In my first yoga class, I stuck out as the only guy in a room full of women. I was awkward, fell out of poses and stumbled through the class. At one point, the teacher singled me out, and I was so nervous that I wanted to run for the door screaming and never return. Fortunately, however, I did return, and I’m so grateful I did. Over time, yoga has helped me become more health conscious, flexible and strong. It keeps me aware and honest, and helps me live with more purpose.
[See: 9 Misconceptions About Yoga.]
But many men never get to reap yoga’s benefits; the idea of walking into a female-dominated class as a beginner is intimidating enough to deter them from even trying. To get over that hurdle, follow these tips:
1. Place your mat strategically.
Before you even roll out your mat, make sure you pick a spot in the room where you are not disrupting anyone’s private space. Though it may not be entirely fair, lone men in yoga classes should err on the side of caution when calculating a female neighbor’s personal “bubble;” she’s likely more familiar and therefore comfortable with a fellow female by her side. If you are early, then, and there are only a few people in the studio, allow a couple feet of space for comfort. If you are new, set your mat down somewhere in the middle of the room, or near the wall. This will put you in a position to see the instructor clearly and notice how other students are positioning themselves without feeling invasive.
2. Take others’ conversational cues.
As one of the only men (if not the only man) and a new student, you may be tempted to make a grand entrance of sorts by showcasing your personality and opinions. But resist: A yoga class isn’t the place to push an agenda. If chatter naturally develops, allow other yogis to speak first and respond thoughtfully. It is in bad taste to talk negatively about a class or teacher, or to initiate conversations about politically-driven topics. As you become more acclimated to the tone of the class’s conversations, you will become confident with your ability to talk peacefully with nearly everyone — something that translates off the mat.
Man or woman, the best way to fit in during a yoga class is to listen to your teacher and follow his or her directions. At first, you will have to observe other students somewhat to follow along, but try to look only where the teacher cues. Keep most of your focus on yourself and your alignment. As you condition yourself to listen carefully, being fully present will become more meditative and natural.
4. Go for the right reasons.
Because you will most likely be one of the only men in a yoga class, given our current political environment, you will have to earn the community’s trust. Go into yoga with the sole purpose to learn and better yourself through practice — not to pick up or impress women. You will not be the best at the poses, and that should be humbling and inspiring to realize what is possible. Keep a positive attitude, and remember it’s not a competition. If you are making an honest effort to meet single woman, get to know them outside the yoga studio. Go to social yoga events like outdoor yoga or yoga and beer or cheese tastings. This is a better way to meet like-minded singles and to start conversations authentically.
5. Embrace props.
If your yoga teacher and classmates are women, contorting your body to mimic theirs isn’t always possible or recommended. That’s where props can come in: Men should always have two blocks, a strap and a blanket to modify the poses as needed. Check your ego and listen to your body.
6. Follow studio etiquette.
Whether you’re a man or woman, following studio protocol is important. But it can be especially key for men in female-dominated classes since all of their actions can be more noticeable. Be sure to take off your shoes and put your belongings in the appropriate place, and honor the studio’s policies on purchasing classes. Mentally train yourself to be still in both the beginning and end of class. While every teacher has a different approach of turning inward to start and end class, stay calm, pay attention and focus on your breath. Make it a point to do the small things so you can set the tone as a respectful male student.
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Insider Tips for Being the Only Dude in Yoga Class originally appeared on usnews.com