Dear Teachasana: I teach in a gym where I often have women bringing their weight lifting boyfriends/husbands to class with them to try it out. The guys never seem to enjoy the class, but I get the feeling that it isn’t because of what I am doing or not doing, but rather because they come in with a closed mind, not at all willing to open themselves up to the possibility of enjoying yoga! What can I do/say in the beginning of a class that will help open up their minds and help them to see that just because they lift weights or play sports doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy yoga, too!
Response by Beth Spilchuk.
In my experience there isn’t one thing that you can do to immediately change anyone’s mind about yoga. I am constantly having to remind myself that although I don’t understand why others may not enjoy yoga or see the benefits of the practice (even if it is an strictly asana practice), they need to find something that is right for them on their own path. What is right for them may or may not include yoga.
I also teach at a gym that incorporates yoga as an integral part of their fitness program for members. The owners have been in the industry for many years and see the benefits that meditation, pranayama and the physical asanas add to an intense workout regime. That being said, it wasn’t (and still isn’t) a piece of cake to get some of the members to see this themselves. Below are some of the things that I’ve found very helpful.
Know Your Stuff
As you move through your class and give your cues, be as specific as possible in regards to which muscles or bones need to do whichever action you are describing. If you can show them that your knowledge is based on anatomy and knowledge of the human body, they may be able to see past the “fluffy” stuff and open their minds to at least the physical practice. In time, they may not just tolerate the pranayama and meditative/spiritual aspects of yoga, but also enjoy them.
In addition to being anatomically specific, if you can also relate this to any exercise they may do and how it may benefit them – extra points! Tell them how the lengthening of the hip adductor in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) will allow them to improve their squat, or how balance poses will build up all the muscles around their knees to help prevent injuries if they play multi-directional or contact sports.
Recruit a Champion
Is there a well known personal trainer at the gym or a regular member who fits into the “husband or boyfriend” role, and who enjoys your yoga class? Enlist their help to try to market the class to this demographic. If they are asked by a fellow weight lifter or friend to go to a class they may be more likely to see the benefit (even though the class may be the exact same!) A personal trainer may be able to market your class to their clients as well – if their trainer is recommending it, they may be more likely to go outside of their comfort zone and keep coming back week after week.
If it is possible, create a yoga class that could be marketed toward specific sports or even to males. Many yoga studios have Male Only classes – born out of a desire for men to be able to feel more comfortable in a class and not be surrounded by “bendy Wendy’s.” The typical athletic male will have some sort of a competitive streak, and not being the best in the class can be intimidating. Having a male-only class would allow you to modify the poses so that you can meet them where they’re at while also boosting their confidence with some strength based poses which may be easier for them.
Offering a yoga class that is specific to a sport may also be an option. Doing yoga for running, yoga for weightlifting, or yoga for hockey class could make students feel more comfortable. It will also allow you to take more time to explain the benefits of doing yoga for this specific sport to the students. Even if we know that any yoga will benefit any athlete, drawing those parallels and talking about their sport will make them feel more confident and comfortable.
As you indicated in your question, there may not be anything that you can change with your teaching, but that is the only aspect that we have control over. Be yourself, be kind and welcoming to any new students, introduce yourself and ask what their goals are. Find out about their experience with yoga and any past injuries, using this information to help guide their practice. It may take some time, but eventually most males will step outside their comfort zone, and begin enjoying and experiencing the benefits of yoga.
Beth Spilchuk lives in Mississauga, Ontario with her partner and their dogs. She has been doing yoga for almost ten years, and has been teaching for two (and they are the best years!). She teaches a variety of classes, but has a particular interest in the addition of yoga into sport training schedules, and the benefit it can provide to athletes. Connect with Beth on twitter @yogilete, or Facebook!