Monday, March 1, 2010

From Anna: He said Hamstring, She said Shoulderblade

Let's start with the gender politics on the asana level since I agree about needing to organize my thoughts a bit before discussing the topic on a grander scale...

Stating the obvious, we can all agree that there tend to be more women than men in the classes we teach and take. That said, I find the gap to be dwindling at a rapid pace. Last weekend, for the first time ever, one of my classes had equal male and female representation. Granted, it was unusual, but I couldn't even have imagined it a few years ago. The perception of yoga is changing and men are poking their heads in to see what all the fuss is about. A generous number are brought by their wives and girlfriends, but I've had a handful lately who have flown in solo, offering reasons (as though I needed one!) that include a compliment to their marathon training, wanting to heal an old injury, and just being curious.

A few women have remarked to me recently that after bringing their husbands/partners to class and seeing the men pick it up with such ease, the women found themselves envious. (They all realize, of course, that envy has no place on our mats, but it's easier said than done and we've all been in that sticky place before...) Generalizing for just for a moment, most men are significantly stronger than they are flexible, whereas women are more stretchy but still building strength. I love your comment that 'a little anatomical savvy neutralizes the field' but it doesn't change the fact that many men come to day 1 of their practice with the strength that their female counterparts will spend years developing and vice versa for flexibility.

They are equally crucial ingredients, neither acts as a trump card on the mat, so why then (as you mentioned in your post) do some women feel as if they are playing a man's game? I know several men who see exactly the opposite. Despite their strength and stability, they feel completely boxed in and defined by their tight shoulders and hamstrings. In fact, as I write this I am realizing the irony in my sweepingly generalized categorization. While feminine, I am matter-of-factly built more like the opposite sex. Naturally muscular but with an unrelenting tightness in my joints and muscles. You have the quintessential female yogi body - pliable and lithe, with several years of a yoga practice to boot.

So perhaps it is our own bodies that inform our perception of gender politics in asana? Perhaps it isn't body mechanics at all, but a wistful envy/yearning for what we do not innately have...

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