Stop Negatively Gendering My Yoga Practice

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In an attempt to stay more on top of everyday news in our fast-paced world, I caved in and joined Twitter. Surprisingly, although people make fun of hashtags and “trending now,” it has been a fantastic way to keep on top of what’s happening in our world. And it turns out, our world is gender crazy, filled with people advocating for and against traditional gender roles and stereotypes.
As a female who has spent her whole life in a male-dominated sport, I was naturally curious. I’m used to breaking gender stereotypes as a 5’2”, 103-pound blonde black belt. I began reading into Tweets about gender issues in mainstream America such as Target repealing gender labeling and stereotyped coloring in its toy section and people’s anger over Doritos coming out with a limited-edition rainbow chip in support of the LGBTQ community. Suddenly, I realized gender stereotyping is everywhere. It impacts us all, positively AND negatively, even when we aren’t conscious of it.
Oddly enough, it didn’t take long for me to experience the gendering of yoga after I joined Twitter. As I stood in line at the gym with my new hot pink mat curled under my arm, someone asked me what class I was waiting for. After hearing my reply (“yoga”), the woman scrunched her nose and said, “Ugh, a little too girly for me. I thought it was kickboxing tonight.”
I was angry. What did her words imply? Although disguised, the message was that yoga is not a serious workout and is not as good as workouts typically associated with males. Her statement, although nothing but a mere thought that had tumbled off her tongue before she headed over to a treadmill, is damaging. Yoga is not “too girly.” Yoga is the perfect amount of masculine and feminine. And moreover, yoga can be adapted to whatever you want it to be. Yoga embodies characteristics such as strength, power, and challenges to overcome, which can be perceived as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ (or both!) based on who’s doing the perceiving.
Working out should not be confined to gender norms. Members of both genders, and those who identify themselves in other ways, have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to yoga based on their individual experiences, attitudes, and habits. Although male and female bodies are different, there are those of us who embody more ‘feminine’ characteristics or more ‘masculine’ characteristics when we practice. This means that yoga is never one particular thing – you can go to a class and have a completely different experience than the person on the mat right next to you. Also, what I think is feminine could be considered more masculine for someone else, since gender is simply a social construction and therefore flexible.

There’s nothing wrong with women embracing their femininity when they work out. Nobody can make me feel embarrassed or ashamed for going to yoga in my neon pink workout wear with my pink yoga mat and purple water bottle. I’m proud to be female. For me, my gender is tied to my strength of mind, hard work, beauty, and patience. These are all elements I use in my yoga practice to make me into the best version of myself. When I practice yoga, I feel beautiful, strong, and full of life. Each woman has a different idea of what her gender brings into her yoga, but she should never have to feel belittled by someone else for embracing who she is.
And this is true for men as well. Men who practice yoga are strong (and totally awesome!) for seeing that they can benefit from yoga, even if it has been unfairly labeled as a women’s activity in certain people’s minds. Although some people may view yoga as a “women’s activity,” this is not true, and has not been true historically. In ancient India, yoga was only practiced by men, and wasn’t opened to women until modern times. Today, there are millions of men and women who practice yoga around the world. Although mainstream advertising and thinking tries to gender yoga as feminine, yoga remains a practice for everyone, and our views on yoga need to change to reflect that fact.
I wish that woman had not written off yoga solely based on her assumptions. I wish I had told her to stay and try out a class to see if she still thought it was “too girly.” The instructor happened to be male that night. It was power yoga, which was very challenging. We all left the room sweaty and satisfied that we had had an amazing workout. I doubt anybody in that class did not want to come back for another session.
Now, I’m very careful not to gender workouts. If I had a little boy, I wouldn’t want him to think that he couldn’t do ballet because others thought it was ‘too girly.’ If I had a little girl, I’d want her to be able to do karate or ballet, or even both, and still feel as though her gender is a part of her identity and she can succeed in any activity no matter what her gender. What makes your yoga practice unique to you – and how you choose to view yoga – is a matter of your attitude, not your gender.

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Eirinn Norrie is a writer and martial artist. She has a passion for traveling the world, and enjoys crocheting, reading, cooking, and finding new and interesting ways to work out. She loves tae kwon do, partner yoga, and online abs videos.

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