Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I've gotten annoyed with myself for being such a Deborah in my last few posts.  As a result, this is an effort to drag my mind outside to play for a day.  We'll see if I can hold this attempt at cheer...

I've always felt that yoga was a {sport, activity, pursuit, insert-noun-here} where women have a natural advantage.  Based on sheer numbers, it definitely appears that modern yoga in the west is overwhelmingly female dominated.  While I'm sure part of the reason is that many men prefer activities which allow them some remote possibility of "winning" I also think women have certain natural advantages on the mat.  Here is my attempt to elaborate on that hypothesis.

1. Women have 3 evolutionary advantages in the balance and movement departments:  proportionally wider hips, shorter height, and lower weight.  I remember well how much easier it was to throw my body around when I was 100 lbs and 5 feet tall.  I also remember despising every moment of my own skinny weakness before puberty.  As an adult, I watch my little brother jump, climb trees, and dive for the football with reckless abandon and it becomes painfully clear how different those experiences are for him than they would be for me.  Check out nature and you'll see many instances of smaller/lighter animals moving and balancing with ease compared to bigger/heavier ones.

2. Many women are taught to move gracefully as children.  Very few dudes get anything close to this type of training.  Ballet, gymnastics, diving, and dance are common pursuits for little girls and yet potentially devastating ones for boys.  As a result, the vast majority of us men hit 30 before we start developing any desire to smooth out the wrinkles in our physical motions.  Not only is a 20+ year head start substantial, but when you factor in the brain development potential over the first 20 years and compare it to the learning process an adult goes through, the scale tilts even further.

3. Capris, knickers, whatever you want to call them, this is the status quo for women in many sports, particularly yoga.  Dudes can pretend to get by with wearing them for cycling and golf, but certainly not yoga or running.  Now add in a generally lower sweat rate (I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but from what I've seen at the end of hot yoga, dudes sweat more than women) and you've got a clear advantage in terms of traction, particularly at the knees in bakasana, parivrtta anjaneasana, vrksasana, etc.  As a dude, I have to carry 3 towels to class in a pathetic attempt to maintain traction, I'm constantly picking these towels off the floor, dropping them to the floor, or trying to arrange them into the right spot to avoid slipping and crashing to the floor.

4. Since women are taught at an early age to group up for trips to the bathroom, sports, socializing, hugs, slumber parties, etc, they are more comfortable being inside and surrounded by a group of like minded souls.  Dudes typically start to freak out when surrounded on an 8'x2' piece of rubber by 8 others.  Typical dude sports take this into consideration, in football you get a helmet and a bunch of pads so that you can be in a tight formation with another sweaty dude without having to actually touch him.  Where this surfaces the most for me is prasarita padottanasana, where I sometims have to bend my neck and torso to the side to avoid grazing someone's unmentionables on the way down/up.  I think water polo was a decent help here, there's enough contact in that sport to force everyone past the fear of claustrophobia.

5. Women are far more comfortable with moments in life that don't revolve around competition.  Half of the guys on this planet can't go 24 hours without making a bet or challenging their best friend to some stupid, meaningless competition like eating 5 hot dogs in a minute or ripping off as many pullups as you can until your shoulder dislocates.  While the modern woman seems to be embracing competition in many ways, most still know how to shut it down at least for 60 minutes.  You see this all the time in class, women start mellow and rise to the challenge, they finish feeling satisfied.  Meanwhile, guys (especially myself) go all crazy the first 20 minutes while the instructor is asking us to reach for the sky.  We take them literally, nuke our heads and bodies in the 115 degree room, and wind up in a puddle of our own sweat, groaning our way through balasana for the entire second half.

6. Instructors are more frequently female, and women love to be lead by other women.  Most guys are challenged by this.  I'm sure a female firefighter or police officer could tell countless stories of the crap they have to deal with as part of every workday.  While I am a bit strange in how much I enjoy being told what to do and how to do it, by both women and men, I'd wager that the majority of men respond sub-optimally to a woman in charge of their actions, even if it's only in 1 hour increments.

7. Flexibility is a lot like balance, it's more frequently pursued by young women than young men.  Boys want to throw balls, hit stuff, move fast, and jump high.  Girls are more apt to bend themselves into pretzels or stack blocks under their feet while in the splits just for fun and because they can.  As a result, just like balance, women start off being far more capable of basic postures than men, making those first few yoga experiences far more enjoyable and dramatically increasing the odds of continuing their practice.  Guys get a sense of just how inflexible they actually are, finish the night off with a 12 pack of bud light, and just want to forget about the whole miserable experience.

