Men and Yoga

My Movember Challenge

The month of November has had a distinctly masculine theme this year. I signed up to the Movember Challenge and set myself the target of raising £100 to support the charity in its work to promote men’s physical and mental health. At the same time I was reading the autobiography of the Mahatma (literally “Great  Soul”) Ghandi (or as he entitled it: THE STORY OF MY EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH.) The theme of the charity and of the book share similarities. They are both about vulnerability. 

In yoga we talk a lot about the male and female energies. The male ‘Pingala’( or Yang) energy relates to the sun, is outgoing and strong, the basis for action. The female ‘Ida’ (or Yin) carries the moonlight, is reflective, yielding and passive. In the practice of Hatha Yoga we are seeking to balance the two. It is too easy to reduce the idea of men to a stereotype of strength and action. Mahatma Ghandi, the man who changed the course of a Continents history, talks of his “shied of shyness” and upon trying to make a speech how “my vision became blurred and I trembled… my cowardice was on a par with my reserve.” 

This reminded me of the epic story of the warrior Arjuna in the great yogic text the Bhagavad- Gita. Arriving in his chariot to the middle of the battle ground with Armies poised on either side, suddenly the hero of the moment is reduced to state of paralysed anxiety “ My tongue dries in my mouth, a shudder thrills my body and my hair bristles with horror; from my weak hand slips Gandiv the godly bow.” 

So to the charity event and twelve men have signed up and donated (or had their slightly amused female partner donate and sign up on their behalf!) and here we are on zoom for the man only charity yoga session, moustaches to the ready.  So now it was my turn to feel the pressure. Could I deliver a class to such a wide range of men, of different ages, levels of fitness and affinity with the ideals of yoga? 

This is where the learning came. Why would a great man like Mahatma Gandhi spell out his fear of public speaking? Why would a great yogic story have a hero sitting in his war chariot having a panic attack? It’s because of what happens next. 

In a state of revealed vulnerability the male energy (in all of us) has to confront it’s true nature. With strength and confidence deserting us we are forced to question who we are and what the right course of action is. In the moment of doubt we are laid open to asking a new question and hearing a new answer.  

Mahatma Ghandi finally understands how to lead his country out of British rule through non-violent protest by means of a dream. Arjuna the warrior discovers his charioteer is the embodied Krishna there to expound the paths of yoga and liberation. The bravery is not in the fighting but knowing how and when and what to fight and that takes the courage to look and ask within. 

My online class went well, not because of anything great on my part, but because of those (mainly) moustached faces looking back at me and their willingness to genuinely give yoga a go.  The Movember Charity is all about raising awareness and funds to help men with mental and physical health issues. It is also a great reminder that men are vulnerable and need support. It is a great lesson for all of us.  

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