Category Archives: Men’s Health

Male in the Modern World

In a special package on masculinity, YJ dives into how the cultural ideal of “being a man” impacts folks in yoga communities and beyond.

Beginning in boyhood, American men are socialized to a narrow definition of masculinity—one that pushes extreme notions of being tough, self-reliant, and stoic. The cost: a toxic culture that stymies healthy expression and engenders high rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse among our fathers, partners, uncles, brothers, sons, and friends. How can yoga help us move from Man up to Work it out on the mat? 

In a special package about masculinity, YJ hears from three yoga teachers on how the practice has created space for them to access and embrace previously hidden aspects of themselves. Plus, a sequence for finding power in pliability. 

Read the entire series:

Matthew Lyons

1. Men Struggle With Body Image Too. Here’s One Yoga Teacher’s Journey to Self-Acceptance

It’s a myth that men don’t struggle with body image. Yoga teacher Matthew Lyons shares his battle with anxiety—and how yoga is helping him find self-acceptance.

Click here to read more.

Benny James 

2. He Grew Up in a Homophobic Community. Here’s How Yoga Helped Him Find Peace

Yoga teacher Benny James hid his true personality and sexual orientation in order to avoid ridicule and the threat of violence. Here’s how he learned to stand in his truth.

Click here to read more.

Shane Roberts

3. How Yoga Philosophy Helped a Former Athlete Reclaim His Softer Side

Yoga teacher Shane Roberts acted tough in order to fit in as a high school basketball player—until an injury led him to the mat to discover who he truly was.

Click here to read more.

4. This Yoga Program Empowers Teen Boys to Express Emotions & Activate Politically

In his new Atlanta-based program for …

Men Struggle With Body Image Too. Here's One Yoga Teacher's Journey to Self-Acceptance

Yoga instructor Matthew Lyons shares how he overcomes anxiety and finds self-love.

Yoga teacher Matthew Lyons shares his battle with anxiety—and how yoga is helping him find self-acceptance.

I have stood more than 6 feet tall and have carried more than 200 pounds since middle school—when my friends and family called me Chub and Fat Matt. They made comments about my “husky” pants and how it looked like I’d swallowed a bowling ball. It may have been intended as a good-natured ribbing, but I felt hurt, ashamed, and unattractive. In fifth grade, I started sucking in my round belly so it was a less-obvious target for ridicule—a habit that still endures four decades later. As a teenager, my body shape didn’t fit into popular clothing such as IZOD polos or Levi’s denim, and the other guys teased me for wearing oversized, generic brands that still ran too tight. As a result, even now, in my 50s, despite being way more grounded and at ease in my life, I still struggle with insecurity related to my body.

See also 7 Great Comebacks for Men (or Anyone) Facing Yoga-Shaming

Over the years, poor self-image has caused me a great deal of anxiety. In all sorts of social situations, I often contend with a maddening inner dialogue that drowns out any chance of being present and carefree. I constantly question how I’m being viewed by others: Do they see a nurturing, caring, silly-hearted individual—or simply my large frame? The paradox of my struggle is that I want to be seen but not noticed. Appreciated and not judged.

Of course, women have been objectified and subjected to unattainable ideals of beauty for centuries, to catastrophic effect. Airbrushed magazines and, more recently, filtered Instagram photos have only compounded the pressure they experience to look …

He Grew Up in a Homophobic Community. Here's How Yoga Helped Him Find Peace

Yoga teacher Benny James shares how he learned to stand in his truth.

Yoga teacher Benny James grew up wearing baggy clothing and deepening his voice in order to blend in with straight men and avoid altercations. Now, he’s giving himself the space he needs to heal his trauma.

I am a gay man who has known my sexual orientation since I was 10 years old. Back then, I befriended the popular guys at school because I had crushes on them. I loved adorning my mom’s purple chiffon sundress. I was a ballet dancer. Watching the girls who practiced in the class before mine, I looked up to their power and femininity. But I didn’t dare tell anyone my secret, for fear of rejection by my family and community. Growing up in Colorado Springs, where megachurches ran conversion therapy camps (the practice was finally outlawed in May, making Colorado the 18th state to ban conversion therapy for minors), I’d overheard plenty of men say horrific things like, “I’ll kill a faggot if they ever try to touch me.”

Despite all that, at 16, I decided it was time to start the coming-out process. I remember seeing my two best friends, both female, cuddled up on the couch with their boyfriends and yearning for a fulfilling romantic relationship of my own. I came out to them first, and they were absolutely elated for me. Within two months, they fixed me up with a cute guy who became my first boyfriend. Next I decided to tell my coworkers. They, too, made me feel so accepted that I started building up the courage to tell my parents and my older brother. I believed my family would offer the same support.

It happened by accident: My parents caught me kissing my boyfriend in the …

A Heart-Opening Sequence to Embrace Vulnerability


This practice from yoga teacher Shane Roberts celebrates the power of finding strength in softness.

This flow is an important offering that reaffirms strength and makes space for vulnerability. Heart openers ignite power, while resting poses help ground it in wisdom—so you can embrace the entire texture of your being. Feel free to modify and use props.

See also This Yoga Program Empowers Teen Boys to Express Emotions & Activate Politically.

About the author

Shane Roberts is a yoga teacher and the co-founder of Red Clay Yoga. He studied yoga philosophy with Swami Jaya Devi Bhagavati at Kashi Atlanta. Learn more at redclayyoga.org.

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How Yoga Philosophy Helped a Former Athlete Reclaim His Softer Side

Yoga teacher Shane Roberts acted tough in order to fit in as a high school basketball player—until an injury led him to the mat to discover who he truly was.

As a kid, yoga teacher Shane Roberts, cofounder of Red Clay Yoga, always knew he’d play basketball. But hyper-masculine culture of athletics cost him an opportunity to find out who he really was—until an injury helped him change course. 

