The Men of Wanderlust

Photo Credit: Tinywater & Wanderlust

I must say, the last thing I expected going to the Wanderlust Yoga & Music Festival this weekend was to learn about men. Uddiyana bandha? Sure. The state of affairs in Haiti? Maybe. But men? I’ll tell ya, this little life lesson hit me blindsided.

First a little background: I grew up in an all-female household, two mommas and one sister, and the only thing I know about my father is that he desperate enough for money to donate sperm while he was in medical school. My sister and I had little to no male influence growing up. Our parents were rugged feminists who insisted that men were only out for one thing (uh-huh) and to be careful. You can imagine the kind of curiosity that’ll evoke in a seven-year-old. That Y Chromosome was like a little golden fleece in our eyes…. mysterious, intriguing, and dangerously powerful.

Of course as I grew older the little golden idol began to lose some of its mystery, as life experience brought it down from the magical pedestal my parents had unintentionally set it upon. The men I encountered in my late childhood and adolescence were not the Gandhis, Martin Luther Kings, nor the paternal figures I was longing for. After a few particularly hurtful experiences, I decided I wanted nothing more of these creatures, these wild beasts my parents had warned me against. A few lessons in the history of patriarchy in college cemented my reservations about men and their flagrant abuse of power. Even my male friends, I decided, were best to keep at arm’s distance.

Photo Credit: Patience Steltzer

I’d learned men were hard, men were fierce, men were smooth and sultry sweet-talkers who’d say anything to get what they want. Although I wouldn’t have admitted it if you’d asked, I had grouped any human being with testes into one sloppily stereotyped pile. I believed that the men in my life honestly had good intentions, but probably couldn’t be trusted if worse ever came to worse. I’d castigated a full half of the human race with my fears.

Cue Wanderlust. Funny how no matter where you are and what you’re doing, life will bring to you exactly the lesson you’re ready to learn. From the moment I boarded the plane, I was surrounded by some of the kindest, gentlest, most safe and loving men I’ve ever known. Some of them flew solo, others showed up in support of their partners. All of them were refreshingly kind, heart-achingly vulnerable, open and expressive in a way I don’t normally see embodied by “leading men” in our society. These men were my brothers. These men became my friends.

I guess my tuning into this lesson really began in Seane Corn’s class, Yogis for Interpersonal Change. Seane had just finished a talk about taking your yoga off the mat and getting involved in service, when she turned to the audience to ask what barriers prevented us from doing that. Several people raised their hands and mentioned things like 60-hour a week jobs, having children, etc… but then one tall, teddy-bear-looking gentleman stood up in the back and answered:

“Honestly, being a man. People give me funny looks when I say I want to do service or teach yoga. People think I’m weird for wanting to do something good.”

Photo credit: Patience Steltzer

Later, as we were doing some partner activities in Tommy & Kia’s class, I turned to my right and saw a man wiping tears from his eyes as he stared into the face of the woman sitting across from him. During one of my interviews in the evening, I spoke with a male teacher who was easily one of the best listeners I’ve ever met in my life… a man who brought tears to my eyes (so much for being the objective interviewer) just in his way of being! And the entire weekend I found myself surrounded by couples who emanated healthy, balanced, mutually supportive love. The men of Wanderlust, it seemed, were not of the breed I’d had the misfortune of knowing earlier in my life.

At the Speakeasy with the Wanderlust founders, one woman raised her hand and said she was disappointed there were not more women in the musical lineup. At the time I remember feeling slightly surprised… I hadn’t noticed the disparity myself and felt my mind drop momentarily back into the rugged feminist mindset. Men trumping women once again. Inequality. Gender disparity.

But looking back now, I’m grateful for the strong male presence at Wanderlust — both in the musical and yoga lineups. Yoga is a far too female-dominated world; it’s not uncommon for the classes I attend at home to be all women. I’m not sure if it’s just a California thing, but the classes I attended at Wanderlust were easily 50/50 male/female. And the men I met… they were different. There was a softness, a gentleness, a willingness to share power in relationships, an emotional rawness I didn’t see in the men I knew growing up.

Photo Credit: Patience Steltzer

I’m not sure if it’s the yoga that transforms the men or just a different breed of man that yoga attracts, but I feel we’re bearing witness to the birth of a new man in the yoga world. And I’m simultaneously bearing witness to the birth of a new perception of men within me, one not skewed by judgments rooted in fear and wounds from the past.

I’ve seen how well-intentioned movements to create equality between the sexes can turn angry, divisive, even violent times. And it’s easy to pull the card of womens’ rights when the balance between sexes swings the other way… when women dominate and minimize the contributions of men to maintain their hold of power. So what do you think?

How do you see the balance between genders in the yoga world?

Posted by:

- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at YogaModern.com, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

17 Responses

  • Sharon says:

    Are Michael Franti and Seane Corn an item?

  • ashtangamami says:

    Chelsea, you are amazingly wise for your age! I completely agree, and saw the same in the men at Wanderlust VT…and felt the same mistrust arising…could it really be true? Could they really be as sweet and loving as they appear? I believe that the yoga community allows men to express this side of themselves, as generosity and vulnerability is encouraged and not judged or shamed as unbecoming feminine traits, and that these instincts exist in every man…just waiting for the right opportunity to be expressed.

    • Chelsea says:

      You are too kind. I thank you humbly. And I'm so glad I'm not alone in the feeling I had. I think you're dead on in what you say about the yoga community creating space where it's OKAY to express vulnerability, generosity, and other "feminine" traits… not just for men, but for women too. You certainly wouldn't have seen me welling up with tears during an interview before I started doing yoga. Nor would I have ever been so open about my own personal process… I think the yoga community also gives us permission and even encouragement to "speak our truth" and express ourselves openly without fear.

