After two years of procrastination, I signed up for a four-week Fundamentals of Yoga class at Integral Yoga. I put it off because thin women in stretchy yoga pants intimidate me, and because I would not be caught dead in stretchy yoga pants. Yoga pants remind me of the hideous leotards and tights that my mother made me to wear to gymnastics and modern dance classes.
If I develop a yoga practice, I want it to feel aligned with my gender. I’m hoping that yoga will be another transition tool. I want it to help me manage my anxiety, calm my brain, keep me in touch with my body, and improve my flexibility and balance. I’m two weeks into the course, and I’m ambivalent.
I go to the gym for strength training and cardio. I don’t enjoy working out, but I like how I feel after I work out, and I like how it has changed the shape of my back and shoulders. It took me years to feel comfortable using free weights and barbells, and to stop worrying about whether anyone was watching me. After I work out I feel a little stronger and more confident. I can turn my brain off during a workout because I’m concentrating on my form, but the moment I step outside my brain starts chattering again.
The internet is full of workout and gym advice for trans men. Articles tout the best exercise regimens, lifting protocols, and how to compete with FTM body builders. Guys post pictures of themselves with ripped abs, with every shoulder and arm muscle visibly defined. They are in pursuit of the perfect male body. I am in pursuit of the in good shape for someone who is middle-aged and trans body. I don’t intend to stop going to the gym, but I don’t think I can get much more out of it. A little more muscle definition is not going to make a big difference in my life. Reducing stress might.
When I Googled “FTM Yoga” or “Trans Men Yoga Class” or “Non-binary Yoga” I found practically nothing (see Notes below). I was hoping to see pictures of guys in downward dog and warrior poses. And I wanted to know what they were wearing while they practiced. At the end of my search it occurred to me that yoga and selfies are philosophically contradictory, which is a plus for yoga.
Lacking relevant data, the week before class started, I sat on the bench in front of the entrance to Integral Yoga, drank a cup of coffee, and scoped out who was attending Thursday night yoga class. About 80% of the students were women; they mostly wore leggings and a supportive stretchy top. They looked fit and serious. A few of the men were vaguely reminiscent of the New Age look of the 1970’s. Most, however, looked like regular guys who got lost on their way to the gym. They wore shorts or running pants and a clingy T-shirt. This was reassuring. I have an assortment of gym shorts and T-shirts that can do double duty for yoga. I don’t have to shop at Lululemon.
The first two sessions were not total disasters. There are only seven students in the beginner’s class (two men, four women, and me), although I am the only one who never took yoga before. At least I was not the student who sent the foam block flying across the room, or the student who tipped over while extending their lunge in the Sun Salutation. I do have some difficulty following the sequence of poses (exacerbated by my dyslexia), and I also have limited hip flexibility when I try to sit cross-legged. Last week I dozed off during the meditation period and I mumbled my way through the chants.
I’m not falling in love with yoga, but it is tolerable and it does not feel gendered. I can see that it will take many sessions before it feels natural and before I experience either physical or psychological benefits from it. Right now it feels like a cross between Simon Says and Twister, but I’m still in the game.
Notes: The dog photos are from Yoga Dogs; they produce yoga dog and yoga cat calendars and have an extremely cute website.
This post from Qui Dorian (in QWOC) addresses what it is like to be a black trans man and a yoga teacher. This post from Nick Krieger (A Trans Man Walks into a Yoga Class) addresses the most common fears of starting yoga.