Yoga & the Western Man.

Via on Jan 27, 2011

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Photo: Nicholas_T

Get on the Mat and “Take It Like a Man.”

“Taking It Like a Man,” read the headline of one of this week’s My Yoga Journal online postings.

It caught my attention virtually on the heels of an exchange with one of my male colleagues who is aspiring to be a yogi. His “beef” with the bulk of yoga magazine articles (Western, primarily) is that they are geared mainly toward women. Point noted.

As I read and re-read the title, “Taking It Like a Man,” my perplexity increased. I assume that this testosterone filled statement was intended to massage the male ego. After all, is this not the place from which they hunt, fight, compete and protect?  So c’mon you men, man up, muscle up and roll out your mats. Show the world that you can breathe, focus and center yourself like the rest of us human (female) beings!

I recall a recent exchange with American, Bosnian-born forensic psychotherapist Danica Borkovich Anderson of Kolo (Women’s Cross Cultural Collaboration). Kolo is a group that works to address trauma issues spanning the globe. Our conversation was prompted by a recent article written by a (western) male who spoke of the West’s “addiction” to yoga.

According to Anderson,”Yoga and body movement can be orgasmic, which is one of the highest levels of spiritual feminine origins.” Returning to the origins of yoga–descending from the imported western version at least–the Indian yoga asanas, or postures, were all developed by the men, for the men and about the men.

I suspect that our eastern yogi counterparts, rather than suppressing or suffocating the Divine Feminine that they clearly recognize within themselves, through the sacred gift of yoga celebrate and honor their Sat Nam–their true selves. Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga series for example, was initially developed for young males in the Indian military. Clearly, it was appreciated and understood that a conscious warrior–one who, on the battle field, was present in mind, body and spirit–would be of greater service than a fear driven, unconscious one.

Still, western men largely shun (some even to the extent of ridicule) the notion of a Divine Feminine alive within. Somehow acknowledgment of Her presence feels threatening to their masculinity. Perhaps through an emergence of western men embracing yoga in their lives, they will come to learn that to reject Her is to, in essence, discard a necessary part of them.

The Karma Machine + Easy Photoshop Tatto by vramak, on Flickr

Jamaica, my birthplace, serves as a prime example. Strongly influenced by the nearby United States and documented to be one of the most violent, homophobic, male driven societies in the Western Hemisphere, little respect is paid to the few men who dare to tread upon the yogic path.

Meanwhile, Jamaican women in the droves are enthusiastically pursuing this yogic journey. The result is that our women–who are already the forerunners in business, education and especially in the home (most households are led by a single, often female parent)–are now further empowering themselves through heightened awareness and consciousness. So now the Jamaican male is potentially threatened by two feminine forces–the one within, as well as the physical one who could be his boss, his wife, his lover, his sister, even his mother!

Continuing to “take it like a man” by ignoring the feminine within, the “bad man” Jamaican context will only serve to escalate the dark, desperate anger which is the primary underlying cause of all the woes that this promising nation faces.

In a highly sex-driven society (just listen to some of the dance hall music), the courageous few males who are stepping onto the mat and/or seeking a more balanced life face these societal pressures to be a man. For example, prioritizing the pressure to hold down a decent bread-winning job and handle all of the associated stress, rather than pursuing the promise of better sex that calls them forth to the mat. In other words, they are worn out by the dictates of the society. The aforementioned article, references men being attracted to yoga as it purports to have wonderful benefits for their sex drive. Fair enough, likely and quite possibly true.

Each of us who have ventured along the yogic path have arrived at it for one common reason: seeking change. If we really want to see more men on the mat–which, by the way, would be of tremendous benefit to all areas of our daily lives from economical to political to social to cultural to relationships to sexual–by all means let their testosterone lead them! Perhaps as they begin to experience and witness change within and beyond, mostly subtle yet with profound impact, revering and honoring their Divine Feminine will become par for the course. In fact I’m told by ‘yogi-golfers’ that there is an uncanny similarity between the two, that both bring conscious awareness to the present moment.

