ó On a perfect November Saturday afternoon, when they
could have been pumping iron at the gym or hanging out
with friends over a couple of pale ales, half a dozen
men slipped through the back entrance to a Spartan yoga
studio on the main drag of Westmont, N.J.
were there, bravely and voluntarily, to spend two hours
mind that the ancient Indian practice linking breath,
body, and spirit was developed and taught by men. In
America, yoga is a womanís domain.
2012 study by the Yoga Journal found that 82 percent of
yoga practitioners were women.
into most classes and if any men can be found, they are
in the back corners, where they can fumble through poses
without attracting much notice.
women are no better equipped than men to do yoga, said
Larry H. Chou, a physiatrist at Premier Orthopaedic
& Sports Medicine in Havertown, Pa.
resistance has been psychosocial. There was this
perception that yoga was less manly," said Chou,
who has consulted with professional sports teams and was
a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvaniaís
Sports Medicine Center.
because men in America tend not to stretch as much as
women do, they are not as flexible, Chou said.
"People like to do what they are good at," he
said. "And theyíre not so fond of doing what theyíre
not good at."
the gender imbalance in yoga classes has social
advantages for some men after class, many find it
demoralizing to be surrounded by women who, in general,
can twist themselves into poses with much greater ease.
a challenge," said Alain Benitez, who recalls his
first yoga class as a humbling experience. "Out of
a group of 30 or 40, I was the only man, except for the
teacherís boyfriend. I learned a lot about how much
ego we carry. It was kind of humbling."
the five years since, Benitez has devoted himself to the
practice. After studying with several teachers, Benitez
began leading his own classes. Last year, he joined the
small but growing number of yoga teachers offering
classes geared exclusively to men.
have specific limitations," said Benitez, 32, whose
day job is conducting allergy research at Childrenís
Hospital of Philadelphia. "Our broader shoulders do
not help with balance. Our minds race a little bit
faster. We have a hard time getting into a meditative
the safety of a yogic fraternity, Benitez said, his
students feel more relaxed.
helps them get there by speaking their language. When
they lie prone for cobra pose, he tells them, "if
anything needs adjusting, now is the time. We donít
want pinching." And he notes there is something
reassuring when more than half the men in the room
cannot reach past their knees, let alone palm the
see a lot of broken-down men, who are shrugged over and
have no balance," said Robert Sidoti, 42, cofounder
of Broga on Marthaís Vineyard. Sidoti, an omni-athlete
and former actor, started his male brand of yoga there
with a friend in 2009.
plan seems to be working. Broga now has licensed
teachers across the country, with two dozen more in the
classes, he said, are minimalist: "Letís just
focus on the breath and postures and get you through
them in a healthy, safe way." Besides the basic
poses, Sidoti said, he throws in some power moves.
"Men can relate to a push-up, so for the guy who
wants to get a little bit of a workout, we get the heart
this, he said, Broga has been criticized by purists.
"But the way yoga has been presented on the surface
didnít speak to the buddies I was hanging out
with," he said. The soft images on yoga websites,
the lotus flowers and new-agey wording, put them off.
"I wanted to repackage yoga," Sidoti said.
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Panasevich, who started teaching Yoga for Dudes in
August at Maha Yoga Studio in Philadelphia, has
developed enough of a following that he plans a
recurring series of workshops.
28, a former college wrestler, was 5-foot-11 and weighed
225 pounds at his beefiest. "I was like a giant
ball of muscle," he said.
year after Panasevich graduated from the University of
Pittsburgh and moved to Philadelphia, his girlfriend
dragged him to a power yoga class.
profusely and struggling to get into the poses, he said,
he was shocked by the intensity of the workout. "I
tried to muscle my way through it. I couldnít touch my
years later, he said, he is getting into poses his
teachers told him he would probably never achieve.
enough, I find yoga a lot like wrestling," he said.
"If your mind is not in it, youíre going to get
hurt or lose. Ö There is something sweet about being
focused in that way. Itís very meditative and
challenging," he said. "And itís not always
muscular men trying yoga for the first time, patience is
especially important, said Christopher C. Dodson, an
orthopaedic surgeon at Rothman Institute and Thomas
muscle mass is great for many things, like moving
couches and playing football. But with those larger
muscles, you do lose flexibility," he said.
"The way to prevent injury is to gradually build
up. Itís similar to if youíve never run before, donít
try to do a marathon."
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starting his recent Saturday workshop at Anjali Power
Yoga in Westmont, Benitez tried to put his students at
ease. Built like a ballet dancer, his speech faintly
spiced with a Cuban accent, he told them that when he
started yoga, he was hopelessly inept.
is a difference between setting intentions versus
expectations," he said. "If you set an
intention to get into a pose, I want you to get there,
but if you donít, so what?"
the back of the room, David Share, 56, a nephrologist
from Burlington County, hung on every word. Long and
narrow with a slight stoop to his shoulders, Share had
never taken a yoga class before. He had come, he said,
at the urging of his wife, a "yoga addict" who
had convinced him it would be good for him.
more experienced Brad Oister, a 36-year-old flight
attendant for American Airlines, had braved the front
row. Wearing black Nike spandex shorts and a muscle
T-shirt that exposed the bold black graphic tattoos
sweeping across his formidable biceps, he settled on his
mat with self-assurance.
hardest thing is to stop looking around at what everyone
else is doing," Oister said earlier. In coed yoga
classes, he found that his competitive instinct kicked
in. "Thereís a tendency to push yourself in a bad
students included a hip, 23-year-old beer brewer,
bearded and mustached, his head in a purple bandanna,
and a snowy-headed 61-year-old commercial real estate
you think warriors go to war without weapons?"
Benitez asked, picking up a strap and a yoga block.
"These are your weapons."
warned about the risk of muscling through, saying,
"if you canít breathe, youíve gone too
finally, he said, listen to your body. If at any time
you feel pain, "Drop the ego and step back,"
he said. "Trust me."