It happens all the time. I’m at a cocktail party, a guy (yes, it’s usually a guy, but once in awhile a woman) asks me what I do for a living, and I say I teach yoga. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to try yoga but I’m not flexible.”
At which point I offer that one reason to practice yoga is to become more mobile.
Still, it’s one thing to say that, and another to make that stiff guy feel at home in a class full of bendy ladies and the occasional bendy man. Throw in a teacher who can pretzel his/her way through a sequence of back-of-the-book poses, and you’re sure to send the poor man running to spin class or Cardio Fit.
So what’s a stiff guy to do?
First, we need to define “stiff.” Are we talking about shortened muscles, tendons, or ligaments? Which parts of the body are we talking about? (No one is uniformly stiff throughout his/her body.) Americans are obsessed with being able to touch their toes, but the hamstrings are only one of many, many muscles that can impede range of motion.
Second, we need to create classes that work for stiff guys, that:
• Get students warmed up with a flow of basic poses that’s easy on forward bends (which can pull on the lower back)
• Keep the poses simple enough that everyone can get into some stage of each pose and hold it successfully while still breathing
• are challenging enough to break a sweat
• Use props to make up for shortcomings in bendyness
• Show that strength, stamina and balance are as important to fruitful yoga as flexibility
• May well be taught by men
And by the way, nowhere in 2500 years of yoga scriptures does it say that yoga is about stretching. That’s a modern, Western misconception. Hatha yoga is about facilitating the flow of energy through the body. Period.