I've found myself in an interesting line of "work" over the past two years. I put work in quotes because I don't think I work at all, despite the fact that I do get paid. For those of you who don't know me, I spent my 20's in a few office spaces working diligently on paths that were laid out for me. On the cusp of 30, that path ended for me and I was presented with an open vista. For the first time in my life, I had enough tools to color the vista in a way that I wanted.
I took my very first yoga class in 2018 at Yoga Agora, a studio I would begin teaching at in just three years' time. The truth is I was afraid to go alone, so I asked my cousin to go with me so I would feel safe. I thought it was a space for women. There is some truth in that initial assumption, but I was speaking from a larger narrative that I didn't belong - that I would be judged just for being there. I think this is a big feeling from a small story that we can all relate to in some way. I had a chemical reaction that day in March of 2018 - a surge of potential that would engineer my entire life in a new direction. I fondly remember my dialogue with Anna that day, I said: "This is really powerful." I had no idea just how powerful a force it would become for me.
As I ruminate to write this piece about how I got here, it's actually perfectly logical how I came to lead a practice that is almost completely comprised of women. I was always extremely sensitive as a child. Even now as an adult, I generally prefer the company of female friends and colleagues. The willingness to converse at a deeper level is something I do not experience with many men that I have been friends with. My gateway into yoga actually started in therapy when I was introduced to guided meditation practices. The cleansing coherence that I experienced in those early practices was very profound. It was the first time I had ever communicated with myself. To begin my spiritual practice took a very willing and deliberate urge to tear myself down. My identity refused to be in my body anymore, to be with the experience that was handed to me, because there was no part of me that I was in love with. Now, there is no part that I cannot love.
The willingness to be vulnerable is the greatest obstacle that keeps men out of the practice. This isn't an indictment or effort to blame anyone for cultural standards. Women are not the only sufferers in a patriarchal system. The healthy masculine is abused and subjected, even while men reap the dubious benefits of a world that was built for them. In a system that glorifies everything material and financial, naturally men are the most spiritually deprived. We are charged with holding this system intact as we bankrupt our souls.
Yoga is a practice that demands vulnerability. To experience the present moment is to be in contact with everything that you are and everything you are not. This is simply too much for most men to navigate. If our language is suffocation, how can we expect men to participate in the discourse of breathing? I believe holding space for men at this time has never been more imperative. The number of men engaging with spiritual practice is alarmingly low. Without anything above or beneath our physical selves, we become so linear and small. Nothing above to ponder and unite with, nothing below to nurture and sustain. Our false power is the very thing making us weaker every day. Disconnecting from everything around us to immerse in ever-shrinking discussions of material nothingness. Products and technology that rot our consciousness from the inside out. Women are being dragged into that world more than ever as well, but they are finding much more bandwidth to balance themselves spiritually, even as they participate in corporate grandiosity. The male idea of health is to lift weights and pursue very linear physical practice - things that reinforce the shrinking spirit that we are cultivating. Our practices inform our interior life and vice versa. If our practices are linear, we will continue to become less dimensional.
All that being said, men experience and practice spirituality in different ways. There is a brotherhood and camaraderie that exists in male spaces. Gyms, sports, and saunas that are predominantly male have spiritual and communal components. Those spaces are needed and useful, but our practices are far from holistic. Practices like yoga teach movement, mobility, breath control, ethics, philosophy, and literally every component of reality. I cannot think of a male space that has a practice as dimensional as yoga. Once again, I hardly blame men for the predicament that we are found in.
Modern colonial yoga is just a shadow of the profound esoteric wisdom that founded it. Despite being created and practiced by men for thousands of years, it is uniquely marketed towards women. It is also overtly physical. It is decorated with the lithe female bodies, capable of contortion-level feats, that men (and most women) cannot dream of. This originates from our society's belief that the merits of a thing must be physical and tangible and provable. Yoga does not need to prove anything to you. These extremely agile bodies come to yoga with advanced movement practices, as they have a very easy entrance into physical practice with the tools they already possess. They come from dance, gymnastics, and the like - fields that men have little-to-no exposure to. No one wants to participate in something that is difficult for them - however, all the merits of this practice are in overcoming difficulty. If I could snap my fingers and have the ability to do every yoga pose, I would not do it. I would be depriving myself of the growth that takes place along the way. This is the entire practice - how you get yourself from A to B, and what you learned about yourself. If yoga continues to be marketed and approached from a blatantly physical perspective, men will never have access to the practice.
Ultimately, we can't hope the capitalist gears stop turning so men can do yoga. Yoga asks us to be skillful in the situations that we find ourselves in. Men need to give themselves permission to heal their wounds. Once there is this initial willingness, anything is possible. It does not have to be yoga - it just has to be something that works. Eventually, the subset of the person is irrelevant. The more people that heal themselves, the healthier world we will live in.