In the crowded yoga studios across Singapore, an overwhelming number of the practitioners bending and stretching away are women. Where exactly are the men in this 3000-year-old discipline, which was ironically introduced to the West by Swami Vivekananda, a man himself?
A 2012 survey by Yoga Journal found that only 18 per cent of the 20.4 million people who practice yoga in the United States are men.
Anecdotal evidence in Singapore suggests this statistic isn't far off. But while only a small portion of yoga practitioners consist of men, it has been steadily increasing over the years.
General view of a woman doing yoga. Photo: Reuters
Juliana Anandamayi Phua, a yoga instructor at Om Shiva Yoga, said males make up about 20 per cent of her students nowadays as compared to less than ten per cent previously.
“In a class of a hundred students, maybe we had a few guys. It was quite little, but now you see a lot more guys doing it," she said.
One of the commonly perpetuated myths that yoga is for women might also be what’s keeping the men away, said Anandamayi Phua . “I do hear our students saying ‘my husband doesn’t want to join because yoga is for women’.”
But changing perceptions among athletes and sports celebrities could have had a trickledown effect that led to a normalisation of men practising yoga.
“The thing is that now a lot of athletes are also very aware of the benefits of yoga. So I think that helps in changing the mindsets,” said the yoga studio owner.
“A lot of soccer players are doing it. A lot of rugby players are doing it and basketball players as well. Even all the pop stars are doing it. So it is really changing the mindsets of a lot of people.”
Leading sportsmen, from Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs to the unstoppable All Blacks team who recently bulldozed their way to Rugby World Cup glory, have been known to use yoga to help their sporting performance.
"I do a bit of yoga - that's what helps. I've been doing it for five years, and really get into it. You should try it, it's really good," said Ma’a Nonu of the New Zealand rugby team who is built like a tank, weighing in at 107 kg.
New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu (centre) in action during the Rugby World Cup Final. Photo: Reuters
For Ryan Giggs, former Manchester United player and current Assistant Manager, yoga was what kept him playing football at the top level at the age of 40.
“It strengthens your muscles, improves flexibility, but also keeps you fit and gets you out on the training pitch so you can train every day,” he said.
“If I do a yoga session the next day (after a game), I’m nowhere near as stiff and I’ll be back training at the right level a lot quicker.”