Decades after millions of western women embraced the practice, yoga is evolving to meet the modern man.
James Arbona wasn’t expecting much from the yoga class. The 48-year-old New York camera operator had tried yoga a handful of times only to come away underwhelmed. The flowery metaphors, foreign-sounding chants, and slow stretches hadn’t resonated with Arbona, who’s an avid basketball player and runner. But this particular class, a men-only offering called Yoga for Dudes that his girlfriend had urged him to try, was different. Arbona enjoyed it. He became a regular. And the difference in the way he felt as a result changed his mind about yoga.
“Before those classes, I remember playing basketball and making one of those moves where my body said, ‘Don’t do that again!’ But after going to the Dudes classes, when I’d play basketball, I’d feel so good,” he says.
Lately other men have had similar revelations. Lots of other men. In fact, while yoga in the US is predominantly practiced by women (according to Mediamark Research and Intelligence, 77 percent of practitioners are women), male participation is on the rise. Pure Yoga studio in New York reports that male membership has increased 20 fold. Men represent approximately one-third of all people stepping onto a mat at CorePower Yoga’s 58 studios in five states, and Yoga Journal’s own market research shows that the number of male practitioners relative to the total number of practitioners in this country has jumped by nearly 5 percent.
How to account for the shift and, in particular, the fact that sporty, guy’s-guy types like Arbona are flocking to studios in unprecedented numbers? It’s not that men have become more flexible, spiritual, or in touch with their feminine side—qualities that have long been associated with yoga and that in reality still turn many guys off the practice. Rather, yoga, whether in special classes just for “dudes” or simply tailored to be more accessible, is finally meeting men where they are.
“Men shouldn’t have to work against their strengths,” says Nikki Costello, the New York City instructor who teaches Arbona and other men in her pioneering Yoga for Dudes class at Kula Yoga Project in Manhattan. “It shouldn’t be a struggle for men to embrace yoga. Not if they’re seen, really seen, for who they are.”