      Thanks so much for commenting, and I hope you'll continue to add your voice to the dialogue here on YM. Really insightful thoughts!

  • Maura Manzo says:

    Great article CHelsea! ANd @ SHaron, no they arent an item

  • Yes yoga is dominated by women and for good cause, you are as a species my darling little friend more open to your emotions, your cycles, your flow through life and your connection with the divine as mothers and care gives…not to mention you look a damn sight better in tight leggin's than us hairy masculine brutes.
    But…not only should you believe that MEN can be open to the power of transformation and learn to honour their feminine side, you should actually encourage it and witness for yourself what a better world it would make. Just don't kid yourself that we don't love checking you out in your Lulu lemon pants!!!!.

    Peace to all, one love.

    • Chelsea says:

      LOL (I really did)

      Carl, I love you. Definitely one of the biggest and best men of Wanderlust I met at the festival. I don't have any lululemon pants myself, but I definitely agree that there's that element of being around lots of gorgeous women in tight-fitting clothes that attracts many guys to the studio… at least initially. Hey, for a lot of em it's what gets em in the door though, right? Then the transformation can begin! Or not.

      I'm sure you'd look lovely in a pair of MEN'S lululemon pants. :)

    • I love this, Carl, and you said it so well! Part of what allows we males to tap into our feminine side is our acknowledgment and embracing of our masculinity.

  • Andre says:

    Hi Chelsea, Yoga Modern is fantastic and I always look forward to reading your latests article.

    I am currently reading 'Iron John – A Book About Men' by Robert Bly. It is a commentary on men and masculinity with the Grimm fairy tale Iron John weaved throughout. Here is an excerpt from the first chapter of the book

    "…As men began to examine women's history and women's sensibility, some men began to notice what was called their feminine side and pay attention to it. This process continues to this day…

    …There's something wonderful about this development – I mean the practice of men welcoming their own 'feminine' consciousness and nurturing it – this is important – and yet I have the sense that there is something wrong. The male in the past twenty years has become more thoughtful, more gentle. But by this process he has not become more free. He's a nice boy who pleases not only his mother but also the young woman he is living with….

    …but many of these men are not happy. You quickly notice the lack of energy in them. They are life-preserving but not exactly life-gicing. Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy. Here we have a finely tuned young man, ecologically superior to his father, sympathetic to the whole harmony of the universe, yet he himself has little vitality to offer…"

    Robert Bly goes on to describe how the loss of initiation into adulthood/manhood and the loss of myth and story telling as well as industrialization has taken away our power as 'wild men'. He also makes a very clear distinction between a primitive or savage man and a 'wild man'.

    I haven't finished the book so I can't offer much more than that food for thought.

    • veloyogi says:

      Andre, I am recalling Iron John being dissed by my grad school prof, a male, radical feminist and liberation theologist…his beef being that while Iron John tries to open ways for men to be in touch with their nature, it reinforces a dualism…separating men and women…There is always "another side to the story," isn't there!

    • Chelsea says:

      Thank you, Andre. I'm quite late in responding to your comment, but I just stumbled upon the book you mentioned at Half Price Books and added it to my collection. I'm terrible about starting books and not finishing them, but we'll see if I can make an exception with this one.

      I'm a big fan of Robert Bly already, and this book in particular reminds me a lot of one of my favorite thinkers on mythology– Joseph Campbell. If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend The Hero's Journey. I felt a little frustrated that Campbell's commentary was so specifically targeted at men, but I think the symbols and themes he identifies are archetypes that unfold in the lives of women as well as men.

      Often I think we get so caught in talking about all the differences between men and women that we lose sight of the fact that we share many more commonalities than we do differences. Yes, there are men and women. But we are all hu-mans, sharing a common experience of trying to make our way through life on this earth. There are feminine and masculine archetypes that show up in all of us– regardless of biological differences. Perhaps what I experienced at Wanderlust was a heightened awareness of those commonalities. Zoom your microscope in closely enough, and we're all the same.

  • Martin says:

    Are all lesbian households so anti-male or am I reading this wrong? I don't know anything about the gay community so I'm just curious. On another note, what was the percentage of people of color at Wanderlust?

    • Chelsea says:

      I can't speak for the other lesbian households, but its certainly something I wish would be more discussed in the gay community. Whether it's a pair of women raising children or a pair of men raising children, there definitely needs to be some opposite gender role models present in their lives (in my opinion). I think describing lesbian households as "anti-male" vastly oversimplifies the issue. Not quite the target of this article, but perhaps that's a discussion that will be addressed in a future post.

      RE: people of color at Wanderlust…. I saw a lot of "white" (more like very tan) people. I imagine that's a consequence of both the population who does yoga and the amount of wealth it takes to get to a festival like Wanderlust. Economic inequality among races is still a huge issue in our broader society, not specific to Wanderlust in particular.

  • Rogelio says:

    Martin, 1% maybe people of color, and that's not an exaggeration. It's a bit of a mystery to me as to why.

  • Chelsea, this article is brilliant and well-written. As one of those open, vulnerable males at Wanderlust, it was truly amazing to encounter other males and females that were the same way. Great article. Can't wait to read more.

    • Chelsea says:

      Thank you, Andrew. I have to be honest– I'm not sure about any "brilliance" exhibited in this article– but I sure am flattered you found it valuable. :) It was a pleasure spending time with you at Wanderlust, and you're a great example of the experience of men I was talking about here. Namaste to you, my friend. :)

  • jeffreydavis11 says:

    Chelsea: Thanks for this article. I appreciate your personal story about men as well as your openings toward men at Wanderlust. Makes me wish all the more I had been there. I appreciate your work here.