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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Yoga skills no game for guys

By Keiko Ohnuma

It was men who turned me on to yoga. Two men I met in 1986, both fanatics.

After that, the men grew scarce in yoga class. Even now, when it's gone tediously mainstream, women still outnumber men in yoga class by an eyebrow-flexing margin.

I thought it was because the style I favored appears to be a room full of people stretching in goofy knit bloomers. But when I switched to a fluid, sweaty, "power" form of yoga recently, the men all but disappeared.

What is it — fear of Lycra?

India's master yogis are, after all, mostly men. But yoga in America is a tortoise regimen in a culture full of jackrabbits. It can take a dec-ade to become even a mid-dling yogi, and the ego sees few rewards along the way.

Unlike running or surfing or weight-lifting, yoga isn't helped by bursts of adrena-line, maniacal training regi-mens or high-spirited risks. That's why it's so hard to practice: It's not so much about amping yourself up as slowing yourself down.

Abs and pecs alone won't get you through. Nor will flexibility, Zen, determination or smarts. You need all those things, in some measure, for the very long haul.

I think that may be why women are more drawn to yoga in the West: because it's not so much about achievement as balance.

"What do women want?" Sigmund Freud asked on his death bed. The modern man replies with a sigh: Women want it all.

All, that is, in balance.

Take work, for example. At my salary, it doesn't make sense to spend hours cooking, cleaning or doing laundry. If I worked more, I could pay people to do those things for me.

What I'd lose in the balance, though, is balance. Sure, it can be a pain to wash dishes or shave your legs. But it's like the perennial advice on how to eat:

A balanced diet featuring a variety of foods keeps us healthy.

This is not the American way, of course. Our culture values winning, acquiring and looking good, and you can be out of balance a long time before it starts to show — in failing health, alienated relationships or existential despair.

We see it on a grander scale in the drive for short-term profits: kicking the

environment for decades because it's so cost effective, then casting about for some equally whacked instant fix.

Men, who have to succeed all the time, are naturally going to get impatient with standing on their heads or chanting "om." Because the kind of success that counts in our culture means tuning out how you feel and how others are affected — shutting down awareness — whereas yoga aims to build it.

Besides, there's no cheering at the finish line, no triumph that lasts. You might master the headstand one minute, then wobble at the very thought of it: Success at yoga begins when the need to succeed starts to fall.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com.