You know how studies show that it's homophobes that get most aroused when made to watch gay porn?
It's surely the same way with men who make fun of yoga dudes for wearing leggings, or who think 'yoga is for girls/sissies/bitches.'
It's just got to be men who are uncomfortable in their own skin. With their sexuality. With their so called masculinity. And 'mainstream masculinity' -- the kind we still see in movies, in advertising, on the streets, could definitely use a make-over.
The yoga dudes I meet seem confident, comfortable and self-reflecting. They are awesome fucking examples of how to be a man who's more a human than a gender.
A little while ago, I chatted to Jonathan, who is a yoga practitioner and a really rad yoga teacher at a Kreuzberg café, where Christmas songs were being blasted (on a sunny April afternoon), and at some point our conversation nearly drowned in Wham's 'Last Christmas.'
Jonathan Peele, 32
Half German/half American, born, raised and based in Berlin
When and how did you start practicing yoga?
I was into martial arts all my childhood and teenage years, and at some point my body broke, so I couldn’t do that anymore. I also couldn’t lift weights any longer, something I was also into. At the age of eighteen or nineteen I had my first Hatha Yoga class, which was terrible. Three years later Sarah (Jonathan’s then girlfriend now wife) was like; you have to go to yoga, even if your first experience was bad, you have to come with me. And so I went to my first Vinyasa class. It was super-exhausting. Afterwards I was done, sold. I had found my new thing. It was like a continuation of martial arts, but a new expression. And now having practiced for over ten years, I’ve realised it does the same thing. You have to be present in the moment.
Can you describe one of your first big aha moments in yoga?
I knew yoga had me at some point in the beginning of going to Vinyasa classes, when suddenly I wasn't able to go from chatturanga to up dog, I just collapsed. And I thought, holy crap, forty minutes of this, and I was so exhausted I couldn’t move, but when I looked around me, people were still going. I’ve been doing sports my whole life, in addition to martial arts I was also playing basket ball and soccer. And I thought, wow, this is amazing. If breath, movement and coordination is so hard for me, I need to continue doing this. I need to find out why my body just gave up like that.
What’s your current favourite asana?
Half pigeon. Always half pigeon. That one gets everything. It used to be camel for a long time, but I think, if I’m honest, it was probably because it looks so cool and felt so cool. But then I realised if I don’t do it at home, it can’t be the one. ‘
And your least favourite asana?
It’s the yogic squat. Always has been. Always will be. After all these years there’s zero improvement.
Is it the Achilles tendon?
Yeah. It’s the worst. That’s why I try to integrate it into my classes all the time. It's also a good way of showing students that some things may never change, no matter how much you practice.
What are some of the struggles you’ve overcome, either through the practice or within the practice?
I came to yoga from martial arts, and I had a very old school teacher who would sit on me, and stomp on me. I am very flexible, but at some point one of my lower disks just popped, exploded, so it’s not there anymore. And now these two vertebrae are growing together. It’s definitely been a struggle realising by body isn’t young anymore, that it’s, in some ways, falling apart. But then, in yoga there is this freedom of, if I can’t do this pose now, then I just adapt it in a certain way. If I can’t do chatturanga today, then I won’t. And if I have more power, I’ll do more chatturanga, more (yogic) push-ups. I realised that all the stuff I went through as a kid, is showing up in my body now. Now I have back pain, knee pain, and I have to live with it, work with it, accept it.
So, why do you think so few men practice yoga?
I think the answer is in three parts.
Many people have the wrong understanding of what vinyasa yoga is. I think they think we are just sitting there with incense burning, raising our left hand for a minute and then feeling how that felt, you know? I grew up in Berlin, in a working class area, a lot of the super-strong, buff manly men I knew back in the day have come to my yoga classes, and realised it’s actually a strong workout, and that it can also really benefit all the other sports they are doing.
Another part is ego. I think many men, because there are a lot of women in yoga, want to be the strong guy, the cool guy. And in yoga you will always have that one point in class where you reach your limit, but instead of respecting that, they want to push through, and show how awesome they are.
And the third part, and I think this is the most important part, is that men, of this cultural background, which is the only background I can speak of, have grown up with a really, really weird idea of what masculinity is. I think there is a huge misconception about what it means to be a man. And I don’t think it makes men happy to behave in the way they are brought up to think they should behave. It robs them of being able to expand their horizon, and be more comfortable with who they are. And that’s been my struggle too, everyone goes through that struggle. And I think that’s an important thing for all men in Germany to reflect on now, what is this thing called masculinity truly? Is it really masculine to do this or that? And how does that reflect in how we speak, and even more importantly, in how we behave?
What do you think we can do to get more men to practice?
I’ve been fortunate enough to teach some classes to which a lot of men are coming. And I’ve also noticed that men tend to go to male teachers. For example, I had a Friday evening class (at Yoga Für Dich) where there were seventy-five percent men coming. So more male teachers would be one thing.
I also think that men’s bodies are different. There are some female teachers that I really appreciate but I can’t go to their classes because I feel that their sequencing doesn’t work for my body, in the way that I don’t have enough time to get warmed up for certain asanas. But that's not a a critique. Because you have to teach what you practice. Hm. I don’t know. What can we do? That’s the big question, right. Be a good example, I guess that’s all you can do.
To find out more about when and where Jonathan is teaching, you can connect with him via facebook.com/yogawohnzimmerberlin