By Zach Zentner, Staff Reporter
The number of yogis, or men who practice yoga, has increased dramatically over the past year at Illinois Wesleyan University.
This trend has caught the eyes of many younger men when they see athletes like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Miami Heat forward LeBron James getting in touch with their inner “Zen.”
“Last year, I think we only had four guys in the class,” said Cindy Leiseberg, a certified yoga instructor at Illinois Wesleyan. “This year I am amazed that it happened, the number of guys who have come out to the class, even the faculty class I teach has significantly more men.”
Leiseberg teaches a Hatha style yoga class which focuses on deep relaxation for students on Tuesday and Thursday nights in the Shirk Center. “There have been several classes this semester where the classroom is completely full, and the number of males is much greater than the number of females,” Leiseberg said.
The yoginis, or females who practice yoga, have taken notice to the increased number of males as well. “There’s definitely a lot more guys now, but they are very respectful and take the class for athletic improvement and flexibility,” senior Katie Racanelli said.
Racanelli, who has practiced yoga for several years, said having more guys than girls is not unwelcome. “I have never felt uncomfortable being in a yoga class with guys,” Racanelli said. “It’s beneficial to both genders, even though it is stereotypically practiced more by women.”
Beginner yogini, senior Erin Moran, says she was caught off guard when she walked into the classroom for the first time.
“When I got there I was extremely surprised that there were so many guys, it was definitely a little weird,” Moran said.
“I thought that they were not going to take it seriously and that it would ruin the class, but in the end it has just made the class more fun,” Moran said.
Junior yogi Dan Durkin has been taking the class since he was a first-year student at IWU.
“I absolutely love it even though I was basically the only guy in this class up until this year,” Durkin said. “I play football and always tried to encourage my teammates to come out, and I guess they finally decided to listen to me and give it a try because now we barely have enough room some nights. It’s awesome and relaxing, something I will do for the rest of my life.”
Ex-athletes have come to the class. Joey Driver, who played four years as a wide receiver for the IWU football team said it was a doctor recommendation that led him to begin his yoga practice.
“I started to do yoga to regain flexibility in my knee after my surgeries,” Driver said. “I found the class to be very helpful in that way but it also helped me control stress. When I saw how well it worked for me, I told other people about it.”
Driver has also noticed the change of having so many males in the class.
“The class is male dominated now. Many of the guys are seeing the benefits that yoga can have on your life and how it can make you feel,” Driver said. “It was mostly girls when I started and it was a little discouraging because they are naturally better at some things, but once I got into the swing of things I relaxed and became a lot more comfortable.”
“I love sitting back and watching the chemistry of the group,” Leiseberg said. “The guys think its sissy stuff at first, but it is a completely different workout that most males aren’t used to.”
“The guys, and especially the athletes, get put into frustrating positions and work their posture and body alignment. It is the flexibility and core work that is tough since males have a naturally more muscular bone structure,” Leiseberg said.
Senior Eric McCullough, who has been struggling with back and hip problems since high school, recently started practicing yoga.
“I honestly thought it was a joke. My roommate would come home and say that it was a tough workout, and I just laughed,” McCullough said. “I couldn’t take him serious, so I finally went to one of the classes, and, wow, was I wrong.”
“I got put into positions that I did not even know were possible, it was an unbelievable feeling and mental release,” McCullough said. “Once you go yoga, you’ll never go back.”
Leiseberg’s class is held Tuesday and Thursday nights at 5:30-6:30 in the south classroom of Shirk Athletic Center.