We’ll get the “but” in a second.
Before that, we all know all the reports about how far more women than men practice yoga in the U.S. and the West, in general. Last year’s Yoga Journal survey pegged the yoga population as 82% female.
Turns out, coincidentally, that’s about the same percentage as in China, according to this story in the Global Times. Although there are signs of some male awakening:
“I’ve taught yoga for five years in Beijing. A couple of years ago, all my male students were there because of their wives, but nowadays more men are aware of the advantages that yoga can offer,” said He Yongxian, 26, a male teacher at Yogi Lotus Yoga in Xicheng district.
A graduate of the dance department at Tianjin University of Sport, He decided to become a professional yoga teacher in 2008. “At first, I preferred Anusara or Ashtanga yoga, which requires students to complete each posture quickly,” He said. “But I found that yoga practitioners should not focus exclusively on the postures; the breathing technique and meditation are crucial as well.”
When He realized this, he started practicing Iyengar yoga, which includes more deliberate muscle movements and the use of assistive devices. “When I started practicing Iyengar, I experienced a mental transformation from impatience to tranquility,” he said.
Now, you might be thinking my promised “but” is going to delve into an Iyengar vs. Ashtanga debate or ask just what type of Ashtanga this guy was doing that didn’t involve breathing techniques.
But (not the promised “but,” mind you) I’m not. Because these lines jumped out of my screen, grabbed me by the shirt collar and shook me roughly:
According to both He and Zhang, yogis (masters) are traditionally male. “In India, most yoga practitioners are men, who view the discipline as a means of expressing religious piety,” said He. “Unlike China, there are segregated yoga classes for women there.”
The most famous yogis, such as B.K.S. Iyengar and A.G. Mohan, are all men. When asked why, He responded that female yoga teachers’ priorities tend to shift to their families after they get married and have children. “I can hardly think of any female yogis who returned to teaching after this transition period in their life.”
My “but” is this: Wow. You get a pretty nice summary of the cultural differences between China and the West in that statement.
My intent isn’t just to point that out, though (particularly from some “we all know so much better” place). It’s to reflect on how yoga’s introduction to different cultures and societies changes those cultures and whether those cultures change yoga. He later says this: “In China, we yoga teachers have a responsibility to eliminate misconceptions. All in all, people should know that yoga requires both flexibility and strength, neither of which can be neglected.” I understand that he’s talking about the misconception about the physical side of yoga, but I also wonder if he ever thinks about eliminating other, perhaps more subtle, misconceptions as well. Or is that something still to come in China? Or will yogis there end up going down a path largely unfamiliar to practitioners in the West?
I also wonder if the world-stage China vs. India battle will alter any yoga development as well.
OK, maybe it’s time to start thinking about Christmas.
Posted by Steve