I had just turned twenty when I went to India the first time. I didn't go to practice yoga, hell, I barely knew what it was. I thought a yogi was a guy who could hold his breath under water for a long time, and sleep comfortably on a bed of nails. Turns out I wasn't entirely wrong, but not entirely right either.
I went to India because I didn't have anything better to do at the time. I tagged along with a friend who had planned the trip for a year. But I also hoped to take psychedelic drugs and rave on the beaches of Goa and make out with cute boys.
Later, in Nepal, I had fallen in love with a cute Israeli boy, and while recovering from food poisoning, he showed me a few yoga moves. I wasn't impressed. I just wanted him to shut up and kiss me.
A few years later I started exploring the yoga jungle in the big apple where I was living, and a few years after that I was hooked. Hooked on yoga. I have been a devoted, hardcore practitioner for almost 18 years. Despite my first impressions, and the first brief intro, and one of my teachers in New York, J. Brown, my yogic path has largely been populated by women. Not that I mind. I am a hardcore feminist. But I am also a bit of a tomboy. I've always had lots of close male friends. And over the almost 11 years of teaching yoga, I have thought a lot about why so few men practice yoga. Especially when once the practice was men only territory, and all the really iconic Indian teachers are men. Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, B.K.S Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois
And in the wake of #metoo I've really thought that it would be really great for women (and men) if more men practiced yoga. As my friend Kirileigh says: The patriarchy fucks us all.
So, over the next few blog posts I plan to introduce you to some male yogis I've come across.
First up is Chris. We chatted in a Graefekiez café over carrot soup.
Chris Hussein, 32
An American cook in Berlin.
When and how did you start practicing yoga?
My very first experience with yoga was when I first moved to California and my roommate, who was also my best friend asked me to come with her to yoga class. She even told me that there would be cute girls around. I was 21, 22 at the time and of course that sounded like a good idea. So I went and I really liked it. The second time I got a really rigorous teacher and I remember thinking: wow I really wanna keep doing this. And that teacher, of my second yoga class ever, actually said to me, that I must have done yoga in my previous life. So of course, when someone tells you that, you start to really like it.
Then I moved away from that area and that studio and stopped practicing for awhile. When I started up again, it was with Bikram yoga. I did that for about a month, and it was good as a physical practice, but it wasn’t anything else. Then I moved to Berlin and yoga wasn’t a priority. I was going out, I was partying. Then a week before my birthday I felt like going to yoga again and found a place near me, on Grimmstraße, and I went there in the pouring rain and the class was canceled. The next day I went to an Acro-Yoga class at yellow yoga. It was ok, but it wasn’t the yoga I remembered from Los Angeles. And then I went to your class at yellow yoga, and I paid for just a drop in class and after class I asked you if I could switch to a month-pass and you said yes.
And it was exactly what I needed at the time. I need to rest all these thoughts going through my head. And I was really stiff, I didn’t do any exercise, and I thought this would be a way to get relief and to find out why I’m tight. I remember feeling so good after class.
So it’s been over ten years since I started exploring practice, but I have my yoga birthday and I’m just over three now, of serious practice. Now I can’t live without any sort of mindful work.
What are some of the benefits you have enjoyed through practicing?
Oh man, I don’t think there’s enough space on that iphone to hold my thoughts on that.
First of all, it slows down the thoughts that keep coming in my head. It helps me recognize that just breathing heals lots of things. The practice has opened up my muscles and joints and made my life easier. I used to have difficulty turning 180 degrees, but now I don’t have these random stiffnesses anymore. I don’t feel like I have blockages in my body.
I’ve also learned to apply the principles of breathing, no matter how difficult an asana, to all situations in life. Going to asana class is the first sort of breathing training I’ve had. Learning how to breathe is so important, but nobody, except pregnant women, learn how to breathe.
My posture is also way better. Yoga has helped me notice, and correct, imbalances when I’m standing for example.
What's your favorite asana (pose)?
Chair pose. I always hated it, dreaded it, but now I look forward to it.
Ugh, I’m not there yet. What is your least favorite asana?
What struggles have you overcome in your yoga practice, through your yoga practice?
Ever since I was little I’ve always been ok with myself but I didn’t know that that was ok. I was ok with being chubby. I was ok with being loud. I am a very loud person. But yoga has made me feel that it’s ok feeling ok.
With the practice the struggle goes away. Sure, it’s hard getting into the poses, but I don’t focus on the struggles anymore. In the beginning it was a struggle finding a routine, finding the discipline to practice regularly, but now that I can’t live without the practice that’s no longer the case.
Why do you think so few men practice yoga?
I knew this was going to be a topic so I’ve been thinking about this question for awhile.
I think it’s probably tough for men to go to a place where at the moment it feels like women are much better. And maybe if I was not ok with not being the best, then maybe I wouldn’t want to go. I must say that in America there are more guys in yoga class than in Europe. But the classes I went to there also seemed more gym-like. And even here in Berlin you can go to classes that are purely physical, but I think that if a man is looking for an exercise that’s going to make him physically more attractive, which I think is the reason a lot of people exercise, he might choose the gym, where there are mirrors everywhere.
I think men are intimidated by yoga.
My mom is also a bit intimidated by it, because she says there are all these skinny girls in there looking good in their tight clothes, and it’s hard for an overweight person to feel comfortable. And it could be the same for a man, if they are a bit chubby, maybe they feel like everyone would be looking at them. I asked several of my friends why they don’t go and they blew off the topic or gave me joke answers. It’s like yoga is something for girls. But in the beginning yoga wasn’t taught to women at all, only to men. So maybe it’s the cycle of life, that makes men don’t feel welcome now.
For me now, I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t go.
Every time I bring a boy to yoga class, they enjoy it, and they are happy when they leave, so maybe we also have to look at why it’s so hard to get them to keep coming back?
It may also be harder for men to deal with emotions. I mean how many times have I cried in yoga class? So many. There were times when I couldn’t go to yin class because I was afraid of what would come up. Opening the hips, if you never have done that before, may get you emotional for no reason. Men crying, it’s such a taboo.
I’ve never been attracted to the gym, but with yoga you will definitely get emotional, and I don’t know how emotional you get when lifting weights? You breathe though, and that’s a good thing.
When someone says, I can’t stretch so I can’t go to yoga, it blows my mind. I say to my friends; do you think that I all of a sudden could start stretching like this?
But now I kind of want to ask you why do women practice?
And there I shut the recorder off.