How I Made My First Yoga Class (as a Male) Less-Absolutely Terrifying. ~ Neilson Spencer

Via Neilson Spenceron Oct 16, 2013

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Taking my first yoga class—and being male—was one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done.

I only had a basic understanding of yoga, and to be honest, didn’t even know what an asana was. But, that didn’t stop me from diving head first into yoga at home. I started  doing yoga in my living room to DVDs I’d copped at Target for around $10-$15 each. Rodney Yee’s Yoga Burn, and CorePower Yoga’s Calorie Blast Yoga  would become my new workout buddies (and new best friends) over the next couple weeks.

The goal of this article is to help others (especially men) alleviate the stress and apprehension they might feel when taking their first yoga class at a proper studio. Watching yoga DVDs and practicing them for a few weeks before attending my first class was insanely beneficial. Not only in beginning to familiarize myself with yoga, but also in calming my nerves and helping me to be more confident.

I did do a few things correctly. I got a mat, towel, spread my gear out in front of the television and hit play—which was about all I did right. What I wished I’d have done—before straining my neck to look up at the television between every single pose—was watch the DVD the entire way through without participating in the workout. Some might think this would be a huge waste of time better-spent exercising, but it helps in familiarizing yourself with the asanas used in yoga.

Yoga DVDs are an awesome investment for a beginning yogi, especially for men. They allow future yogis to become familiar with the asanas in the comfortable setting of one’s own home, where they are free to practice, make mistakes and have horrible posture. I think men would be much more comfortable—and less turned off—by how daunting yoga can be in the beginning if they were familiarized with the practice beforehand.

Education is crucial to an enhanced life, and If men want to get the most out of their free week at a studio, they need to prepare themselves for what’s ahead.

So many times in class I felt myself wanting to reach out to the dude across the room who’s doing Warrior II all kinds of messed up and backwards (opposite legs bent and extended, usually facing the wrong direction). I see them struggling immensely, but I can’t walk over and try to help them out during class.

By the time class is done and savasana is over, the other guy has left and is probably sitting in his car thinking, “I’m never going back again. I had no idea what the hell I was doing, and looked absolutely ridiculous.”

It’s ok, I thought the exact same thing in my first week.

Just writing down how daunting a first class can be takes me back to that nervous, apprehensive feeling in my stomach.

Are there lots of girls in yoga classes? Yes. As a male, we’re usually only one of four per class (a bit higher in advanced classes).

Are all the other yogi’s fit? Yes. Everyone is toned, sexy as hell and can stretch and hold poses in ways I’d never thought possible—or they’re well on their way.

Can you reach the same level as them? Yes. Each of us has our own practice, and while I may not be able to do the splits, there are other battles I win with each class.

One day after class, a teacher I had for only the second or third time, commented on how much better my alignment and postures were getting, and said that I must have been doing yoga for a while now. Hearing that compliment was the greatest feeling I’ve had so far on my yogic journey. She didn’t know that I had only been doing yoga for 10 weeks—four to six times a week. That compliment felt just as good as doing the splits, until the day I’m able to actually pull off the splits—whether it’s two years from now, or five (and I will do them one day).

Yoga is intimidating, but the more you immerse yourself in it, learn about it and attend class, the better you’ll become—whether you’re male or female, beginner or advanced.

I never thought I would be able to touch my toes before I started, now I can’t wait until I can forward fold and touch my forehead to my knees. Just by showing up to class, focusing on my breathing and being mindful of my alignment—I’ve come farther than I ever thought possible when I watched my first Rodney Yee DVD.

He said I would get long and lean with practice, and you know what? He was absolutely right.

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About Neilson Spencer

@Adventurspencer / yogi @CorePowerYoga / Founder http://breathmagazine.tumblr.com  (coming soon…) / illustrator http://cargocollective.com/tunnelvsmountain/ writer @thevisualnews California · about.me/neilsonspencer

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13 Responses to “How I Made My First Yoga Class (as a Male) Less-Absolutely Terrifying. ~ Neilson Spencer”

  1. Michelle says:

    Love this article, your perseverance and perspective! I am a super-newbie and wish I had started in the privacy of my own home, but I dived straight into the classes and even though it is challenging to be the uncoordinated duckling in a room full of graceful swans, I don't care.

    I find the classes so rewarding and the learning I receive from my teachers and fellow classmates helps me greatly. I hope to see more men in the classes I attend (you were spot on with the numbers, usually 4 or less) because they have their own gifts and never fail to impress me with their strength.

    • I fully dig your "I don't care attitude." It's really intimidating to be around people who are super fit, and look badass doing it. I thought it was so stupid when I first watched the DVDs and they said I could be long and lean (I couldn't even touch my toes). But, if we have that "I don't care attitude" — and a couple months of hard work — we can be those graceful swans.

      You're so right about learning from teachers and classmates. one thing I love about the studio I go to is that the teachers will hang out for a half hour after class at the front, and we can stop by to chat, or ask questions about our practice. Having a rad teacher you connect with can make a huge difference. Guys need to learn that yoga isn't just for girls. Yoga kicks my ass every time, and the strength it takes to do inversions and headstands is unreal. Best of luck to your continued practice!

  2. Stuart says:

    As a male who took their first class 6 weeks ago, gently pushed by a US based friend who is a teacher it came down to the attitude of the teacher (also male) who made the class a welcoming place. I'm an ex taekwondo instructor and firmly believe that if you make a class open and welcoming anyone can join. I've been surprised how many of the asanas are either very similar, or identical to, taekwondo stretching exercises so I had a welcome, and unexpected head start. I'm going to class twice a week and loving it. I'm so grateful to my friend for convincing me to try!

