Edmonton Journal

Why men are bending over backward

- HARRY DE QUETTEVILL­E London Daily Telegraph

Five years ago The Telegraph asked me to go on a yoga retreat. The editors said they wanted to send a grizzled foreign correspond­ent in order to compare the rigours of war zones and ashtanga. No one had ever called me grizzled before (or since). It was only once in situ that I realized I was the victim of a cruel joke, designed to inflict maximum humiliatio­n on my spindly frame.

For yoga, it quickly became clear, is astonishin­gly hard work. Our silver-haired instructor, Simon, occasional­ly inquired if “we could see the point” of various excruciati­ng exercises. I found I was rarely able to see anything, due to the tears of pain. On the other hand, I could clearly hear the sound of my vertebrae making various bids for freedom.

So it comes as no surprise to me that a new Harvard University study has revealed that yoga is as good for you as, you know, “proper exercise” — things like cycling that make you pour with sweat.

Still, the serious physical demands of yoga, even of the slow-paced hatha variety, have long been underestim­ated by one constituen­cy: men. For decades the only men in Western yoga classes were the Eastern gurus, sitting at the front, smiling serenely and preaching the benefits of the kind of flexibilit­y that allows you to see the soles of your feet without the benefit of a mirror. Women queued to hand over cash. But not us guys.

When I was pitched into the fray back in 2009, men made up less than a quarter of the devotees attending to Simon’s every word, reflecting national averages. Some of these chaps, I suspected, were not there for the exercise. At least not in class. One had met his girlfriend on a luxury yoga retreat in Egypt, during which four others had coupled up.

“There are men who have realized that most of the people on these retreats are women and an awful lot of those women are single,” Simon told me.

Five years on much has changed, including my fitness. The youthful hack of yesteryear has given way to an achey-backed, creakyknee­d, weak-ankled, distinctly middle-aged hack of today. There was only one thing for it. Back to yoga.

But this time, I was astonished to find the room filled with men. Lots. Many of them distinctly middleaged. What was going on? Was this finally a sign that we guys have got in touch with our feminine side?

I doubt it. We are men. We will never change. Instead, the same Neandertha­l impulse that has driven us all to climb on board expensive carbon-fibre bikes with clipon shoes has trained its primordial fire on yoga.

As we strive to hold our Bird of Paradise pose for longer than anyone else in class, we have discovered that this apparently peaceable pursuit has ample scope for chestbeati­ng competitio­n.

Then there’s the fact that we are physically less flexible than women — so by pushing ourselves, we are likely to incur a self-inflicted injury. Nothing like a risk of competitiv­e injury to get us men flocking in.

And no wonder a host of “dude-yoga” brands have popped up in the past couple of years. Soon they’ll issue shin-pads with the yoga mats. And split the class into teams. And then someone will chuck in a ball ….

 ?? PETER MCCABE/ POSTMEDIA NEWS/ FILE ?? For decades the only men in Western yoga classes were Eastern gurus. But these days, more men can be spotted.
PETER MCCABE/ POSTMEDIA NEWS/ FILE For decades the only men in Western yoga classes were Eastern gurus. But these days, more men can be spotted.

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