Thankfully, I have been blessed with some incredible yogis in my life. I acknowledge them for being “more man” by stepping up to the plate and onto the mat.

Namaste!

About Nadine McNeil

Yogini. Humanitarian. Spirited. Compassionate. Storyteller. All of these words conjure up aspects that make Nadine McNeil the person she aspires to be: an evolutionary catalyst committed to global transformation. Now fully devoted to expanding the reach of yoga through what she refers to as the “democratization of yoga,” she designs and delivers workshops to a wide cross-section of communities who ordinarily may not be exposed to nor reap its benefits.To join her mailing list and to learn more about her work and receive special offers, please click here.

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9 Responses to “Yoga & the Western Man.”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by theyogatrap and Les Elephants, Red Fox. Red Fox said: Yoga & the Western Man. ~ Nadine McNeil http://bit.ly/eC6vWh [...]

  2. Suzette says:

    This great article got me to thinking. If women are the forerunners in this society and especially holding the highest position filled with the most responsibility being a mother then I think it's time we "Woman UP". When did we as women think that it was ok to go around half naked, prop ourselves on poles, table dance and now the most recent acts of young women kissing each other (this I assume plays into the males fantasy of threesome possibilities). I recall lyrics from a song by the great Teddy Prendergast…."come on and go with me, come on over to my place"…yeah, with a little wine and fine dining but ultimately the end result was about sex. Sex is great when measured with some Love. When did we ever start equating sex and violence to be pleasurable? Listen to Rap music and oh those music videos. To honour our Divine Feminine for me is to Woman Up and reverse the tide of this culturally decaying unacceptable behaviour as well as to honour the Divine Masculine in the male gender. Yin and Yang. Eastern cultures are usually patriarchal…Western most obviously seems matriarchal, this to maintain balance.

    • Nadine McNeil Nadine says:

      Suzette, to you I say, WORD UP! I couldn't agree with you more — there is a wonderful poem by Justine Henzell entitled Dogma and in it she has a line where she says 'Women have gotten easy and men and gotten lazy.' Now the feminists will [potentially] be in uproar for my saying this however given that we speak from the same cultural context, I know that you'll understand. I love the Yin and Yang dimension that you add. It is interesting to note that by and large within the Jamaican female context, neither the masculine nor the feminine is celebrated in a balanced way. It is sad to note that within our society doing 'well' is usually measured by whether you have a man and more so, 'if di man ah 'mind yuh…' [Jamaican patois which translates to whether he is being financially responsible for you]. This desperate need to be validated by having a man is in my humble opinion what is manifesting the very sores that you mention. Bless Up, Nadine!

  3. Justin Park says:

    this is an important issue…men and yoga…but or importantly men and spirituality. …and in my experience and view, men are not doing yoga or are not involved in a conscious spiritual practice is because our culture has 1) demonize masculinity or made a comedic joke out of it (look at every commercial, sit com and romantic comedy). This is called misandry and this concept does not get air time because we still think that all of the world's ills have to do with masculinity or some perverted form. But we don't know what a healthy form of it is and we are not even bothering to ask the question. 2) our culture has translated all personal growth, all therapy, all transformational work, all spirituality to feminine constructs/norms. It's all about the tapping into 'openness', 'softness', 'welcoming', 'Divine Feminine', and other culturally feminized notions. just look at every yoga add, every yoga botique, every self-help section of a book store, every workshop, the language we use in classes, in writing. It is telling. It tells a story that has not known what Divine masculine, noble masculine, mature and ethically embodied masculine is. And because of it a typical guy is never going to come to a yoga class or pick up a self-help book or spiritual development workshop…because it is not communicating this own deepest and noblest essence, and not giving his own gift legitimacy. …what about decisiveness, what about discernment, what about a Divine intent to wage a wide-eyed battle for something better and beyond personal self interest. Men who identify with the Divine Masculine are not going to waste their time in something that asks them to be something else and does not help them become a better version of who they are. FOR SURE, we are all an integration of both Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine. Yes men have benefited from our culture's move in this direction of consciously including the feminine, but we have done it at the expense and in particular…against the masculine. And we all suffer for…and men the most because their options for spiritual growth are minimal and men are dying on the vine.

    thanks for adding to the conversation.

