If I wasn't already deeply involved in yoga, and I only knew about this ancient self-help practice from Instagram I would be appalled. The IG yoga world is mostly repulsive and not very 'punk rock' or rebellious -- my aesthetics of choice. On IG instead we see hordes of bendy clones, twisting their, often half-naked slender bodies into acrobatic, and not rarely, erotic shapes. On beaches. In the glow of sunsets. Underneath fat palm tree. Captured by vaseline soft porn lenses. And this photos are often accompanied by inspirational quotes from people like Osho and Dalai Lama. To me this has very little to do with what yoga is truly about. I guess you can't photograph satya or aparigraha? And meditation doesn't look as impressive as Pincha Mayurasana. The IG yoga world is mostly capitalism meets yoga, patriarchy meets yoga. You can sell even ancient self help with (slightly sexualised) mainstream beauty. I find looking at asanas, especially performed by skinny white women unbelievably boring, and I don't really get why so many seem to want this sort of content. Personally, I'd much rather look at photos of cute puppies and kittens. THAT never gets boring to me.
Yoga's social media image is anything but cool. But does that mean that it's uncool to practice yoga?
And more specifically, is it uncool for men to practice yoga? I don't think so. Because when you get real about it, beyond the fancy poses, the coconut water, green juices and Bali beaches, this shit does work. It truly has the potential to bring about powerful change.
In my blog series on yoga dudes I chat to Rasmus about this potential, among other things.
Rasmus S., 35
Actor and theatre teacher
Lives between his home town Helsinki and Berlin
When and how did you start practicing yoga?
I was introduced to yoga already in theatre school, when I was twenty, but back then I really did not like it at all.
I couldn’t stand the static-ness of the poses. It wasn’t nice. And I was also so stiff that it was painful. I also think that the teacher we had wasn’t a professional yoga teacher, but someone who had practiced a lot of yoga. That may have affected it as well, and also, my relationship to this teacher was a bit strained. And then I practiced some yoga with you (during the rehearsals for a theatre production here in Berlin), so it’s been quite awhile since I first knew about it, but I would say it’s been about one year of serious practice now.
Can you describe one of your first big aha moments in yoga?
It was this power-core-pilates thing that got me into doing this sort of exercise more, and then I think it was at Yogatribe, here in Berlin, at a vinyasa class, when I felt that this is powerful, both as exercise, but also very soothing for the thought processes.
What are some of the benefits that you have experienced through the practice?
I had a back problem that lead to a back surgery when I was twenty, in hindsight a stupid surgery, but after that I got so stiff that I was almost a bit ashamed of doing any type of forward bends, and I think in overcoming that embarrassment I have actually have gotten quite flexible again, that is one of the most obvious benefits. And in relationship to acting, which is all about being present, and in the moment, I think the breathing techniques that I’ve learned in yoga has benefited that a lot. A lot!
And which is your current favourite asana?
I think the crow.
It’s funny, almost every yoga dude I’ve talked to has at least mentioned crow pose.
You don’t need to be that flexible and you kind of get to demonstrate your strength.
And which is your least favourite asana?
My least favourite is headstand and wheel pose. But I’ve started getting a bit more comfortable with that one. But with headstand I’m a bit afraid of it, and I don’t like the pressure on the head. It’s not about being upside down though, because I do like shoulderstand.
What have been the biggest struggle around the practice of yoga?
I think the biggest struggle has been that I’m somehow really stereotypical. That I’m one of these guys living inside this bubble and now I’m into this. And the identity thing around yoga, I’m somehow afraid of. But I’m not even sure what it is. And this is obviously constructing an identity in and of itself being sceptical towards it. Like why do I need to feel that I’m doing yoga in some sort of authentic way. And what does even authentic mean? But yes, I struggle with these kind of thoughts, of being too stereotypical …
And why do you think so few men practice yoga?
I don’t know. But I read an article yesterday, about how men get a lot less compliments about their looks than women, and that studies on this show that men would actually like to receive more compliments about looking nice. But studies also show that if a hetero man gives a compliment to another hetero man both of their statuses are lowered, so it’s very ‘dangerous’ to do that. And I think this is an example of toxic masculinity, that we feel that we can’t compliment each other. And I’ve told you before, that I feel very unsexy and unattractive when I practice yoga. I don’t think it’s objective, but I think it’s a sign of toxic masculinity, that somehow yoga lowers my manliness. Maybe this is what keeps men from practicing? That it’s not allowed in our pecking order for straight men. That we lose status in doing it. Maybe. I’m not sure. But this could be part of it.
I feel that yoga is much more satisfying than lifting weights. And I sweat as much or maybe more. But it doesn’t fit the same image of doing exercise.