So why was this such a surprise to me? I certainly don't think yoga is just for girls. But I do believe others feel that way, which is why I was so pleasantly surprised. I think there is a big misconception that yoga isn't truly a "workout". Most people in my life think it is just stretching - like something you do before or after a "real" workout. And since guys like to lift the weight of a small gorilla over their heads, that image just doesn't mesh with a graceful Pigeon Pose. This morning I was so grateful to see this stigma changing.
In reality, yoga is whatever you make of it. It is probably the only form of exercise that truly every person can do. Not only can everyone do it, but they can alter it to a level challenging enough for them - wherever they are at. When you begin yoga, it is pretty "easy" at first. This isn't because yoga in itself is easy, but because people new to yoga don't yet know what to do with it. It is like giving an accountant a set of paintbrushes and a canvas. At first, it is easy to just slap some paint on the canvas and say you painted. But only once they start challenging themselves to create a masterpiece can they see how much more practice and skill they need to really do something great with these tools they have been given.
In yoga, it is the same. At first, you move into each pose and say you did yoga. This might be the case for weeks or months or even years. But at some point, your mind stops thinking about what color you should paint your toenails and instead you can actually feel the heart pumping blood to different areas of the body. You start to recognize something inside yourself - that point where you resist and where you surrender. You start to differentiate between your mind resisting and your body resisting. You begin to understand the concept of "your edge" that the teacher keeps talking about. Maybe one time you notice your body stop at a certain point. You inhale to expand then exhale even deeper into the pose and feel a new sensation, something you have never felt before. When you release, a euphoria comes over you as the blood rushes into the space you just created. You learn to use the poses to make your body stronger. You learn to use the poses to make your mind stronger.
The problem is, so many people give up while still in that "toenail paint color" phase of yoga. At that point, it IS basically stretching - which is where I think everyone gets that notion from. Until you engage the mind in yoga, it is no different than doing a few runner-stretches before getting onto the treadmill. Since guys usually need to feel it deep in their muscles - as with weight lifting - and they don't get to that point in their first few classes of yoga, they discount it as not a "good workout."
It is obvious by the amount of guys in this morning class that my yoga center has found the "secret sauce" to make people give yoga a chance to move beyond just stretching. I am so grateful to be learning how to teach from a place that has figured out a way to bust through that misconception. Their teachers have broken down that learning curve with a mix of flows, wisdom and music to expedite the process of engaging the mind. It is because of amazing teachers like the ones I am learning under, that yoga is becoming mainstream again and more and more people are benefiting from it. I am so excited to become a part of this community and to possibly, in the future, help someone cross over from thinking of yoga as "stretching" to realizing what an intense mind and body workout it really can be.