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Arathi Menon
Arathi Menon


It's a girl thing


As statistics scream, no spiritual practice in the world has gained as many followers as yoga has. Here are some facts to begin with: with about 20 million practitioners, it is a 27 billion dollar industry in the US. The popularity is no less in India though the numbers may not be as staggering. But walk into any yoga studio in India or abroad you would see the gender ratio of the practitioners heavily skewed towards the fairer sex. Prime slots at the yoga studio I practice is often packed with women; men are sparsely distributed and the numbers can often be counted on one hand.

Historically, yoga, like any other field, was heavily male-dominated. From the father of modern yoga T. Krishnamacharya to his famous disciples K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar, men have never shied away from striking a lotus pose. It's logical to assume that this feminisation of yoga might have started with its popularity in the West, what with lithe, white women selling yoga products. But is that all? If yes, how did it permeate to a more inclusive culture as India, considering India is also the birthplace of yoga.

I presume there could be two reasons. The definition of yoga has changed over a period of time, particularly after its successful and ongoing stint abroad. There, from being a spiritual practice which was part of the holistic lifestyle in India it metamorphosed into a “workout”; a workout that makes your body supple but does not guarantee muscles like other workouts do. Most men idolise muscular bodies and in their quest to be Hrithik Roshans and Salman Khans, yoga did not fare well.

Yoga has begun to resemble competitive sports. The male body is stiffer than that of the female and his fragile ego often gets hurt in a yoga class, where the petite woman on the neighbouring mat moves from one pose to another seamlessly while he struggles to maintain a downward dog. “Male body is not stiff, it is all in his mind,” Regeesh Vattakandy of Aayana Yoga Academy, popular yoga teacher in Bengaluru, corrects me. “Women do not hesitate to embrace both masculine and feminine sides of them. Men, on the other hand, are stuck with the conventional idea of a macho male and refuse to acknowledge his feminine side. This resistance in the mind reflects on his body, too. That is what you call stiffness,” he says. He says in his studio the female to male ratio is 70:30. As a male teacher, he is least worried. “Don't you dominate us in every sphere of life? Why spare yoga?” he asks good naturedly.

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