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Playing the Gender Game

Find out why gender-specific classes can provide an inspiring teaching experience while attracting an appreciative audience.

By Sara Avant Stover

As teachers, we can be artists who sculpt experiences for our students through the words we use to teach a pose, the music we play during class, or even the ways we decorate our studios. We can also create a more meaningful experience by opting to teach to target audiences.

This is not a new concept. A glance at any studio's schedule offers us plenty of options: Basics, Level 2/3, Hot Yoga, Prenatal Yoga, Mysore, Meditation. Rarely, however, do we see options such as Women's Yoga or Men's Yoga listed.

Yes, yoga offers freedom to everyone, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or religion; but are there times when it would be more effective to teach to men or women only? And if so, is such an undertaking financially viable?

Let Personal Experience Guide You

Teaching to a target audience isn't for everyone. And the maxim of "teach what you know and what inspires you" applies to gender-specific classes, too.

For Janice Gates, author of Yogini: The Power of Women in Yoga and owner of the Yoga Garden in San Anselmo, California, the inspiration to teach women's-only yoga retreats arose out of her personal practice.

"In the early '90s, when I was practicing and teaching Ashtanga Yoga," she explains, "I kept bumping up against the reality that the practice was designed by and for men and had a very masculine flavor to it. Meanwhile, most of my students at that time were women."

Gates then began exploring other styles of yoga and applying her findings to her teaching.

"The response was overwhelming," she says. "Women were hungry for a safe and sacred space to voice their personal challenges, discuss what was and what was not working for them, and explore alternative ways of practice."

Bruce Bassock, founder of Elements Yoga & Wellness Center in Darien, Connecticut, teaches a popular Yoga for Men program. Like Gates, this arose out of personal interest and perceived need.

"I decided to teach a men's-only class because yoga changed my life," he says. "I truly wanted to share this with others. I suspected that there were a lot of men in town who could greatly benefit from yoga if they'd just try it."

For Women Only

Angela Farmer, who teaches worldwide and runs a retreat center in Greece with her partner Victor van Kooten, celebrates the opportunity to teach her women's retreats. "There is definitely [a need for] a place in our busy lives and competitive society to come back to the beauty of just being a woman," she says.

"When I teach only to women, it is more intimate," she continues. "I feel less like the teacher and more there to inspire, encourage, and support. Having 'sisters' is so ancient, and yet deeply needed in this present time."

Women: Wired for Connection

Gates notices that she can place a greater emphasis on the mind and emotions when she teaches her women’s-only retreats. Women establish bonds of trust and intimacy very easily during these times, she says, thus creating a “sacred container” in which to unravel deeply held emotions.

"It is no secret that women are wired for connection," she says. "There is much more of an opportunity to share, connect, laugh, cry. Connection, resonance, and community-building have immense power for healing and empowering women."

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