The problem with yoga being too flaky and New Agey

It turns off men, basically.

Now, you probably know this already. But it’s still a good story for the mainstream media. And the Washington Post is the latest to touch in on the female-to-male ratio of yoga practitioners in the West. (After all, as the Post notes, that fairly famous Yoga Journal survey in 2012 found that of 20.4 million yoga practitioners in the U.S., just 18% are men.

Although the story isn’t explicitly tied to the Smithsonian’s yoga art exhibit, I’m going to assume that the opening last weekend is the implicit reason the Post published a fairly lengthy piece on this topic. Yoga on the brain, if you will.

Link to the story is here. A few of the more interesting parts:

Why don’t men do yoga?

“My husband said he felt bored,” said Praneetha Akula, a 36-year-old Silver Spring resident who was visiting the studio on a day off. “He didn’t let himself enjoy it.”

Akula is like many women who do yoga and want their spouse or partner to give it a try. But the many myths about yoga stand in their way: Yoga isn’t a decent workout; it’s too touchy-feely; you have to be flexible to do it; men’s bodies just aren’t built for pretzellike poses.


Fishman has written several books on using yoga as a supplement for rather than as a substitute for medicine. He has studied yoga since the early 1970s and noted that the practice was developed centuries ago by men in India. But its modern form has become feminized.

“There’s been a flip,” Fishman said in a telephone interview. “When it came to the United States, yoga became a sort of gentle gym, a noncompetitive, non-confrontational thing that’s good for you. Yoga has this distinctive passive air to it. You get into the pose and stay there.”


Poole decided to drop some of the elements of a traditional yoga class that could turn off guys: no chanting, no Sanskrit terms for poses, no music, no headstands or handstands that are difficult and prone to causing injury. “I keep it easy and gentle, and I avoid trying to make the client not look good,” he said. [Steve’s note: Surely that quotation will claim some yoga teachers’ attention.]


When men say they are bored with yoga, Poole thinks there may be something else going on.

“Our egos are deflated because we can’t do some of the poses,” he said.

That’s a pretty common attitude among some men at the Flow Yoga Center in the District, according to co-owner Ian Mishalove. He suggests that men look for a beginner class, talk with the teacher beforehand about any past injuries or physical limitations, and don’t insist on trying to do every pose.


The spiritual side of yoga can inspire some people, while it’s a New Age nightmare for others. That’s particularly true for many men, according to Mishalove.

“If it’s flaky and too New Agey, soft or touchy-feely, that can be a turnoff unless it’s explained in a way that is understandable to a male audience,” he said. Mishalove says that men often respond better if yoga is presented as a way to relieve stress rather than a way to find spiritual contentment, for example.

The piece ends, of course, the way approximately 89% of stories of this ilk do: With a guy saying he goes to yoga class because that’s where the women are. Of course.

And lest you be concerned: Yes, the story does mention William Broad’s book about yoga and injuries. (I suppose it was about more than that, but in the end, that’s all it’s about effectively.)

I won’t leave you on such a low note, though. U.S. News & World Report has the best rundown of the Smithsonian show that I’ve encountered.


A link to the story is here, and from the piece:

“There hasn’t been much work done on this visual culture and our understanding of yoga’s manifestation in history is also quite spotty,” explains exhibit curator Debra Diamond. “It’s like a whole other archive that hadn’t been used before.”

The exhibit tracks the way yoga practices and teachings were disseminated throughout the Indian subcontinent. “We know that at least as early as the 5th century B.C. that there’s this huge shift in Indian soteriological thought,” Diamond says. “There’s this notion that we, ourselves – through our own bodies and minds – have the power to get out of this horrible cycle of death-rebirth.”


However, the exhibit also uncovers a dark side to how yoga inhabited the Indian imagination. “There’s definitely always a strand of evil, sinister yogis, at least in the imagination,” Diamond says. This includes paintings and illustrations of fictional yogis who doubled as spies, incinerated cities and engaged in other forms of taboo acts.

“How can you show that kind of thing? Obviously, their scariness wouldn’t show if they were sculpted in the context of a temple. You have the trope of the sinister yogi in popular stories for two millennium,” Diamond says.

Yes, the story kind of runs with the “sinister yogis” idea. Anything to get feet in the door. It still is the best description of the show I’ve seen.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

6 thoughts on “The problem with yoga being too flaky and New Agey”

  1. Our Ashtanga practice is usually 50% men, I’ve been in the morning Mysore were there were 10 men and 2 women. Ashtanga is a yoga that men can get into, most obsessive people will be very attracted to it. No touchy feely !!! An individual practice in a group

  2. I think ashtanga has more appeal for men because of mysore style practice. Several men who started as beginners said they did not want to learn in a large, led class. The independence is appealing to everyone, but to men in particular.

    1. That makes sense — vs. the idea in the Post story of men not liking being in a big class where the women can do all the poses and they can’t. Does this mean Mysore allows one to “hide” to a certain extent?


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