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?

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- 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.

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