YOGA FOR STIFF MEN AT BREATHE STUDIO
Story by Mara Munro
Image courtesy of Breath Stuido
In ancient India, yoga was a man’s world. Today in North America, women outnumber men as yoga students, teachers and studio owners by a mile. Ironically, our muscle obsessed culture, with its focus on beefy muscle-bound bodies and high-impact, body-tightening sports means that men need yoga more than ever. But, just like the first women to step out onto the court with the boys, most men usually feel a certain amount of intimidation and trepidation when stepping onto their yoga mats.
“Our female clients kept telling us ‘I wish my husband would get into yoga, he so needs it he’s so stiff, but he won’t come to class because he doesn’t want to embarrass himself in-front of a bunch of women who are more flexible and stronger than he is,’” explains Svitlana Nalywayko, owner of Breathe Studio. “We realized that this was what was keeping a lot of men from coming to class.”
Breathe Studio is home to the popular ‘Yoga for Runners” program, created by senior instructor Christine Felstead. “Christine was getting men to her yoga for runners classes, which was a start,” explains Svitlana, “but we didn’t have a class for athletic and/or inflexible men so we decided to get them together.”
Not surprisingly, it caught on quickly. Now, Breath Studio runs ongoing 6-week ‘Yoga for Stiff Men’ sessions. “It’s a relaxing and unintimidating environment.” says student Glen Williams, “You don’t want to be in a class where you feel like you can’t keep up, and that your coming in at a different level than everyone else: this is an easy ground floor and you do it at your own pace, which is ideal.”
As it turns out, most of the men in this class are way more flexible than they realize. Most men are no more inflexible than most women when they first start practicing yoga, and the biggest block is not their bodies, but their minds. “Once the students start letting go of inhibitions and relaxing, once they realize that there is no one in the room to complete with, their bodies begin to relax and soften and they discover areas of flexibility they didn’t know they had,” says Svitlana,
“Yoga for Stiff Men” is designed as a six-week session to establish the basics of a yoga practice, and to create a safe and familiar setting in which to practice. The first few classes focus on gently opening the body, and building strength, particular to yoga, for such poses like plank. As the session progresses, students are led through faster flow classes, to keep them interested. “We want to show students that there’s movement in yoga; it’s not just sitting and breathing; we also teach strength, flexibility meditation: it is a full spectrum class,” explains Svitlana.
Of course the session focuses on hips, hamstrings, and shoulders, the classic locus of bulk and tension for most men with restricted mobility from sports and weight lifting, but again, most men are surprised to find how quickly their bodies open up, and how flexible they really are. “Some of the student’s hips are more open than mine!” laughs Svitlana.
The ‘stiff’ men slowly pour out of the studio as I arrive to meet Svetlana. Each one stops to thank her and I hear the same elated feedback: gratitude for this safe practice space and illuminated with the unexpected and joyful surprise that comes along with discovering and redefining your body.
Sign up for a 6-week session at Breathe Studio’s Bloor West location, by contacting them at www.breatheyogastudio.com or 416.926.YOGA (9642). Classes are Wednesdays from 7:30pm to 9pm.