8. Corrections and adjustments are generally welcomed by women.  With a lack of a gigantic ego to defend on a daily basis, many women long for advice on how to improve, for feedback on what they can do better.  This entire approach is semi-contradictory to the rules of being a man.  Boys are taught to blaze trails, demonstrate leadership (however misguided, the point is not where to go, but how fast you can get there) and establish dominance.  There is no moment quite like the hopelessness of feeling your intercostals about to tear in reverse warrior and having your knee flicked as a reminder to stop collapsing it towards your midline.  When it comes to physical adjustments, most of us men demonstrate substantial apprehension whereas women look forward to the assistance.  I must admit that it took me at least 6 months to feel comfortable with strangers touching me in weird places, telling me to do things my body doesn't even know how to do, and asking me to do so calmly, while breathing deeply, and ignoring the buckets of sweat dripping off my limbs.

9. Patience is something more often attributed to women than men.  I think some of this is biological, and some cultural.  In most cultures, the man puts the moves on the woman, and therefore the woman's pursuit of a suitable mate involves a lot of patience while parsing through sub-optimal options.  From the man's perspective, we are told to move quickly, to put capture and acquire that which we desire, lest it be unavailable if we wait.  Perhaps this is not a universal truth, but merely representative of the ability many women have to internalize patience, to be simultaneously content while pursuing change.  And if there is any sport that rewards patience, it's yoga.  Sure, in all sports we improve over the long haul, but with many sports there is a nice and reasonably steady packback from effort.  Establish a 21 day habit with running and you will surely feel better at the same pace and distance.  The same holds for swimming, cycling, weightlifting, baseball, basketball, maybe everything except golf.  However, 21 days of yoga will get you somewhere just below the surface, immersed in a confusing routine of pain and suffering that you haven't even begun to understand yet.  Worse than that, by 21 days, people will start to recognize you and stop treating you like an impresionable novice, you'll find out you really haven't been doing any of the lunges "right" and savasana will become the only asana you feel any confidence with.  It takes about 6 months to know hear which way is up, and maybe a year before you are equipped with the capacity to take positive action on what you are now able to hear.  Mostly because there's no ball, no goal, no end zone to focus your attention on, just a slew of banda's and nadi's, things you can't see or touch or yell at.

10. Dudes carry wallets, women carry purses.  Stand outside a yoga studio and watch people walking in/out.  Half the women will have a nice yoga bag which has a place for their mat, a pocket for their sweaty stuff, and another space for keys, phone, earrings, hair band, lipstick, etc.  With that slung over their shoulder, they have hands free to drink out of their pba-free water bottle as they walk to their prius which doesn't even need the keys accessible anyway.  Now look at the dudes.  Most of us leave a drip-trail behind as we walk to our rusty pickup truck after getting the snot kicked out of us.  Most of us are too cheap, stubborn, or lazy to own anything fancier than a trash bag to put our sweaty crap in.  As a result, when I walk in/out of the studio, I almost always drop something.  I have my heavy-as-hell manduka mat, my yogitoes towel, one manduka hand towel, and two scratchy washcloth-quality towels for natarajasana and vrksasana (I'm thinking about bringing sandpaper instead of towels for those).  That's all stacked in/on/under my left hand/arm.  My right arm attempts to hold my car keys, my barcode, my water bottle, my shorts for after class, a plastic bag for wet clothes, and maybe a scrap of some sort of energy bar to fuel me from the door back to my vehicle.  Since my balance is sucky to begin with, I'm a walking disaster in this configuration.

So, you can clearly see how yoga is a sport where women should (and do) dominate.  It's just set up to play to their strengths and encourage their success.  The barrier to entry for guys is substantial, but the payoff of making it through hell week (which is more like hell year) is the opportunity for an endless supply of estrogen whenever you need it.  Feeling bummed out because your nfl team lost?  Hit the yoga studio and you'll forget all about it by the end of class.  Annoyed at your neighbor b/c he bought that new 4 door pickup truck you wanted so badly but can't justify?  Stick it to him by kicking it to the sky in floor bow.  Angry at your household pet for scratching up your new leather couch?  Rip off a few dozen chaturanga's and you'll feel like the top dog you really wish you were.

1 comment:

  1. maybe I should try yoga again - I was a gymnast for 10 years so I'd have a 10 year jump start, right?