Why Dartmouth Men Are Taking Up Yoga In Droves
Every Wednesday evening, the men of Dartmouth make their way to the bar of the rowing club, behind the Floating Bridge.
Nothing unusual in that you may think, men getting together for a beer to cheer up the middle of the week and plan their weekends. But that’s not what’s happening here.
These men have bare feet and faces set with grim determination. They breathe deeply and conversation is limited. The bar towels remain on the pumps. The floor is strewn with mats. This isn’t about beer and skittles, it’s about fitness, muscles, strength, stamina, mental wellbeing – it’s about yoga.
Yoga teacher Simon Curtis didn’t plan it this way, but his Wednesday class in Dartmouth has been taken over by the boys. Not entirely – there are a couple of ladies who go along and there is absolutely no discrimination. But where most yoga classes are dominated by women, yoga in Dartmouth is a predominantly male pursuit.
Wary of jokes about leotards and “ommmm”, the men are committed to their weekly yoga sessions, many of them repeating the moves at home to help maintain the benefits. But they admit they were shy about taking the plunge.
“We talked about it first about five years ago, but we kept putting it off and putting it off,” said Vaughn Bowden, who came to yoga searching for a way to banish back pain.
“Eventually we came along and had a go. That was about two years back and my friends and I have been coming ever since. I have a long term back problem caused by rowing and since I’ve been doing yoga it’s much better.”
Rowing and water sports seem to be a link between many of the men turning to the yogic methods. Vaughn said: “I’ve been rowing all my life and it takes its toll. But since doing yoga I feel much stronger. The yoga has helped my rowing as well as my back. It’s not an easy option – it’s really hard work. I thought it would be a lot easier than it is – this is a very physical work out.”
Vaughn is usually flanked on his mat by the two Phils - Langman and Pichowski. Both are no strangers to the river, and the resultant achy backs.
“My back was very painful, probably stemming from rowing, and a friend said give yoga a go. I have to say it’s made a big difference,” said Phil Pichowski. “I’m definitely more flexible and the aches are a lot lot better. I think men realise this is something that can really help them.”
“It’s like a good weights session at the gym,” said Phil Langman. ”You really ache the next day. I think the men come because it’s so challenging. It’s adapted every week and it’s hard work – yoga is not the soft option.”
Surfer and mountain biker Adrian Bailey started yoga when persuaded by his girlfriend, but admitted: “I really wanted to do it! The benefits are huge – I feel looser and the yoga has been good for my breathing, and therefore my confidence.”
Adrian said the concentration developed by yoga was a great help when surfing, enabling him to focus on wave and board. He said: “I definitely feel more agile and that helps with the surfing. Yoga makes me feel better!”
The men described mental benefits as well as the physical – feeling stronger in mind as well as in body, the perfect state to master if required to cope with the rigours of responsibility, work pressures, and the juggling of career with family. It’s a male class by accident rather than design, Simon admitted, but men’s desire to do yoga came as no surprise.
“There is a strong link between the water and watersports and the need to do yoga,” Simon said. “Rowing and sailing are great sports, but with them come problems. Back problems are particularly common.”
The secret, he explained, was to strengthen the body’s core, making a strong girdle of muscles to hold the back in place. The type of yoga practised is vinyasa, a flowing yoga that uses the breath and the core muscles to take class members through a series of uninterrupted movements.
“Many doctors recommend that their patients try yoga to improve movement, posture, strength and muscle tone. It is a hard workout and it really does help.
“Yes it’s unusual to have so many men in a class and so few women, but I’m all for it as long as they realise the importance of health and well being and they work hard.”
First Published March 2011 By The Dart