    • Carol Horton Carol Horton says:

      Your comment may outrage a lot of feminists, but as a mother of two boys I have to say that I've come to agree with a lot of it. I now notice the negative depictions of men and masculinity in the media and popular culture in a way that I didn't before – because I used to see only through my own (female) eyes and also carried a lot of fear and resentment against men – not to mention just plain old lack of understanding . . .

      I would add however that there are also plenty of one-dimensional, hyper-masculinized images out there as well – action flicks, violent video games. Here again, I don't demonize those things the way I used to before I had sons – but let's just say that no one regards that stuff as representing a realistic, positive role model either.

      We need positive visions of masculinity that do more than simply emphasize incorporating the Divine Feminine – not that I don't agree with that too, but – to have balance, a strongly positive masculine dimension has to be there as well.

      Oh, and one more thing – I think ironically that lots of women are now embodying an outdated vision of masculinity themselves – for all of the celebration of the feminine in spiritual circles, in the "real world" it's cool for females to be tough, competitive, hyper-capable, in charge, and disconnected from our emotions. A lot of women are suffering from this today, I believe.

      • Nadine says:

        It is my repeated experience that our perceptions are oftentimes shaped by our own personal circumstances — hence your comment about being able to relate as a mother of two sons. I am a childless mother from a race and nation where by and large, negative images of our men permeate to the extent, that it is starting to wreck havoc within the society. Thankfully, I refuse to give up on my country and my men. Simple is never easy so an embracing of the feminine will not be an overnight process, especially given that by and large — from media to politics to conventional religion — little is celebrated about the feminine. I especially loved your last para — in my 'professional' life — working in a male dominated environment, I am confronted with this daily. In fact, I stepped away from this hyper masculine world for the very reasons you stated — to deepen my spiritual path. Having returned for a finite while, primarily for economic reasons, I see and experience that my balance of the masculine and feminine have kept me grounded in my job, more so than before, and issues that I once faced — and still, I now recognize as mega projections of the other and instead focus on one of my mantras — [to] do my duties fully. Thank you for your comments. Bless, Nadine!

  4. Justin Park says:

    …I posted something that did not take so here is take two.

    …first, I just want to emphasize that I appreciate Nadine's article. While I feel that there are some additional voices and perspectives that extend her initial ideas…I feel she is tapping into an important topic and one that extends much beyond "men missing from the yoga scene and their opportunity to tap into the feminine".

    …And Carol, it seems that you understand my voicing an 'advocacy' for men and the Divine Masculine.

    For those who read thus far and are interested in these topics, these links may help to frame the discussion in ways that are often missing: http://www.ted.com/talks/hanna_rosin_new_data_on_http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/

    …lastly, I'm for both men and women having choices beyond standard and truncated notions of gender and the limitations of each of their culturally shaped forms of power. Depending on the definitions of feminism, this may include me in the feminist camp. Also, I come at these not only as a man, but as a father of a son and daughter, a friend to other men, a man who works with other men on their unique concerns, and as a male yogi trying to make my own way.

    ~ Peace, with an embodied Shakti energy of agency
    Justin

    • Nadine says:

      Justin, thank you. I feel validated by your comments, especially when you state '…that there are some additional voices and perspectives that extend her initial ideas.' Sadly, we live in a world of polarities which makes being able to exercise empathy challenging. I wholeheartedly embrace your comments — which is what got me going in the first place — 'taking it like a man?!' For us pursuing the path, yoga IS. Plain and simple. As yogis and yoginis, we need to be mindful of our need for analysis of all that we do. As we yoke mind, body and spirit, all of these [self-imposed] boundaries eventually melt away, bringing us closer to our Divinity. Namaste, Nadine!

  5. Nadine says:

    Thanks Alan. Your comment about avoiding stereotypes resonated for me, given that I've spent most of my lifetime living in foreign lands where a great part of my existence has been precisely about this. But for me, more than simply avoiding them, it is more so about moving beyond the limitations that others through their projections, choose to impose. Blessings and Light to you!

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