The number of men who practice yoga is growing. According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study by Yoga Journal and the Yoga Alliance, of those practicing yoga in America, 28 percent are men. While that still may not sound very high, it’s up from 17.8, the percentage of men identified in the 2012 edition of the same study. But while the male yoga population is slowly growing, some feel that the practice isn’t very accessible to men.
One such person is Bradley Lyon, the founder of Men’s Yoga Community, which he launched in November 2016. The community hosts regular all-men yoga classes around DC, some of which are taught by Lyon, to create a safe space and raise awareness for men who want to practice yoga. One of the barriers holding men back, according to Lyon, is intimidation. Women tend to be more flexible than men, and it’s easy to assume that yoga is only for in-shape, bendy people.
“When you are seeing a female demonstrating the full expression of the posture…if you’re showing that, it’s not necessarily helping someone else who has less flexibility,” says Lyon, who leads men-only classes to give men “an easy access point rather than reinforcing intimidation.”
Yassir Islam, a member of Men’s Yoga Community, says that while he has no problem practicing yoga in any setting, he understands the fear factor.
“Some guys feel intimidated getting into yoga,” says Islam. “It’s mostly women who practice it in the U.S. and it’s not always seen as ‘manly’ by some. So having a Men’s Yoga Community provides a space for guys to explore and enjoy the benefits of yoga.”
The classes are designed to bring in more moves that emphasize upper body strength and to focus on areas where men carry tension, like the upper back. The community also incorporates other wellness practices—nutrition, meditation, breathing training—to extend into more areas of men’s wellbeing. The age range of men in the community is wide; Lyon says he’s taught classes with plenty of men in their 70s and 80s. It was actually the older demographic that was Lyon’s biggest motivator in launching a formal community.
“That spark was really me thinking about that group of elders that may have been exposed to yoga back in the day and have not been able to get back to it for years,” says Lyon. “That is to me the really underserved community.”
But are women welcome in this community? Lyon says that he has had a woman instructor lead one of the the community events and she was well received. But while the community isn’t exclusive, when it comes to other women in the classes, Lyon says he doesn’t think that would be a fit.
“There is still a need for men to come together and to be really able to express themselves in a safe place,” says Lyon. “I think doing that with just men is important.”
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly spelled Bradley Lyon’s name as Lyons.