Last week, I was thumb scrolling down my Instagram feed, looking for anything visually stimulating so I could hit that “heart” button. Then I come across a picture of Lebron James sitting crossed-legged with his arms raised up, the words “Chosen 1” across his back, and dozens of children following his lead.
What’s Lebron known as? King James.
I knew the king had a yogic practice because often use videos of him doing breathing techniques (pranayama) on timeouts. Despite what us westerners think about yoga, it includes more than asanas. Asanas, or the postures practice of yoga, is one of eight “arms” of yoga. Through practice, you develop discipline and the ability to focus. Both disciple and focus are essential to the arm of yoga know as dhyana or meditation.
I teach social-emotional learning to children based on the targeted breathing techniques and meditation. But, I don’t have an asana practice, or what I’ll just call “yoga” for the purpose of this post, yet.
Because I could relate, I quickly after seeing the image, I hit the “heart” button.
The message below the image read:
“Kings, yoga is NOT just for women. I’m sorry that we (the yoga community) haven’t done the best job showing this to you.” – Joanna Brooks, yoga teacher, and owner of Embody Yoga MKE.
Then I thought to myself, “Real kings do yoga.”
I was interested and continued reading the details:
- The event was free (money was no excuse)
- It was in a conveniently located at Yoga One Studio
- The playlist was: Tupac (of course), Biggie, Jay-Z, and Rick-Ross
- The Juice Kitchen was a sponsor
I commented the Instagram page @embodyyogamke “I’m in,” received a request for my email and got a prompt email with more details about the opportunity.
Stiff Guy Yoga
Most people would not be surprised that most modern yoga classes are predominantly women. In 2012, Yoga Journal surveyed studio owners and teachers and found that only 18% of the 20.4 million people who practice yoga in the United States are men. That’s not quite, but just about an 80 -20 women to men ratio.
With this in mind, that fact that 40+ men showed up when the rest of Milwaukee was doing the Shamrock Shuffle (a shit show of stumbling drunks was well underway), is impressive.
Even still, what makes this an ever mightier feat is: all but (2) men were of color. And according to a Yoga Journal study from 2012 more than four-fifths of practitioners are white
One goal of Embody YOGA, as stated on the website “is to increase the number of people of color who practice yoga by offering our services in a way that is accessible, affordable and welcoming to all.”
Why don’t men do yoga?
There’s a lot of reason why men don’t do yoga. It’s a topic I may unpack here later.
Did you know, at one point, yoga was not dominated by women? It was actually a men-only practice. The history is quite interesting. If you are an interested in health or history, you should check it out.
So what happened?
I’ve heard guys say they are “too stiff.” In fact, the first time I thought about doing yoga I looked for an all-guy class. Guess what it was called – Stiff Guy Yoga.
I’ve never considered myself “stiff”; I just thought I’d be comfortable in a class with other men.
This is anecdotal, but as a long time personal trainer and strength coach, the word “flexible” is synonymous with feminine for most men. Being flexible, I’ve never agreed. But most men think being flexible is for women.
They prefer “strength” training (those quotes are there on purpose).
That’s the first myth: you need to be flexible to practice yoga.
There are too many new myths to go over here, but I’ll list a few themes:
- Mantras (chants)
- Vegetarianism or Veganism
If you ask me, I think the commercialization of yoga (it was a $27 billion industry in 2013) has turned men away.
But, like Joanna, owner of Embody Yoga has reminded us….
This is How You Bring Men Back to Yoga
Joanna must know something about marketing and psychology because using the title “king” did something to my ego the same way the phrase “stiff guy” did almost 10 years ago. The big difference: I don’t want to be stiff, but I do want to be a king.
It’s a straightforward and subtle spin on the idea that yoga is not for men.
This is how you bring men back to yoga.
Unfortunately, there is a view that yoga is not masculine. I’m generalizing: men workout to be “bigger, leaner, and stronger” while women work out to be “smaller, leaner, and stronger” (credit to Michael Matthews for that one).
Beyond the physical transformation that fitness brings, men also fall into the mindset of “no pain no gain”; I’ve struggled to combat this mentality in my clients (both men and women) since I became a trainer. People’s limited knowledge, yet awareness of yoga’s mental practice, lead people, especially men, to believe it’s less challenging than lifting weights.
Somehow this even rose above all these myths. I already told you the studio was packed. So packed – we were asked to slide our mats up to make room.
The messaging, written, but especially visually, for Real Kings Do Yoga tapped the male ego.
Here’s how men think about modern yoga:
“If yoga is about being flexible and I’m not flexible, then yoga must be for women.”