    • I noticed the same thing with the asanas and stretching when I watched my younger sister at her dance class. Practically every stretch in their warm-up was related to a yoga move. That's rad you used to be a Taekwondo instructor instructor and I fully agree when you say that if you make the class open and welcoming people will feel more comfortable — and enjoy their time in class more because of it. I'm stoked you enjoy yoga, sounds like it's working out great for you!

  3. Amy says:

    This is such a great article! I'm an LA photographer working on a yoga portrait series of yogi men (not just instructors). If you ever want to be part of the project just say the word. http://amygoalen.com

  4. Amy says:

    This is such a great article! I'm an LA photographer working on a yoga portrait series of yogi men (not just instructors). If you ever want to be part of the project just say the word. http://amygoalen.com

  5. Aaron D says:

    That has been my experience exactly! I’m about 6 months into regular studio classes. Where we differ is that for me it was a baron baptiste DVD instead of Rodney yee:). Thanks for getting it down on paper so eloquently.

  6. I'll have to check out Baron Baptiste (haven't heard of him yet). I still like sneaking in a home class between studio visits! Thanks for enjoying the article, means a lot.

  7. @JodyStoll says:

    Loved this article and it's great to hear the perspective from a fellow man. Reading this has made me smile as I completely identify with it fully! I plunged head first into the Yoga class before buying any DVD's but once I had plucked up the courage to email the yoga studio to inquire there was no doubt in my mind that I had made the right decision. I remember pulling up in the car park 10 mins before the class was due to start and seeing the other students with their mats I began to feel quite apprehensive & worried. However once I entered the studio I was made to feel very welcome. After that first class I was hooked and have never looked back. I purchased several DVD's and began a home practice which I absolutely love. I attend class once per week and and practice at home 3 to five times per week. My yoga mat is also the first thing that I pack when I have to travel overnight with my work! Yoga has changed my life considerably in the 6 months I have been practicing. For anyone, male or female who is thinking about it my advice is to give it a go and I don't think you will regret it!

  8. Tracy says:

    Props to you for wanting to encourage others to do yoga. I believe everyone should do yoga. But winning battles isn't the focus of yoga. Yoga is not to compete with others and, even more so, with yourself. Nor is it to receive complements either (although getting one is nice). Sure, maybe you can't do the splits now, and great on you for wanting to do it eventually, but there is always the possibility that you may never be able to. And sure, you may get fit through yoga, but your body might just decide to do it's own thing (I regularly practice vinyasa and ashtanga style yoga but if you look at my body it would suggest otherwise). Yoga is about allowing your body to do what it can, not what it must. Yoga is a practice. You are learning and practicing the poses– no one is going to get them right away or even all the time. So instead of thinking you are winning battles or that you must go and fix that poor guy's posture, just be grateful for what you have learned in your practice and what your body can do, and accept that the poor guy is learning too and that everybody has a starting point (he also probably does not want to know that some one else other than his instructor is noticing what he may be doing wrong). I love the basis for your article, encouraging others to try out yoga and not to be intimidated by it…I just feel like you approached it in an slightly off way; the way I read it, I would still shy away from trying yoga because of your comments and observations. But that is just my two cents.

  9. Blissful Girl says:

    Interesting perspective, thank you. I recently had two new men attend class who said they had never been to a yoga class. After class I remarked to them that they seemed to know the poses and picked everything up very quickly and they told me they did have some familiarity with yoga from doing P90X. I love you recommendation to practice at home first or in addition to class to feel more comfortable with the poses and movements. PS one of the guys did return the following week and I hope to see him this week too!

  10. Joshua Tenpenny says:

    A tip for guys looking to try yoga – there is a huge amount of variation in types of yoga classes. Just randomly picking anything called "yoga" is like going to a class labeled "fitness" not knowing if you are going to get a brutal crossfit workout, or some sort of remedial program for seniors. Some classes are big on the "woo woo" stuff, some are just fitness classes. Some classes are full of half-naked 90lb 20yos who can put their leg behind their head, and some are mostly heavyset middleaged housewives in sweatpants. There is a huge variety.

    Classes listed as "Power Yoga" or "Ashtanga" or "Bikram" will be quite vigorous and more likely to have men in them. (Though be warned that the Bikram classes are in a brutally hot room.) Classes at gyms are also more likely to have men than classes at specialized yoga studios, but it depends on the studio. "Vinyasa" or "Flow" classes also tend to be vigorous, but not always. "Hatha" is not going to give you any kind of cardio workout, but can still involve a fair amount of strength-building stuff. If you are looking for fitness-based classes, avoid "Yin yoga" or anything labeled "restorative" (very slow and relaxing) or "Kundalini yoga" (very spiritually focused, lots of strange breathing exercises and chanting). But there are a lot of classes just listed as "yoga" so you have to ask what type of practice they do. Or drop by the studio beforehand. Even a studio where you can't watch the classes in session, you can stop by right as a class is ending and at least see what mix of people attend the classes.

    I personally love Ashtanga and Baptiste-style power yoga – it is very challenging, but since it requires both flexibility *and* a great deal of upper body strength, there are at least a few things that a reasonably fit guy is likely to be better at than a similarly fit woman. It is encouraging to not always be the remedial student.

    I definitely agree that practicing with some videos is a good idea before checking out a class. Rodney Yee has some great ones. Check out some stuff on Youtube. It is very reassuring to have some familiarity with the common poses – Warrior, Triangle, Sun Salutations, etc.

    Also – keep your mind (and your eyes) focused on your own practice. Do not be "that guy" who thinks no one notices him ogling his spandex-clad classmates. They all notice. Trust me.

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