Men are from Mars, women from Venus, even on the yoga mat

Living Well Aging Well
By Elizabeth Devereux

  Elizabeth Devereux
  Elizabeth Devereux

Thanks to John Gray, the idea that "men are from Mars and women are from Venus" has helped explain the fundamental psychological differences between men and women. This popular metaphor can be extended to the yoga mat to understand some of the psychological and physiological differences in the way men and women approach yoga.

"Men tend to walk in needing a challenge," writes Judith Lasater, a yoga teacher of 35 years and author of six yoga books. "Women often come to the mat seeking refuge." A man is more likely looking to discharge pent-up energy, a woman, to quiet her mind.

Although children may be born equally limber, by adolescence boys generally lose flexibility faster than girls, and, increasingly into adulthood, these differences in flexibility grow. Culturally, stretching for boys tends to take a backseat beginning as early as school athletics. Later lifestyle choices (long work weeks, strength training, cardio, repetitive movements in sports) often place little emphasis by men on the cultivation of flexibility.

Men also have more muscle, another reason for their relative inflexibility. In "Science of Flexibility," Michael J. Alter explains how the pelvic regions of women permit a large range of motion and joint play. In yoga, the pelvis is the central pivot for bending of spine, torso and legs.

From my perspective, one of the most powerful and life-enhancing functions of a regular yoga practice is the consciousness-raising aspect. Probably the hardest thing to convey to those newly practicing or never having done yoga—especially men—is that the process is much less about achieving the physical end than you'd think.

Even though accomplishing the physical form can be fun and rewarding, there is a world of heightened awareness and benefits in the space from "here" to "there." It's in the ongoing discovery of what lies between those points that practitioners find more capacity in heart, mind, body and life— how yoga enriches the world off the mat. That is what keeps millions practicing.

Yoga practice is metaphorical life training—the physical shapes require us to ask: Where can I relax more, create more flexibility, flow, patience, even gentleness? Where can I create more structure, strength and focus? Yoga poses teach us to pay nuanced attention to ourselves, to life and respond accordingly.

I've noticed men tend to have a more difficult time than women with the unfolding process of yoga – navigating the non-black-and-white nature of it—especially when encountering structural limitations or ego, looking for the product, the straight line of progress, the prize, the victory.  

Generally, men tend toward the impulse to conquer or compete, explaining why they are typically drawn to more vigorous yoga styles. On the other hand, men might be averse to even starting a practice, especially later in life, daunted by the years of inflexibility collected in body and mind. The great news is, it's all workable.

The issues in our lives—how we treat ourselves, our bodies, how we treat others, our attitudes and beliefs, whatever “baggage” we carry—all show up on the yoga mat in how we approach the movements and/or as realizations from them. These issues also show up as the awareness we gain from or project onto the overall process.

Yoga for men and women is sometimes confrontational; it's definitely surprising and reliably refreshing; more often than not, with the right approach, it's a more comprehensively rewarding investment than can be imagined.

We live in a glamorized, consumer culture that doesn't teach inward listening; we're encouraged to be an end-product, not a conscious evolution of body, heart and mind. Yoga often is misunderstood to be primarily about physical accomplishment, not the brilliant framework for the development of conscious awareness that it is.

For men and women alike, though perhaps somehow differently, there are amazing, life-changing gemstones in the gray of what a regular yoga practice has to offer in its apparent perfection or imperfection in any moment.

Elizabeth Devereux has been teaching yoga and meditation for 17 years and has been actively working in the holistic wellness field for 23 years. More information on Devereux’s Fitness Center classes and private integrative practice can be found at peaceonearthinc.com.

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