Here’s how Joanna flipped the messaging:
“If real kings do yoga and I want to be a king, then I must do yoga too.”
It’s got me thinking – that’s not only how you bring men back to yoga, but health back to men. Making health not only cool but a responsibility or duty that reaches every person at the core level.
My Yoga Class Experience
The email said class started at 1 PM with doors opening at 1230 PM. I figured I’d have to sign some waiver or form, so I got there at 1245 PM. I took my shoes off at the door, made my way to the front desk to register with Shayla (@theurbanhippiegoddess), and put my coat and bag (I had an upper-body push-pull workout afterward) in the back.
It was a good vibe – everyone was warm and welcoming.
After meeting Joanna for the first time. I walked into the room and was impressed.
There were rows and rows of black mats, with (2) dark grey blocks, and a black strap. Against the wooden floor and light grey walls, the setup was aesthetically pleasing. A few cool features of the space were: a balcony where a media production company posted up, a mural against the main wall, and a skylight.
I found a spot in the front, near a wall because, my phone wasn’t fully charged and I wanted to make sure I could see. Once sat down, I remembered the playlist. Most 90s hip-hop played as people continued to fill the room.
I believe there was an issue with the sound system, so the session did start about 15 minutes late. But once we got going, it was on.
Again, I don’t practice yoga. I’m familiar, but I don’t practice. So I’m not giving you a technical review of the class. And honestly, that’s not what I think most people need from health and fitness professionals anyways.
Joanna commanded the class, without her microphone, usually from the front, but she did walk around, with style and grace. Her instructions were clear and actionable. She took us through our first “flow,” and the room rumbled in laughter at the thought of there being more. That was just about 20 minutes into the session.
Just before the one hour mark, she took us into the last pose of any yoga class: Savasana (shah-VAHS-uh-nuh, its Sanskrit name) also known as Corpse Pose or Final Relaxation Pose. We were told to lie flat on our backs with the heels spread and the arms by our sides, palms facing upwards. Then someone came around and put “eye pillows,” soft towels, on our eyes.
I fell into a pleasant mediation until I was aware of laughter in the room. Someone else fell into a deep sleep.
At that point, I thought again, “real kings do yoga.”
Savasana might sound like it’s an easy pose – but it can actually be very tough to learn and practice well.
The great yoga masters (K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar) called Savasana the most difficult of all yoga poses. Think about it: laying entirely still — like a corpse — while being both fully aware of and unattached from the present moment.
How much practice and patience must this take?
Unlike basketball, weight training, or physically demanding poses, this final pose requires a conscious decision to let go of the self-talk, mental myths, and be in the present moment.
If that’s not real, if that’s not some king shit – I don’t know what it is.
- Yoga is not about being flexible.
- Yoga is not just for women.
- Yoga is more than movement, integrating your state of mind while moving.
It trains both sides of your body and from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head and through your fingers tip too. Having a breathing practice, pranayama, helps you stay calm and focused, but you’ll get some of that when you practice asanas also.
For me, a king, in modern term represents my skill to master my personal weakness and shared struggles and successes. Kings of the past used to rule by power. War was a typical display, the tool of the mighty. Today, I govern myself through hard work, consistent effort, patience, growth mindset, and responsibility for myself, both mentally and physically.
Being a king doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Being a king makes your better for yourself so you can be better to other people.
And that is what Real Kings Do Yoga was all about, calming the mind, letting go of the ego, and empowerment.
I think Joanna is going to offer it again too. If I were you I’d check out her website and follow her in your usual way (email, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
If you’re interested, start here: embodyyogamke.com
A few more shoutouts
Nurse Mahdi @nursemadhimke
Wrapped up the event with some nutrition advice before and directing us to on-site nurses who offered blood pressure checks/screenings.
The Juice Kitchen @thejuicekitchenmke
Replenished us with free juice. I think one was Real Bucks (kale, apple, lemon, and lime) and the other was Purple Haze (beets, sweet potato, apple, strawberry, lemon, and pineapple).
YogaOne Studio @yogaonestudio
Provided the space. One of the owners was there front and center. It was a beautiful space, you should check it out if you’re in the area.
Are You Up for a Challenge?
While self-improvement is a goal of everyone, but finding the time to develop yourself is the hardest part. How do you find time to go to the gym, meal prep, and have the energy to focus on your work and personal relationships?
Wake up earlier.
To wake up earlier, you have to do three things:
- Get to bed earlier
- Get better sleep
- Get moving right away instead of falling victim to bad habits
For seven days, I’ll introduce a new habit or task that will build on the one for the previous day.
And you can sign up right here: My Ideal Morning Challenge