Monday, March 7, 2011

Yoga today

A friend of mine who teaches yoga blogged recently about an experience she had with her optometrist, when she invited him to her yoga class. In essence, he didn't see yoga as something that men did--or at least not straight men. Or, I presume he would say, "manly" men. And he seemed to think that it was a "hippy dippy" thing. There's a lot one could say about this reaction, but I'd like to focus on the perception of yoga today.

In the first place, I think yoga is becoming more mainstream. I don't have a hard and fast number on this, but I do know that some NFL teams and many individual NFL players practice yoga. We're talking about some of the greatest male athletes in the world, and they find something valuable in yoga. One of the hot workout regimens today is P90X. Maybe you've seen the infomercials, and if you have, you may very well have seen this guy:
He's a buddy of mine from high school, so I know the results are real. My point, though, is that P90X is a workout and nutrition system that doesn't just pride itself on weight loss but on turning the men and women who use it into physical specimens with toned, impressive physiques. And not only is yoga a part of the P90X training plan, but Tony Horton (the creator of P90X) has been quoted as saying that if he could do only one kind of exercise routine for the rest of his life, it would be yoga. Not weight training, not running or some kind of cardio, just yoga. And we're talking here about the best selling fitness videos on the market right now, so that's a kind of mainstream. (Oh, and I understand that in some of the stretching and cool-down, he incorporates yoga, though without really trumpeting the fact).

The other positive for yoga's acceptance is the penetration it has in more rural areas. My hometown, a small town in Ohio, now has yoga classes at the local community center. Here in rural Indiana, we have classes at our local library an area fitness center, and at our school (though that's just for the school community). Not that long ago, yoga was primarily an east coast and west coast phenomenon, plus urban areas. Now, it seems, yoga is all over the place.

All that said, though, I recognize that it's not just a few eye doctors who are holding out. I go to almost every meeting of our once-a-week on-campus yoga class, and it's consistently 6-8 women and me. That class meets at 6 am, so that may have something to do with the attendance. There's another yoga class on campus  at a time I can't attend, so I can't speak to its attendance. It has more people going overall, but I don't know how many men it's attracted.

And that thing that Tony Horton said about yoga? I gather he said that at least in part to resistance from some P90X enthusiasts to the yoga workout. In other words, he had to support yoga because a lot of people had some kind of negative impressions of it. I have a friend--a lady friend, I might add--who will follow me just about anywhere in the gym and do all kinds of workouts, some of which surely look goofy to any outside observer.  But there's something about yoga--she completely avoids it.

A few months ago, I blogged about teaching my first and only yoga classes, back-to-back sessions for the girls swim team. It was very positively received, but I bet it would be a hard sell if I tried to take it to my boys tennis team. Or most any other team. Maybe the point is that I would have to sell it to them, whereas the girls just took it in stride, tried everything I put in front of them, and expressed positive feelings about it afterward (but hey, maybe their coach sold it to them before they even showed up).

And what about the charge of being "hippy dippy"? I suppose anything with a "spiritual" element that isn't mainstream Christianity will probably have a decent chance of drawing that label from a certain segment of folks. That is being countered somewhat by the various fitness programs or movements that are helping to bring yoga mainstream, though that circumstance, too, causes its own issues for many yoga practitioners, because, of course, there is a spiritual component to yoga. I heard someone once say that yoga without those spiritual aspects is just pilates. I've got my own thoughts on "what yoga means to me," but I'll save those for another time.

Perhaps far more fruitful than allowing myself to continue wandering through my own view of our culture, I should just open the floor for comments. How do you see yoga? What's your first association with the word and what is your more considered opinion about it?


  1. I haven't tried a ton of yoga -- some DVD workouts that combined it with Pilates stuff, and a prenatal class. Many of the movements didn't work for me at least at the time. Especially things with one leg turned out and the other not, or with any leg turned in. Four years of modern dance in college got me cemented to the idea that feet are always both turned out, or both parallel, and never ever turned in.

    I haven't done any yoga since I discovered I have hypermobility, other than the bits included in various fitness classes at the school. Perhaps it would suit me fine with proper supervision and modifications for my particular difficulties.

    Because of my faith, I don't think I could participate fully in a yoga class that took the spiritual aspects very seriously, but I understand and respect why serious practitioners would insist that the spiritual aspect is integral to it.

    I looooove Pilates. Maybe at least partly because it was designed for dancers.

  2. I am all about aerobic exercise and sweating so yoga is a departure from that for me. It's hard to slow down sometimes. There's so many yoga moves I'll never be good at, so I know it always to be a challenge. I mostly appreciate it for the balance and breath aspects.

  3. I am another male yoga enthusiast. Got started thanks to the P90x yoga you mentioned.

    I've never really connected to any spiritual aspect of it. I suppose from a purely exercise point of view I appreciate it for giving you an intense workout feeling without making you run yourself ragged in the process (I'm not a big cardio fan, I just don't enjoy the frantic aspect of it)

    I think maybe the benefits of yoga are oversold. Too many people take a single yoga class expecting to feel 20 years younger or see the face of God after one session. That's just not how it works. It's a discipline that must be practiced in order for the benefits to be seen--it was well over a year of yoga1-2 times a week before I really connected with it. But most Americans just want to find that magic workout that they do every once in awhile and solves all their problems and gives them a great feeling until the next time they feel like exercising--yoga isn't like that yoga is a discipline, not a workout.

  4. Umm, my comment turned out to be a TAD too long!!! So I'm posting it as a blog. Link to follow. =) xo

  5. Okay. Here is the link to my blog!! Whew, you really got me writing. Thank you!!! As the friend who teaches yoga that you mention, I am honored to have prompted a blog, and now you've done the same for me!!!! Heeheehee!! The circle of life!! Is this SPIRITUAL??? ;)

  6. Of course I forgot the link. Silly silly.

  7. Prochaskas (can I just go ahead and call you by your first name instead?), I hear you. Ultimately, when it comes to the spiritual stuff, I would counsel "take the best, forget the rest." If something a teacher is saying is useful to you outside of the merely physical, great. If not, just ignore it as rubbish. It's not like they'll brainwash you with the stuff.

    Helen, there's a lot to be said for both the balance and the breath--two things that we often don't give much attention to. Also, I think it's a good thing, in general to mix things up and get out of one's comfort zone. From an exercise standpoint, mixing cardio and yoga and weight training and whatever else floats your boat.

    Anonymous, thanks for stopping in and commenting. I think you make an excellent point, though I don't know that it's so much that the benefits of yoga are oversold so much as it is that we Americans want a quick fix, which of course you point to.

    And Hilary, I'm so glad to have this back-and-forth. The "golden age" of my old blog had a lot to do with this sort of mutual inspiration between a handful of bloggers. Oh, and I'm working right now on another blog post that started off as a comment on your most recent blog. :)

  8. Yeah, you can use my first name. And yeah, that's how I would approach such a class -- that's what I mean by not participating fully.

  9. Okay Marcy, then I'm right there with you as a non-fully-participating member of such classes. Though to be honest, I'm having a hard time thinking of any yoga class I've attended or yoga video I've watched that was really more than vaguely spiritual. Even when the language and imagery gets a bit fuzzy, it can be interesting in its way.