty years younger than his 69 years.
Luke, 35 from England, wanted to talk about the idea of “toxic masculinity” that Sean had raised – that men are under huge social pressure to stick to a traditional gender role that encourages them to be dominant ‘alpha males’ and restricts their allowable emotional behaviour to anger and violence. Luke describes the men who come to his classes in Manchester as “little boys trying to be men” and has witnessed the toll this social pressure can take on male mental health.
Luke is coming to the end of his 200-hour ashtanga-vinyasa YTT at Sampoorna and tells me that he arrived on the mat following a divorce and a period of depression four and half years ago. His sister took him along to a Bikram class and he was surprised to find a group of men already there. He says that yoga gave him the focus he needed at a difficult time of his life and in a short space of time it became a priority for him, having a noticeable effect on his wellbeing.
Like Sean, Luke talks of the pressure on men to be the best at everything – but he practices yoga “to feel better, not to BE better”. He knows that if he misses his practice, his ability to look after himself will weaken. He talks about yoga as a “tool for helping yourself, for coping in society” and this is what he is delivering to the men he teaches back at home. One of the most significant outcomes for him, he says, is an ability to communicate with women. The men he teaches simply don’t know how to act around women, he says, especially in a world where women are becoming increasingly empowered.
Some men who are thinking about taking their yoga practice further may have witnessed the tendency of ‘influencer’ western male yogis to adopt a ‘power’ approach, making it all about the acrobatics they can perform, usually on their hands. You can see it just after spending some time on Instagram, and just like women finding ‘wellness women’ balancing precariously on rocks in complex poses, they may not think that yoga is for them. I hope that by hearing the stories from some of the men on the course at Sampoorna, they might now be inspired to train as teachers and bring a different energy into the world. Namaste, guys.