Refections on All-Male Yoga

Neal Pollack takes exception to the concept of men-only yoga.
Baron Baptiste, bound side angle, Baddha Parsvakonasana

Occasionally, someone will send me a link on Facebook, or in an email, or on Twitter (now that I think about it, I really need to reduce the number of ways people can contact me), for some sort of "men's yoga" class. "I saw this and thought of you," they'll say. While it's sweet that anyone is thinking of me at all, it makes me wonder if they've really been paying attention. Yes, I wrote a book with the words "yoga dude" in the subtitle, but anyone who's read it will know that I actually have no particular preference for practicing with dudes, studying with dudes, or otherwise being a dude. I'm male by birth, a yogi by choice, and the two have little to do with each other, in my mind.

Rightly or wrongly, yoga is largely considered a woman's activity. Sure, men do it, but in a lot of classes, even ones when they're a plurality, they're looked upon with wry affection, like beloved pets. Therefore, every studio trying to make a buck is offering a ironically-named "Stiff White Guys" Saturday afternoon class. We've come to live in the era of "Broga." Not only has this loathsome word been trademarked, it's come to exemplify a certain style. Men's yoga is light on the touchy-feely, easy on the backbends, casual, semi-unserious, and often chant-free. It's de-intellectualized, de-contextualized, and, in many ways, de-yogafied.

None of this is necessarily bad. Though yoga is, in actuality, the easiest thing in the world, starting it can be intimidating. I know that if my first class had featured an invocation to Ganesha and some sort of flying one-toed Dancer Pose, I would never have stepped on a mat again. We need to create a safe space for people who wouldn't ordinarily consider the practice. But does that safe space have to pander to someone's perception of themselves as a "bro"?

Sure, the average male body and the average female body are different, as are the average female and male intellectual and emotional makeups. Men are from Mars, and so on. But really, who wants to take a yoga class without women? They smell nice. They look nice. Some are snotty, but many are kind. If I want to hang around a bunch of grunty, sweaty, emotionally-repressed guys, I can visit Home Depot. Given the choice between that and a roomful of fit, open-minded women, I'll take the latter every time.

Leering objectivation aside, though, I really don't think a Broga-specific program is a good idea. Beyond the annoying nomenclature, it reinforces separateness. Yoga comes in many shapes and colors. You can call yourself an Ashtangi or a Kundalini practitioner, or a devotee of Broga, but underneath it all is an important message: We are all one. The person on the mat across from you, the one next to you, the teacher, the volunteer working the check-in desk, the janitor who cleans the bathroom at night, and even Rand Paul, they are you, and you are them. That's a hard thing to keep in mind when you're practicing. It's certainly hard for me. In fact, I can't believe I'm actually writing down that sentiment. But it's still the unifying principle of yoga, and I believe it truly.

I'll stick to my old-fashioned, untrendy, not-trademarked yoga. It hasn't killed me yet, so why not? As for the rest of you, take whatever class works. Remember, guys, whether or not you practice Broga, and whether or not I find you annoying, you'll still be my bro.