by Abbie Galvin
February 15th 2013
"My husband is afraid to come to yoga" is something I hear a lot. Men are used to using their upper bodies for competency, for their ability in the world, using muscle and the drive of their heart to pump for stamina and strength. As they age they grow more aware of their lower bodies, how "tight" their hips are, how much their shoulders are over burdened, how frequently they have to pee, and how little they are actually breathing. Many men consider yoga the domain of women who are by nature more pliant in the hip joints, more apt to attend a class even if they aren't the best ones, and are more likely to do yoga with a friend just for fun. Men come for many reasons not the least of which is a wounded shoulder, a chronic lower back-ache, or a prostate that scares them. Their reasons are usually pragmatic; that they feel hindered or injured, although it matters not at all why anyone graces our yoga center. Yoga doesn't fix anyone, rather it serves to re-inform ones habitual nature in order to renovate a structure that is slowly collapsing, that may be off-center, with organs that aren't functioning well, and that suffer from a lack of oxygen. And that is all of us.
Bradley, a financial consultant who has not revealed his weekly yoga sessions to his colleagues, started yoga in order to relieve back pain that inhibited his daily walk to and from work. His daughter was concerned that he could barely move and his formerly little tummy was now a big gut. When he agreed to begin, his stiffness was discouraging. His enthusiasm was for the theoretical idea that if he learned proper form and was able over time to master poses that at first he couldn't even attempt, he could change the shape he was in. Bradley has staying power. He worked and worked and practiced between our sessions determined to show his family that he could change. He now fully enjoys his walks, adding bird watching and has recently asked me to take a picture of him upside down in a shoulder stand to show off to his children.
My brother-in-law, Mike, is odd man out in a family who practices yoga, Qi-gong, and pranayama. His first resistance was that I am too bossy. That being true, I love my brother and would love to assist him in his quest for healthier lungs, a more robust immune system, and hips that will give him more mobility. Like other men he is strong and has the stamina to effortlessly bike 60 plus miles in an afternoon. But his joints are stiff, his walking stride is appreciably shorter than it once was, and his respiratory system is far from functioning at full capacity. Doing classical yoga poses will ensure that his structure will support the function of his organs and glands. We have yet to convince him that while yoga is outside his comfort zone, its many benefits will eventually far outweigh his objections. Apparently my bossiness is interfering with my brother-in-law's health.
Tommy started yoga to please his naggy wife who has her own practice, comes to class and is in enviable shape. She thought it would be good for him to begin a yoga practice given the fact that he was over weight and unfocused. Tommy was afraid he wasn't flexible enough to do yoga but as we began our work together he experienced more lung capacity, his back stopped hurting, and now as he puts his hands together in reverse Namaste he has all but forgotten his shoulder injury from a long forgotten face plant. He surf's the web for male yogis who inspire him and is almost ready to "out" himself at work.
John was considering shoulder surgery but he started yoga as a way to avoid it. Although his doctor make it clear that surgery was inevitable, his wife implored him to give yoga a whirl. Through our work together, John was interested in the idea that one's body is one's house, whose rooms are like organs, each having its own function. The floors of the house, basement (lower body) living quarters (torso) roof- top (neck and head) work as a well-integrated organism. He realized that his torso, where he spends his entire effort, was overworked,crooked, and crumpled in one corner. Because his torso was crooked it sat on his lower body awkwardly, which was killing his lower back. Therefore surgery on one corner of this house wasn't going to repair it. The whole house needed a renovation rather than working piecemeal on each sensation of pain. This is all accomplished through the practice of articulating classical yoga poses over and over again until the repetition of correct form transforms the damage into health. John is happily playing squash again with his doctor who is, by the way, his squash partner.
Bob came to yoga to explore a part of himself he wasn't acquainted with yet. He was restless in his work, disinterested in participating in sports or working out, and was in general, searching for an intangible way to feel healthy and more alive. He started attending classes even though most of the other attendees were women, more adept at the practice, more chatty than he would have liked, and clearer about what they were getting. He found the Katonah Yoga teaching compelling and made a personal commitment to attend three or four classes per week. The shear hours he clocked bore fruit. Through the repetition of forms he let go of his propensity to use muscle rather than his structure, he has increased his lung capacity by developing a breathing practice, and is more imaginative about how to keep his immune system functioning well. But more importantly he is using his practice to get more joy out of life.