Looking around my weekly Sunday morning yoga class, I took some time to really look at the types of people who are coming to my classes and I came to a curious, although not shocking, realisation: there was not a single man in my class.
Now, we could talk forever about the social and cultural dynamics that contribute to more ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ activities, but that’s a whole can of worms. Nevertheless, on a small scale, I knew I wanted to find a way to do some learning and improve my own teaching to make the experience better for the men and masculine-presenting people who do come along to my classes (which does happen some weeks!).
‘Yoga for the Inflexible Male’ is written by a guy who calls himself Yoga Matt. His real name is Roy Parvin, and he’s a cyclist, fiction author, and self-professed comedian, who had the crazy idea of asking his yoga studio to start up a men’s only class. The class ended up being insanely popular with the help of yoga teacher Jerry Sinclair, who also helped him write this book.
The book is structured as three 1-hour practices that are broken up into 20-minute segments for you to help you time yourself. And of course, you could use this book simply as a reference for different poses and variations. He also gives you some suggestions at the end for some sport-specific poses if you’re looking for some new stretch and conditioning inspiration. The book forgoes photos in favour of illustrations of the poses, and for each pose they give you several variations that you can try.
In this post I’ll take you through the parts of the book that I loved, and the parts that I didn’t.
What I Loved
In my opinion, the book accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to present yoga in a way that is relatable, non-threatening, and easy to understand. The target audience is definitely the stereotypical blokey ‘man’s man’, and the language in the book reflects that. The whole vibe of the book makes it super easy to read, and almost feels like a mate explaining something to you. And although some of the jokes are a little eye-roll inducing, I did find the writing pretty funny overall. The guy’s got a decent sense of humour!
The pictures also do a pretty good job of representing the everyday guy. There’s not heaps in the way of body diversity, but the illustrations do look like positions that are realistic to get into for the average dude. With each pose, there’s 2-3 options, and this creates a built-in sense of accessibility, which is what we’re all about.
As a teacher reading it, it certainly gave me the information I was looking for about the things to keep in mind when giving options for students. In general, people with physically male or masculine bodies tend to have differences in the areas that are flexible than more female-type bodies. For example, tighter hamstrings and shoulders might mean that extra props might be helpful, or that different body cues could be helpful to explain the poses.
At the start of the book, Yoga Matt talks through how to use the book, and outlines a few things that I think are important to point out when it comes to starting a yoga practice. My favourite is:
“The steady motto of this book is no pain, no pain. Resist doing the regular guy thing and going in the red zone. That’s not yoga. That’s stupid”
This philosophy is really consistent with what I teach, and I think it’s super important to emphasise, especially for new students. However, unfortunately I didn’t quite feel that this vibe was entrenched as much as it could have been through the rest of the book.
But let’s explore that a little more in the next section, what I didn’t love about the book.
What I Didn’t Love
Through all the great things about the book, there were just a few things that didn’t gel super well with me.
I’ll start by mentioning the gendered language. Obliviously, the whole point of the book was to appeal to the ‘typical’ bloke, and as a result of that, the language is quite binary. But further than that, it does lean quite heavily on stereotypes. The sequences are called ‘Manly Yoga Practices’, and there are a few sweeping generalisations about ‘what men think’ about things. In my opinion, it makes it sound like yoga is somehow inherently ‘girly’, and it needs to be changed to make it more ‘manly’. This is ironic seeing as yoga was traditionally very male-dominated, and women weren’t even permitted to practice yoga in its earliest roots!
He does mention in the beginning that any jokes are meant to be light-hearted, and I do believe that everything is said in good jest. It's gently self-deprecating, and a little tough love. In fact, I think a lot of men can probably relate to the fears and assumptions that surround yoga, and the language is a strategy to make it seem less intimidating and more relatable. But this is just a heads up that you shouldn’t go into the book expecting it to be inclusive or representative of everyone’s experience as a man or masculine-presenting person.
The other thing that didn’t sit quite right with me was their way of explaining the options and variations of each pose. Most poses in the book have three options: “The Good”, “The Not-So-Bad”, and “The Ugly”. As you’d guess, the “Good” is the fullest expression of the pose, and the other options are modifications that can make the pose more accessible. Like I mentioned before, I love that the options exist! And they’re really solid accessible options, not just superficial modifications. I’m just not a huge fan of how they’re labelled. The language describing the poses in the text is still good for the most part, with reassurances like “It’s still cool”, or “it’s perfectly normal”.
He does mention in the introduction that ‘ugly’ isn’t really ugly and points out that it just means you’re getting the same benefits without straining (isn’t this what I’m always saying!?). But still, the word ‘ugly’ and even the category of ‘not-so-good’ is a little jarring for me, it feels a touch too judgemental. I guess in a way it does normalise and validate those less-than-pretty poses, so it really depends how you read it. I’m sure some readers would really appreciate the bluntness and sense of humour that it brings!
While I wouldn’t count this book as one of my absolute favourite yoga resources, I think it could be a really great introduction to yoga for those sceptical blokey-types who are looking for a fun, no-nonsense guide for getting started. It could be good to have on hand for establishing a home practice, especially if you’re looking to explore options and variations that suit a more male-structured body.
I will admit that I’m nit-picking a little with the language critiques, but alas, that is what book reviews are all about!
Overall, I think the book is a welcoming and humorous introduction to yoga. It would make a great gift for a blokey man in your life or make for a great first step in your yoga journey.
If you want to get your hands on a copy, you can find it at your local library or from online book retailers.