Recently, I had trouble interpreting one of my student’s responses. “Jack” is the husband of a friend of mine. They had a private session with me at another studio a year ago, and that was that until I bumped into them a few months ago. We catch up. I find out that while she dropped out of Yoga, he had not, and has continued on. So I invited him to my Senior Men’s Yoga class.
Jack checks out the class, enjoys it and signs up with a 15 card pass. This is great. He fits in well with the guys and this has been a hard class to establish. However, around this time I lose a couple of newer fellows for various health related reasons. Jack has had two hip replacements and he is still taking class from “Becky,” an experienced teacher I very much like and respect.
Well. This combination does nothing for my pervasive insecurity and leads me to wonder if Jack is getting anything out of my class. So I checked in with him briefly at the end of class and he indicated he was fine. Yet he must have sensed my angst, and gave the query more thought, because later that day he sent me an email. And that led to us chatting after class the following week.
Jack gave me permission to share our discussion. What follows is a clip from the email, as it really sets the stage, and the main points from our conversation.
Just wanted to mention how very much I am enjoying your class. I am learning a lot, and it has resulted in my getting more out of yoga. A problem I have had at Becky’s studio is that I often feel frustrated because I am not at the same level as other people in the class. Also, I often have gone beyond my limit, and the result has been that I injure myself. I greatly enjoy the meditation part of Becky’s class, but recently I was wondering if it was worth limping around for the rest of the week!!
Anyway, what I have come to accept (slowly) from your class is that yoga is REALLY not a competitive sport, and that it is better that I work within a pose, not go beyond my limit, and, most important, enjoy the level of the pose that I can accomplish. The emphasis on smooth motion and breathing is something that resonates with me, and I am starting to see that yoga can, indeed, work for me. I have been carrying over this attitude to my classes with Becky, and by focusing on myself, it is beginning to work. So, your class has been beneficial in a number of ways!
If there’s one thing that Yoga gives us, above all else, it’s awareness. In one short email, Jack touched on his awareness of many of the foibles we guys have that inhibit experiencing the richness and depth that Yoga has to offer us; competitive comparisons, going beyond our limit and accepting where we are.
So I followed up with Jack by asking what makes this presentation, Senior Men’s Yoga, work for him? The first thing Jack mentioned was being in a smaller class allowed him to be more relaxed. He also noticed a difference in “a guy talking about a guy’s body” and through this, he realized that he had never asked a question in other classes before.
“There was a lot of focus on the pelvic floor,” he said, and commented feeling awkward attempting the exercises in a class surrounded by women. For one, “I felt like I was invading.” And perhaps because of that “I’d never make a comment in class.” As Jack was telling me this, he wasn’t blaming the female instructors or students, or suggesting a lack of inclusion. He was simply expressing what he felt.
What I have observed is that Yoga, as it is currently taught, simply misses the mark for many men. So much of the modern presentation of Yoga is taught through the feminine lense. There is nothing wrong with this. But, it’s often not all that applicable to guys or least not when they’re just getting started.
For example, the other aspect of Becky’s classes that Jack brought up was that they seldom did the same postures from class to class. “Every day it’s something new, and I can’t really get comfortable.” All of my classes, but especially my classes for men, feature a consistent series of postures.
The Bikram sequence, the same 26 postures every time, is often criticized for being boring. As someone who enjoys it for my personal practice, a main element I take out of that is that repetition builds competency. Jack had a slightly different take on what the repetition of certain poses each week does for him; “What it allows me to do is to slowly internalize,” and figure out the posture and how to get comfortable with it in his body.
It was a great relief to check in with Jack. It turns out, when I was unsure of what he was getting out of the class, he was moving thoughtfully in low lunge, using blocks and keeping his back knee on the ground. It wasn’t my worst fear, that Jack was bored, rather, he was exploring the pose with care.
This leads me to my last point. One of the great take-aways from my training at Kripalu was to give permission. I find myself focusing on that a lot when I teach men. I give permission over and over again to use a block or another modification. I don’t use a lot of props. But I will call them out on it, if they’re pushing too hard.
It’s not that Jack didn’t have permission from Becky to ask a question or accept a modification. Rather, it brings to the surface the interplay between genders. We often try to impress or are inhibited in subtle ways both in what we allow ourselves to hear and what we give ourselves permission to do or not do.
And that’s the key, giving ourselves permission to pursue this activity in something less than a winner take all mentality. It also helps to explore the practice of Yoga in an environment best suited to your needs. At one time I sought out the feminine expression of Yoga. Now, I seek out men both as healers and to refine and share this practice of Yoga.
To quote author David Deida, from The Way of the Superior Man: “A man rediscovers and fine tunes his purpose in solitude, in challenging situations, and in the company of other men who won’t settle for his bullshit.”
See you in class!