(KRT3) KRT LIFESTYLE STORY SLUGGED: YOGA KRT PHOTO BY NATALIE CAUDILL/DALLAS MORNING NEWS (January 12) Bruce Boyd, yoga expert in Dallas, Texas assumes a lotus position variation. Yoga is ancient and Eastern but it is evolving to a staple on the American fitness menu. (DA) AP PL KD 2001 (Vert) (mvw) -- NO MAGS, NO SALES -- (Additional photos available on KRT Direct, KRT/PressLink or upon request) ORG XMIT: KRT3

NATALIE CAUDILL • Dallas Morning News,

Hey, fellas: Just say 'Om'

  • Article by: Eric Niiler
  • Washington Post
  • November 9, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Practitioners breathed, bent, twisted and stretched their way to a happier state. They left the yoga studio more relaxed, more energized, with better posture and a renewed outlook. But there was one curious thing: Of the 24 people in this room, only four were men.

Studio owners and teachers say that this disparity is not unusual, no matter the time of day. Typically, they say, the ratio of women to men rarely goes much below 4-1. In fact, a 2012 survey by Yoga Journal found that of the 20.4 million people who practice yoga in the United States, only 18 percent are men.

Why don’t men do yoga?

“My husband said he felt bored,” said Praneetha Akula, 36, of Silver Spring, Md. “He didn’t let himself enjoy it.”

Akula is like many women who do yoga and want their spouse or partner to give it a try. But the many myths about yoga stand in the way: Yoga isn’t a decent workout; it’s too touchy-feely; you have to be flexible to do it; men’s bodies just aren’t built for pretzel-like poses.

Excuses abound

Adrian Hummell has heard all the excuses.

“What happens is, a guy who doesn’t know about it, he associates it with things like Pilates or aerobics, and they think of it as a chick workout,” said Hummell, who has been doing yoga for the past three years and now teaches Bikram yoga, a particularly strenuous form of the practice, in Bethesda, Md.

“It’s almost a joke when guys say, ‘I don’t think I should do yoga because I’m not flexible,’ ” he said. “It’s like saying, ‘I’m too weak, so I can’t lift weights.’ ”

Hummell and other yoga practitioners extol its many benefits beyond a pleasant post-class buzz. Several studies have linked a regimen of yoga classes to a reduction in lower back pain and improved back function. Other studies suggest that practicing yoga lowers heart rate and blood pressure; helps relieve anxiety, depression and insomnia, and improves overall physical fitness, strength and flexibility, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Loren Fishman, director of the Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinic and an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University’s medical school, said his prescription is often yoga.

He recalled one of his recent patients, a subway track worker with a back injury. The man’s primary-care physician suggested physical therapy, but the man requested yoga instead, so Fishman started him on gentle stretches to ease his pain.

Fishman has written several books on using yoga as a supplement rather than as a substitute for medicine. He has studied yoga since the early 1970s and noted that the practice was developed centuries ago by men in India. But its modern form has become feminized.

“There’s been a flip,” Fishman said. “When it came to the United States, yoga became a sort of gentle gym, a noncompetitive, nonconfrontational thing that’s good for you.

“Yoga has this distinctive passive air to it. You get into the pose and stay there.”

Football yogis?

Among those who reject the idea that yoga is just for women is Danny Poole, a Denver teacher and trainer who uses yoga to help athletes. In 2009, his students included about a dozen members of the Denver Broncos.

Poole came to the practice reluctantly himself. A basketball player at Grand Valley State University in Michigan four decades ago, he was dragged into a yoga class by his girlfriend.

“All I knew is that there were hippies doing it, and I was intimidated because I didn’t know what it was,” Poole said. “Then I got hooked on it because I never felt so good.”

Poole kept up with yoga and said it helped him avoid sports injuries as he grew older. About 15 years ago, he went full-time as a teacher.

He decided to drop some of the elements of a traditional yoga class that could turn off guys: no chanting, no Sanskrit terms for poses, no music, no headstands or handstands that are difficult and prone to causing injury. “I keep it easy and gentle, and I avoid trying to make the client not look good,” he said.

Poole said pro athletes like yoga because it keeps them loose and focused before a game and helps ease postgame soreness. During his year with the Broncos, he said, he kept his yoga group injury-free. But he understands why many men, especially ex-athletes and guys who have spent years pumping iron, have trouble with yoga’s physical and mental aspects.

“Athletes with big muscles take a regular yoga class and it kicks their butt,” he said. “They tend not to come back.”

When men say they are bored with yoga, Poole said, there may be something else going on.

“Our egos are deflated because we can’t do some of the poses,” he said.

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