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Should men do yoga?

A man with abnormal spinal curvatures uses a high support to keep his front spine long, a key requirement for safe forward bends. His wife must guard against hyperextending her knees, which can cause injury in forward bending poses.
A man with abnormal spinal curvatures uses a high support to keep his front spine long, a key requirement for safe forward bends. His wife must guard against hyperextending her knees, which can cause injury in forward bending poses.
Christie Hall

“The average person who walks into a yoga class has no interest in enlightenment. They’re trying to get rid of pain. . . . emotional pain, intellectual pain, spiritual pain. The one that, strangely enough, is least threatening is physical pain.”
--Senior Iyengar teacher Manouso Manos, Yoga Samachar Fall 2012/Winter 2013.

It’s that time of the year. Men and women throw themselves into some new exercise regime. Sometimes they choose yoga, but a huge disproportion of new students are women.

Yoga looks like a woman’s game. Male teachers are rare, male students much more so. Two factors seem to discourage men.

The first obstacle is ego: Who wants to look like a dolt on front of a bunch of bendy women?

The second is physical: How can a man be a player with such a stiff body?

The solution to both obstacles is in the yoga itself. Contrary to 99.9 percent of the published images out there, it’s not a race to see who can put her foot behind her head first.

First, yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

That requires a flexibility of intelligence difficult for most of us, regardless of gender. And getting there is not something the casual observer can ever see. We accomplish yoga only by looking inward.

Second, in Hatha yoga, we use conscious movement into poses to pursue this path. The barrage of media-supplied images, whether cartoonish accompanying serious articles or glamour-magazine polished with designer leotards, belies this.

Quieting the mind. Conscious movement. What part sounds like something that would be harder or more injurious for a man than a woman?

Find a yoga teacher, not a class leader

The trick is in finding a teacher who understands both facets. If a teacher doesn’t know how to guide students in conscious movement, they are unlikely to achieve the quieting of the mind that is yoga and likely to get hurt in the process.

A recent article suggested that yoga might be particularly hazardous for men, and that the yoga world needs to address this problem, choosing not to note that one school of yoga, taught by BKS Iyengar, has been using modifications for decades to address safety in poses for all humans. He has trained thousands of teachers worldwide, with more than 100 in Southern California, including at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles.

Mr. Iyengar is considered by many to be the world’s leading authority on yoga. Iyengar’s approach requires all students, male and female, to challenge themselves to look at each pose and themselves anew each day. His teachers describe, demonstrate and modify the poses to enable students to get the most of the postures.

Competition with others or one’s self takes us further from yoga, further from control of the mind.

Learn more about Iyengar yoga

The LA institute offers two-week unlimited passes to first-time students for $27. To learn alongside other beginners, try an introductory course. The next four-week series is on Wednesdays, 6-7:30 p.m., running Jan. 16 to Feb. 6.

The regional and national Web sites for Iyengar yoga describe more about this approach.

After six months' experience with an Iyengar teacher, consider a workshop with Manouso Manos, a prominent teacher worldwide who teaches weekend workshops in LA.

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