As a kid, the first thing anyone ever wanted to know about me was if I was going to play basketball. I knew I was skilled, and Lord knows I dreamed about fame and fortune, but more than anything, I was tall. By the time I was 13, at 6-foot-6, my body looked like the ticket to material success. It was always assumed it would take me all the way to the NBA. I often overheard my mother talk about me as if she were waiting for her boat to come in. But now, 20 years later, I know that wasn’t the real reason I went to high school basketball tryouts. I went to find a tribe.

I was still traumatized from middle school. Adolescent boys proved how tough they were by using their fists. Watching Rambo and playing Mortal Kombat, we idolized heroes who died fighting. Fear of getting beat up consumed my thoughts because battles erupted often, seemingly from out of nowhere, and I believed violence was the only way to ward off threats at school. In other words, I fought a lot to establish a measure of authority.

But when I got to high school, I was back at the bottom of the social pecking order. Although kids seemed much calmer, displays of male dominance never went away. They manifested in the uneasy hierarchy of social groups. As …

This Yoga Program Empowers Teen Boys to Express Emotions & Activate Politically

Through his new Atlanta-based workshops, yoga teacher Shane Roberts invites boys to decide how they want to move through the world.

In his new Atlanta-based program for teens, yoga teacher Shane Roberts invites adolescent boys to decide how they want to move through the world.

As a high school basketball player, Shane Roberts’s entire personality and purpose had been a ready-made product of hyper-masculine athletic culture: Act tough and perform on the court. When he dislocated both of his knees and his career plans were shattered, it was time to figure out who he really was. What he discovered, with the help of yoga, was that his strength could give way to something softer. He could see the world as it was and decide how he wanted to walk through it.

It’s a lesson Roberts has poured into his innovative new program, Yoga, Art, & Movement Camp, which empowers teen boys, ages 13–15, with the tools to think critically about who they are, who they want to be, and how they can effect change in their communities. Roberts was inspired by his wife, renowned yoga educator Chelsea Jackson Roberts, PhD, who, seven years ago, launched Yoga, Literature, & Art Camp—a successful tuition-free program for teen girls. In 2014, the pair co-founded Red Clay Yoga, a nonprofit that shares yoga as a tool for critical engagement.

“I want to offer boys permission to mature,” Roberts says. “Yoga helped me put down some immature behaviors from my past and define my manhood for myself.”

The program, which launched in October, will begin with weekend-long sessions throughout the city’s historic neighborhoods and combine yoga, self-reflection, and discussions of history and culture. Students will also participate in a socially conscious walking tour through downtown Atlanta, led by Red Clay Yoga co-director Jemar Raheem, a …

Why DJ Townsel Left The Football Field for a Yoga Studio

After leaving professional football, Townsel found a new purpose sharing yoga with communities in need.

Derrick “DJ” Townsel

Memorizing plays, constant body slamming, contract disputes, minimal job security, daily practices­—this is the side of professional sports that the general public doesn’t often see. As a five-year-old growing up in the rough Opa-locka neighborhood of Miami, I didn’t understand the ins-and-outs of the job either, but I knew I wanted to play. Where I came from, most kids saw the entertainment and sports industries as their only paths to a brighter future. I had a natural athletic gift, so it seemed like my purpose had found me very early on. Between the ages of six and 12, I played baseball year-round until I moved to Memphis with my mother—where middle and high school coaches convinced me to add basketball and football to the mix. My student-athlete persona carried me all the way to a football scholarship at Kentucky’s Murray State University and then to a competitive roster position in the NFL with the Houston Texans.

Watch How a College Football Player went from Athlete to Yogi. 

I saw vague warning signs in college that this path I was on may not be sustainable: a stage-two quadriceps tear, multiple concussions, and misaligned hips that caused chronic back spasms—and I wasn’t even 21. The issues I would later face in the NFL weren’t so much physical, but mental: constant worrying about my job and financial security, shuffling from city to city, and that little voice in the back of my head that told me I wasn’t good enough to be playing pro football. This was, in my mind, confirmed when I was released by the Texans in 2011 to make room for players that the team had invested more money in during the …

Why Isn’t Yoga Covered By Health Insurance?

The short answer is, it’s complicated.

We spoke with John Kepner, executive director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), and Courtney Butler-Robinson, stress management specialist and yoga therapist for the Dean Ornish Reversal Clinic at Saline Heart Group in Benton, Arkansas, to find out why yoga therapy is largely uncovered by health insurance companies. Dean Ornish, MD, made headlines in 2010 for convincing insurance companies that yoga and meditation, when combined with proper diet and exercise, could reverse heart disease. To date, yoga therapy is covered only under the Ornish Reversal Program for heart disease, but some affiliated clinics, such as Saline Heart Group, are beginning to offer cancer care.

Yoga Journal: With all of its proven benefits, why is it so hard to get yoga covered by insurance?

John Kepner: That’s the big question. IAYT is a self-regulated organization—it’s all voluntary. We have standards and an accrediting body, continued education, certification, and an enforceable code of ethics, but we don’t yet have a certification exam. All professional health fields have some kind of exam. IAYT has just launched that effort, and I expect it will take another two years to complete. Those are necessary but not sufficient pillars when you’re talking about insurance. In most cases, but not all, insurance coverage extends to licenced health care fields.

Courtney Butler-Robinson: We are a wellness center and offer different programing. We recently extended into cancer care. The Ornish Reversal Program is the only program I know of where the whole thing, including yoga therapy, is covered by Medicare. Oftentimes, people who have cancer or have been given chemo will end up with heart problems, and in that case, we can often bill under that.

JK: One of my personal goals is yoga therapy insurance coverage for people …