Yoga and men: a little welcome and a big lesson

The yoga teacher was another David. He was a performer but one of the best teachers I’d had in the year or so I’d been practicing. After class the willowy women clustered round him as he plucked at his guitar. I had changed and was almost out the door when he called out to me.

‘Can I have a word?’ David said, trotting across the yoga studio.

He stood very close to me and looked me directly in the eyes. His own were bright and almost perfectly round, making him look perpetually awestruck. He was deeply tanned. His curls were good vibe antennae.

‘Great class, David.’ I said. ‘Thank you.’

‘No, thank you, man,’ he said. He paused, then said ‘Um, one thing, David. I need to talk to you mano a mano.’

‘Sure,’ I said. I didn’t have a clue what he might want to talk to me about.

David stepped even closer to me and lowered his voice. ‘I noticed an, um, well, I noticed a little welcome in class.’

I was baffled.

He saw the confusion on my face. ‘Yeah,’ he curled his finger and pointed down towards my crotch, then made air quotes. ‘A little welcome.’

I didn’t know what to say. And I still didn’t know what he meant.

David blushed under his tan. ‘You need to wear tighter fitting underwear in class, man.’

‘Ah-hah, I see,’ I said, feeling myself blush. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘Not a problem, dude. Have a hot shower when you get home and drink lots of water.’

‘I will. And thank you.’

Even now, when I think of the ‘little welcome’ I giggle. Those poor women. No wonder they didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms. I’ll always be grateful to David for putting me straight.

The story of the ‘little welcome’ is funny, I hope, but I tell it to make a serious point. Yoga is different for men than women.

I’ve now been practicing yoga for around nine years. It’s a major part of my life and I teach yoga for writers. I stuck with yoga because for some reason I still don’t quite understand I needed it. But many men try a class and give up. I think that’s a shame.

In the past few months I’ve had to take on rather more responsibility than I bargained for at this stage of my life. At the same time, the world has suddenly become a gloomier place thanks to the temper tantrums of big baby bully men who compensate for their fundamental impotence with greed, fear and hatred.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a decent man and how yoga might help. So when I saw that David Lurey, the guy with the balls to tell me to conceal my own, was offering Introduction to Yoga for Men workshops I thought it was a good time to ask him why now.

When did you get into yoga yourself and why, David?

It was back in 1995. I was a stressed-out food and beverages manager working in the hotel industry in San Francisco and partying hard. All that late night stuff. But one of my employees was training to be a yoga teacher and needed a guinea pig. I volunteered.

Back then yoga was the new hip thing. I was curious and wanted to experiment. I liked it enough to go deeper.

My first actual class was with a guy named Jamie Lindsay. Cliché as it sounds, I got the point of yoga in savasana, the guided relaxation, when I realized that the practice worked for me on all levels, not just physical. I’d already been exploring the psychological and spiritual parts of life through following the Grateful Dead, taking recreational drugs and so on. You could say I was ready.

I trained as a yoga teacher but really found my calling at Burning Man in 1998.

I was going to do a class at Elvis Yoga – you ain’t nothing but a Down Dog. I was there at 10AM. By 10.15 the teacher still hadn’t shown up. I thought, I’ve been practicing yoga for a couple of years, I’ll take the class. I started with five people and ended up with thirty. In savasana, I sang one of my own little songs.

After the class, this hippy guy in his mid-sixties with long, flowing silver hair and these really piercing eyes came up to me and said ‘Where did you learn to teach like that, man?’

‘This is the first class I ever taught,’ I said.

‘Don’t ever stop, man,’ he said. I can still remember those piercing eyes.

Great story. Were there really far fewer men practicing than there are today?

Back in the mid-nineties at It’s Yoga, where I was practicing and taking my first training, a third of the studio was men. They really liked power yoga. But yoga got dominated by women. It became a trend, like music does, or a certain kind of food.

Why did you start offering an introduction to yoga for men?

It’s been a slow-burning thing. I joined a men’s circle in San Francisco in 2000, based on David Deida’s teaching – The Way of the Superior Man . Through the men’s circle I was introduced to Jungian archetypes. I started to think that it would be really interesting to bring these into yoga. I began to teach archetypes in yoga back in 2003, offering it as one of my workshops in my travelling teaching days.

