Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Is Western Yoga Sexist?

I had an interesting conversation with a student practitioner this week. He noticed a flyer that had yet another female model and commented that it would be nice to see a male model on, well, just about
anything. As our conversation progressed, we noted that female models are the standard - to my recollection Yoga Journal has not used a male cover model in the 5 years I've had a subscription, I have not seen a male model on Yoga International or Yoga Fit, the other two magazines I occasionally pick up. To the best of my knowledge, I have seen one poster advertising a Yoga Journal Convention with a guy on it - but that was one out of 3 or 4 they do yearly and I haven't seen any since then.

He went on to extrapolate that when he's out on a date or talking to other gals, he has to get to know them - and their attitudes toward yoga - before telling them he does yoga because they might take it the wrong way. I found that simply appalling.

How ever did yoga shift to this female dominated presence? And why such negative attitudes towards guys doing yoga? Or guys modeling yoga?

Let's review the history of yoga here folks:

It's from India.
It's over 5000 years old.
It was practiced by guys. In some sects, you could only practice if you were a Brahman, a renuciate, or a young male.
Women were not allowed to practice yoga until the early 1900's and even then many were discouraged from doing active postures.

Krishnamacharia was the first to be willing to teach a woman (1920s), and he was a harsh taskmaster. Indra Devi had to prove she could handle anything he challenged her with, and she exceeded her teachers expectations and went on with his blessings to become a world renown yoga instructor.

Pattabhi Jois began teaching women in the late 1960's early 1970's.

Even in India today, classes are predominantly male with most female students from other countries.

As we talked, I also pointed out that the majority of weekend workshops (Ashtanga based) I attend are led by male instructors: David Williams, Doug Swenson, David Swenson, Manju Jois, Govinda, Matthew Sweeney. Upcoming workshops are again, male dominated: Michael Gannon, Michael Hamilton, Govinda. My favorite in town instructor is a guy. I've attended only two workshops (again, Ashtanga based) led by women. I know there are fantastic female instructors out there: Kino MacGregor, Beryle Bender Birch, Nancy Gilgoff all come to mind, but they are in a minority.

I popped over to the YJ website and perused their yoga photos. 98% are women. I googled yoga photos under free clip are. Again, predominately women. I begin to understand why guys don't want to do yoga in the States. They are constantly bombarded with pictures of young uber flexy-bendy women in their fashionable outfits doing pretzel poses. I can see where a guy would draw the conclusion that a yoga class is going to be full of flexy-bendy gals and there is no place for a lumpy stiff-as-a-board middle aged-fellow who just wants to get in shape. Ya know, all that marketing turns me off too.

So I come back to my main question, why is it so unpalatable to have a male model on the cover of a magazine or a flyer? Afterall, guys do yoga too, and have been for 5000 years.


hargobind said...

Runner's magazines face the same issue interestingly enough. There are way more women on the covers than men. I don't think it is necessarily yoga but the nature of more relaxing exercise and that women are generally more beautiful than men. However, if we could figure out how to market yoga to men it would be hugely beneficial.

YogaDawg said...

That's the question and am glad you put it out there. I hope you don't mind that I linked it here:

Thanks for the chronology as I agree with you in the progression.

Kristin said...

Thanks for your feedback.

Hargobind: I've noticed the prevelence of female models on a wide variety of athletic and health magazines. And I am fully aware that the "target/market" audience is women, but really, guys buy magazines too!

yogadawg: Thank you for linking. Maybe if enough people start to speak up, magazines and advertisement flyers will respond.

Hermes said...

That was a great summary and refreshing to hear. As a guy that practices yoga in the U.S. it can be frustrating sometimes. Yoga has always appealed to me because it is about balanced health and strengthening the whole body. Oftentimes when I used to lift weights (perceived as a manly exercise) I had friends with huge disproportionate biceps and tiny legs, and that never made sense to me. Hargobind makes a good point about women being beautiful (I certainly agree) and therefore are probably on the cover more, but it is so prevalent in yoga. Instead of a woman in a field of flowers and butterflies doing the "dancer" pose, how about a picture of a man in the badlands holding a warrior pose with a lightening bolt striking in the background? Now that would be sweet.

Linda Sama said...

yes. it's not only sexist, it's ageist and dare I say it, racist. not to mention, where are all the "round" bodies? but this is American yoga.

I've written more than a few times in my blog about the lack of round bodies, people of color, and women of a certain age in this so-called American/western yoga culture.

you know what the best ads are in YJ? the ads for Kripalu -- you'll see old, fat, and yogis of color.

thank you Kripalu!

YogaforCynics said...

As a male yoga student, I can't thank you enough for this discussion and concise time-line. On a yoga retreat recently, one woman said that she didn't trust men in yoga classes, and pointedly asked myself and another male--the two of us half of the male population of a group of twenty-five or so--why we were there. As it turned, out, she and I became good friends, and she's told me that I've challenged her stereotype of men who do yoga. Nonetheless, it's kind of funny that I, simply because of my gender, would've fallen under suspicion like that in the first place....

Kristin said...

Thanks everyone for your comments! I'm glad to see I'm not alone in my frustration. I just wonder what it's going to take to change popular media or if it can even be changed?

Sarah said...

Wowy, I don't even know if anyone is going to read this, but at the risk that this is just a tree falling amid a giant forest, I am experiencing the total opposite. As a woman, I feel somewhat oppressed by the tanned, fit, fruit loop in white hot pants and tube top. In fact, I am often looked up and down for saying I am a yoga instructor, because I am soft and curvy and woman. Further, I have found that male instructors oftentimes are immediately given more credibility, perceived as more venerable, knowledgeable. I think male students feel more comfortable with male instructors and may feel 'bossed around' by a more direct female teacher. Also, not really digging on the 'let's remember yoga was once for only men' approach. In some cases, our western yoga sure is a far departure from its roots, giving us less rigidity and more freedom to make yoga play, perhaps this western image is the price we pay and something we all need to deal with lovingly together. I am not saying I am right and you are wrong, I only wanted to offer my perspective and experience. Love and Light,