Downward Dog or Warrior Pose?

warrior-pose downward-dogAfter 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.

23 thoughts on “Downward Dog or Warrior Pose?

  1. Curious and Curiouser

    I would say that ideally yoga is embodied, so not gendered. Sometimes the yoga you encounter at gyms is pretty westernised. If you want more after your four week course, I’d recommend Hatha or Satyananda yoga rather than something like Ashtanga or Iyenga. Good luck 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Integral Yoga is a Hatha Yoga Institute that does regular classes (in several levels) and also trains yoga teachers. The regular classes are 90 minutes and incorporate 30 minutes of meditation (hence my nap) – not very westernized. The beginner’s class is supposed to get you up to speed for their regular Level 1 class. I’ll probably continue there until I feel a little more confident, and then maybe look for someplace that has a queerer clientele.

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  2. hopenotgone

    Oddly enough, I did a yoga class today after a long absence. It took me quite a while before yoga felt natural and relaxing, but now even after years of not practicing it does. I need to get back to regular practicing because it really does calm me and help my back. I hope that you get some of the benefits from taking this class.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I know that people look at yoga as a lifelong thing – so I have to be patient and not expect to master it in four weeks. I think yoga will be a good skill to have – something that I can do when I need to focus (other than writing or walking, which don’t always do the trick).

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  3. Kris

    Love the dog pics, of course. Pooch has her own variation, it is called Sleeping Dog and she excells at it. I had to smile when you mentioned dozing off during meditation – such a deep level of meditation, you must be a master at it! 🙂 Good luck, Jamie.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks, Kris – Gracie is not into yoga, she would only be interested in the prasad (the food offerings to the deities). My only fear is that I will be caught snoring during the meditation.

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  4. writerspilecki

    Yoga is awesome. If it weren’t for one of my amazing yoga teachers, I would not be reading your post or those like it. Also, Google “drop sets” if you are interested in adding strength training to your yoga/looseness regime.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think I am going to keep yoga and the gym separate – but eventually I might change up my gym routine again. I’ve never done drop sets (maybe I’ll give them a try) – but I mix my workouts up with barbells, dumbbells, kettleballs, and push ups. I also like to do the stairmaster (like climbing up the down escalator) – for some reason better than the elliptical.

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  5. Cairtheand

    Yoga is great. I have a tip for you, a free website where you can get awesome courses (if you want I can mail it to you). I usually did (but will do again when my feet improve) yoga at home, on a mat, with some soothing music on. I really get tired of that macho attitude some trans men have at times – yeah it´s great to be strong but life is also about inner strength – and finding yoga is just about building that strength and that balance.

    It probably takes some getting used to but it´s just like running when you get that runner´s high and you figure out what it´s all about. I´ve felt that with yoga too, although I´m not sure I could experience that in a group of people (I´d be too self-conscious to really focus on what´s going on with my emotion/energy).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I keep a blog email jamierayblog@gmail.com so you can mail it to me there! This is the first class I’ve taken that is like a gym class – I usually work out by myself – but I felt that the form for the poses would be challenging – and that an instructor would be useful. Also, I knew that if I paid for it I would go (the 4 week intro is inexpensive) because that is just how I am.

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  6. PlainT

    “A cross between Simon Says and Twister”… Dying…

    Ive started doing yoga more regularly because I can do it in my room, alone, for free. I love that it gets you stronger. I recommend the Yoga with Tim channel, it’s great and very barebones: no spirituality diluted from another culture, just movement.

    I hope yoga helps you with stress and does your body good.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks, and thanks for the Yoga with Tim tip. I’m going to go to class until I have the hang of it – I’m concerned that if I don’t have the structure, I won’t do it at all….but if I decide I like it, then I could probably convince myself to do it at home.

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  7. genderneutral

    I am always struck by how westernized yoga has become – and this includes the clothes people wear. Having traveled to India, I can assure you neither men nor women wore those stretchy tight fitting work out pants people wear in the US. I would do a very basic harem pants personally. Check out http://www.harempants.com. great price and the quality is excellent. Very comfortable

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      A lot of yoga in NYC is really more gym and fitness oriented than whole body/mind. You are right, in India it is for everyone – all ages and body types. Thanks for the link to harempants – I can’t quite see myself in them; in the winter I may shift to sweatpants. Meanwhile I’ve been wearing some very stretchy (with gusset crotch) hiking shorts and a cool max T-shirt. Good enough for now!

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  8. janitorqueer

    My spouse goes to a Queer and Trans Yoga class – surprising that there’s one here in our smallish city! It is just changing over instructors, so she’s not sure she will love it as much… I’ve been considering attending yoga, but I’m not sure yet…

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      There is one free floating bear yoga (open to all genders but mostly by definition gay men) and one regualar queer/trans yoga, but it is an hour away by subway…
      If I decide that I really want to practice yoga I might go to it for the pleasure of making a fool of myself infront of people who are accepting. I feel like a lot of the stress wellness stuff gets pushed aside in transition – we talk a lot about suicide prevention – but not how to take care of oneself given the difficulties of being trans in this RNC like world.

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  9. mostcurious

    A cross between Simon Says and Twister is exactly how far I got in Yoga, even though it was a whole semester of my college education… Wonderfully said!

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  10. johnmitchk

    Glad to hear you’re finding it not bad 🙂 My university offers group yoga classes for all skill levels and they’re mostly about promoting wellness of mind and body. Their only an hour long sessions, so it’s about fifteen minutes of meditation total, the rest of being the movements. Not sure how westernised it is, though. I’ve personally found yoga helps with dysphoria because it forces me to think about other parts of my body and my body as a whole. And it’s calm. I like calm.

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  11. Emily Gritz

    Wow, I’m unsure I’d ever really considered gender as one of the reasons I avoid yoga before, but your post made me see how my dysphoria plays into it. I own one or two pairs of stretchy pants other people gave me that make me feel uncomfortable, and I regularly felt out of place in my old soccer shorts, t-shirts, and leggings in the classes I took. There are certainly other reasons for my discomfort in yoga classes, but you’ve inspired me to examine those feelings further and consider taking a class again in an outfit and environment that’s more comfortable.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m thinking “what did people do yoga in before there was spandex/lycra/elastane?” The whole commercial yoga clothing industrial-complex is ridiculous and counter to the practice.
      I hope you find something that works for you – as I said in my post it took me 2 years to get to my beginner’s class.

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  12. Sunshinemind89

    It’s so sad to me the way that westernized yoga can make some people feel uncomfortable awkward or in anyway unwelcome to a yoga class. Yoga is for everyone. It is literally a practice that’s all about love, non violence, and a acceptance.

    But I’m glad that despite the “cool club” vibe that yoga tends to give off, I’m glad you’re giving it a shot. Yoga is truly an amazing gift and it’s a game changer. It’s awkward at first. I’ll never forget how much I hated my first yoga class. But with time, patience and persistence, it gets easier, and it starts to make a real difference.

    Stick with it! In time you may find that you grow to love it, or at least the things it can do for you in terms of anxiety. If you’re still super uncomfortable with the class atmosphere, you might consider a private instructor? Someone who can really help you get in the zone with yoga so that you reap more benefit. Sometimes the group atmosphere can be distracting and take away from the experience.

    Okay, I’m done now. Sorry, that’s a whole lot of comment. Good luck on your journey with this stuff. I hope you find it helps 🙂

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