The problem was that I could only dabble because I needed to make a living. I’d offer a workshop for men and get two or three. But if I offered an arm balance workshop, I’d have thirty women. It was a no-brainer.

Then, in October 2015, my wife Mirjam and I were teaching an advanced teacher training in Brazil. We had sixteen students, all women. The chefs and cleaners were all women. I went for two weeks with barely any exposure to men. That was the tipping point. I came home to Mallorca and started doing work with a men’s circle here.

I knew I had to bring my personal passion for connecting with men and helping with our evolution into my work as a yoga teacher. I wanted, and want, to show men how to step into a layer of deeper communication. I know that yoga could bring so much positivity into their lives, emotionally and spiritually.

Encouraging men to do yoga obviously adds up to a great marketing opportunity as the world of yoga becomes more and more saturated with different options and permutations. I thought I’d come up with ‘Broga’ but there’s already a studio called this. How would you counter a degree of cynicism?

I’ve learned that marketing yoga has to come in the form of an invitation rather than trying to sell something, hook people. No-one is going to do anything until they’re ready for it. We need to issue a direct invitation to men, rather than attempt to sell the benefits of yoga generically.

Men need yoga now because women are evolving quicker than we are in the emotional and spiritual realms. If men want to be loving, supporting and compassionate partners to our women we better to do the work to keep up with them.

I feel we’re at a turning point at the evolution of consciousness and yoga is a very accessible gateway to bring body, emotion and spirit together.

Right now, we’re being bombarded with all the immature masculine qualities on a global scale. Men who come to yoga can become ambassadors and really help bring us males into a more mature state so we can counter the negative masculine traits of warmongering, greed and misogyny – all the poisonous archetypes.

Increasingly, I’m seeing yoga as as a place where peaceful resistance to what we disagree with in the outside world. It’s not about facing hate with hate. Love really is the only thing with the potential to resolve fear and hate that we have right now. My emotions are triggered when I read the headlines. I get angry. But we have to find a way to resist that doesn’t provoke more anger, hatred and violence.

Yoga is a great way of recycling our emotions internally. We can process them and go into a calmer, more compassionate realm. Conversations with like minds also help us figure out a way forward.

Do you think the benefits of practising yoga are fundamentally the same for men and women?

The emotional, mental and spiritual benefits are the same but the physical benefits are different. The male body has much more muscle tension in the shoulders and arms. So the object of yoga should be to create more motion, improve circulation and open up the chest. The physical stretching of muscle allows energy to flow. Opening up the chest also opens the heart centre, freeing up emotional energy.

Yoga is also good for male sexuality. As a broad generalisation, men have tension around the hips and pelvis. Increasing flexibility and stimulating the flow of energy in that area means it’s very likely that the sexual experience will become enhanced because of greater sensitivity.

Also, men often associate physical practices with performance and goal orientation. Including sex. Practicing yoga helps us increase empathy and emotional connection so we focus more on mutual pleasure. Which has to be a good thing, right?

Absolutely. How do you think practising yoga has changed you as a man?

I believe it’s established a deeper connection to my emotional sensitivity and to my spirit. In my body, it has given me strength and flexibility equally. My breath is much deeper, which has enhanced my singing voice.

Yoga has also enabled me to have a very deep loving connection with my wife and to be surrounded by lovely women. But, as we said before, this makes me hunger for a deeper connection with men.

As for my creativity, yoga has stimulated me to find ways of sharing a certain philosophy in a digestible way. I offer sixty to seventy workshops and I can see my creativity expressed in the titles of these. My workshops offer a vehicle, if you like. Which is where the ones for men come in.

What do you think is the future of yoga for men?

I hope that the future of yoga for men is an explosive, expansive, deeply connecting practice that touches the bodies, minds and souls of all of us. Because I also see the future of yoga for men as expanding off the mat and into our lives.

Namaste, David. Let’s hope it happens.

David has resources for Men in Yoga on his website hereFind out more about his teaching here.  

David and I are also planning a workshop provisionally called ‘Yoga, storytelling and masculinity’ in Palma on 25/26 November. It’s a long way off but we’ll keep you posted as and when things develop.

Meanwhile, my next Introduction to Yoga for Writers online course starts on 6 March. I would love to see more men sign up for the course as I believe men who write could benefit enormously from yoga – emotionally, mentally and physically.

Find out more here.

Download a song by David Lurey free.