May 28, 2012

Men of the Mat: We Salute You!

If you attend the same yoga class every week, you begin to get to know the people in class with you—some in only the most superficial way.

There is the woman with black hair who breathes really loudly and distracts you. There is the over-achiever who stretches elaborately on her two hundred dollar mat before class starts. There is the reluctant first timer who cracks bad jokes throughout most of the class.

And sometimes there’s a dude.

Maybe you live in a place where men regularly attend yoga classes and talk about their spiritual journeys. I live in the South. Most of you know that the South is known for Guns and God. And by God, I’m not talking about Shiva. The Southern idea of masculinity is fairly rigid. Men are allowed to cry about things like football, war movies, and dogs. Oh, and mamas—there is a lot of crying about mamas.

So when a man enters a yoga class here, he gets noticed. I’ve been told that many men take these classes to meet women. Some say they don’t even want to meet us, just look at our asses in downward dog. I’ve never been one to give men the benefit of the doubt, but I will in this case. There are easier ways to meet women, and a lot of them involve a Jack & Coke and a bar stool.

Is it the fact that so few men come to the classes I’ve taught and attended that makes them stand out? All I know is that when they enter the room, the energy shifts palpably. I’ve been in crowded studios where women are hesitant to move their mats a centimeter for a female classmate. If a man enters, however, they don’t only move from their sacred spot, but they are grabbing blocks and straps for this fellow.

Fat or thin, gangly or graceful, these men are noticed by the women in the room, most of whom are currently in relationships with men who never come to class. Yoga class has the potential of being a hook-up spot, but rarely is. I’ve known a total of zero couples who met in a class. Odd, considering I’ve been to classes that throb with sexual energy. This last spring I attended a Kundalini class that made me feel dirtier than a Nicki Minaj song.

It isn’t just sexual energy that permeates the air round our sticky mats; it’s a strong feeling of interconnectedness that goes beyond sex. I’ve had sexual relationships with men that felt less intimate than some of my classes. I’ve sweated and fallen and farted in front of men I barely know while on the mat. I’ve also been strong and boldly sexual in a way I never could with some of my past boyfriends.

I was in a new age store the other day and a bin filled with Shiva lingams caught my eye. For those of you who don’t know, the lingam is a phallus-shaped stone that represents Shiva in Hinduism. It is often painted and placed on an altar for worship. Anyway, this bin caught my eye and I ended up walking out of the store with a ten-dollar rock.

I’ve always been drawn to the lingam. I’m sure a Freudian psychologist would make short work of why that is—but it’s more complicated than that. In Hinduism, the lingam represents male energy. That Shiva male energy must be combined with Shakti, or female energy. It is the union of the two that provides a balance in all things.

So when these men enter the yoga studio, it’s about more than just their maleness. It could be that we are looking for balance in our spiritual lives.

I went through a long period of man-hating many years ago after a sexual attack. For years I kept men, even my dearest male friends, at a distance. I feared them, resented them, wanted them, and wanted them to disappear.

As much as they became the Big Bad Wolf in my mind, I knew it was unfair to demonize the entire sex. It felt good and simple to do so, but it filled my black and blue heart with a bitterness that was sure to destroy me.

But it didn’t, because there were Wednesday night yoga classes where one of the most beautiful men in this (and every other) universe would place his mat near mine. I say beautiful meaning both inside and (damn boy!) out. He made me feel things that I hadn’t in a very long time. The mat was a safe place to crush out, and I did. The fact that he was gay didn’t matter in the least. It wasn’t about consummation—it was about transformation.

There was the elderly man who attended my class every Tuesday who told me that he never thought he could learn anything from a girl with tattoos. “Until I met you,” he said. “You are the teacher I’ve been looking for my whole life.”

These experiences with men put some cracks in my armor. I couldn’t hate these men, just as I couldn’t hate any race or nationality. They call yoga a practice because it is. It took a lot of practice loving so I could stop hating men. I needed a more balanced and honest view of maleness. It didn’t come easily.

I suspect these men that are coming to class are looking for the same thing. They may need more female energy in their lives. Some of them may have been hurt. Some may be lonely. Some may just, as my current boyfriend does, love to be in the company of women. I’ve never gotten the vibe from any of them that they think the studio is a meat market.

In yoga classes, men and women can swap more than just spit. I truly believe that you can have a spiritual exchange with any person, no matter their skin color, political views, lifestyle choices, or anatomy. As a yogi, it’s my duty to love courageously—to test myself. Yoga gives me the safe space to do that. It’s the ultimate lab of the heart.

Jai to the beautiful men of the mat! Namaste.

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