The discrimination of mothers against men – @JivaHealth yoga is now the frontline of the gender debate

I’m still slightly, well, shocked by this, so this may be somewhat less measured than I’d like, but I think you’ll agree that I have some grounds on which to feel somewhat cross.

As previously mentioned I started going to a Mum and Baby yoga class at Jiva Health in Wimbledon. To recap why, a couple of years ago I developed really bad sciatica, that was stopping me do any exercise. Yoga was basically what got me last this. And I enjoy it! It is hard work but rewardingly different to the sports I play. And as parents will understand, fitting any evening class in around work and bath/bed time is hard. So the opportunity to start doing yoga once a week whilst on APL is really quite a luxury, and one that’s good for me to boot.

Although Mum didn’t understand why, before I just turned up at the class I called ahead to ask whether it would be OK for me as a Dad to come – after brief consultation with the teacher, they agreed. I did that precisely because I could see that they might object. All the staff I met in the 5 classes I attended were very supportive and welcoming of me, and another bloke even turned up at one point.

However I’ve had a (very polite) email from Jiva Health this week saying that after women had made a couple of enquiries relating to both Junior and I, they are going to enforce the “Mum and” bit of the class’ description. The complaints were two-fold:

  1. Junior now being a very capable crawler, he is apparently making a mother feel uncomfortable by encroaching on their mats. This is the one that particularly gets me. HE IS A BABY. JUST LIKE ALL THE OTHER BABIES IN THE CLASS. The class is described as being for babies up to 18 months. Most babies will be walking by that point. So any mother who is uncomfortable with a crawling child is in for a real shock when her little darling – currently lying placidly wherever she is left – starts going, well, everywhere. Would this mother be as concerned if it was Junior’s Mum who was attending? I doubt it – so why not admit the issue is with a man attending, instead of blaming my completely innocent son? Especially given there are other equally mobile babies in the class.
  2. That as there are new mothers they are uncomfortable with a man being present when feeding, or presumably talking about women’s issues. I understand this, and that is why I asked if it was OK in the first place, and why I’m not going to push to keep going. However, I do have a few comments.

I am (quite clearly) a father as I am looking after my son, and hopefully a supportive one at that. My girlfriend gave birth to said son, I was present, and have seen and talked to her about any and all of the issues that are likely to come up in a public yoga class. She breastfeeds, as do a number of the other NCT girls. As a guy breastfeeding is slightly awkward when it’s not your partner, but I hope we are all grown up enough to realise that all women have breasts, and that I’m not using it as an excuse to take a sneaky-peek or anything. Obviously others’ feelings are difficult to anticipate and I can sympathise that a strange man could feel intrusive, especially in the early days when a mother is still trying to build confidence in breastfeeding – it took my girlfriend a couple of months to become fully comfortable with feeding in public (and now thinks nothing of sticking Junior on the booby with only the smallest concessions to “modesty” – which I utterly applaud and am very proud of). Hence why I’m not going to demand a place or do anything drastic.

However, I’m still left feeling disappointed that although equality is still talked about, it isn’t accepted by everyone, on both sides of the gender divide. How can men be expected to consider themselves equals in childcare while there is still the veil of “women’s issues” to hide behind? While I’m not for mandating discussion of gynaecological complaints in public, as for any other medical issue – but is it so hard to believe that men can at least listen and empathise, if not truly understand? How many women see a male doctor at some point in their pregnancy? Won’t men’s understanding only increase when they’re part of the conversation?

I’m also disappointed with Jiva Health. I understand their reason that it is described as a “Mum and Baby” class, and they want to keep it that way, not least as the custom of 2 young mothers is likely to continue long after my 3 months is up.

A Solution?

However, Jiva Health have just started another “Mum and Baby” class every week. My solution would be to call that “Parent and Baby”? This would make clear that men might attend, leaving a women-only class for those that are really uncomfortable with men’s presence, whilst allowing those small number of yoga-practicing, full-time Dads the chance to continue their practice? But that isn’t what’s happened. Sure, there may be many months when there are no men in the class – but at least give us a chance?

While I’m disheartened, this is but one unanticipated stop on the ride that is looking after Junior – hopefully we can find another yoga place, and we’ll try again!

 

Not-just-for-mums Mother and Baby Yoga @jivahealth

A couple of years before Junior arrived I started to struggle with a really bad back – so bad that I thought I was going to have to give up playing rugby. Then I started going to yoga. And it was a revelation as far as my back and fitness was concerned. I even found a style (Iyengar) that suits someone like me with absolutely no natural aptitude for yoga at all. Despite having all the flexibility commonly associated with a plank of wood, I was able to get into (some of) the poses.

I've decided to use Junior as an excuse to start going again (time is much more precious with him around, and l haven't been able to find a class that fits our schedule) yet my trepidation at attending a “Mother and Baby” yoga class was less to do with it being “mothers” (rooms full of women are baby-standard) it was more how I'd combine trying to make my body do things in many cases I firmly believe it wasn't designed to do with managing a mobile infant.

Fortunately, Jiva Health were very accommodating and friendly – never mind Dads, apparently mobile infants aren't really the norm, as mothers get worried about them being too disruptive from the crawling stage. I was told this as we were about to go into the class, so wasn't sure quite what to make of it…

The yoga itself was good (teacher was calm and helpful) if understandably simple, and interspersed with songs for the little ones. Junior was the only independently mobile child, yet actually stayed away from the other babies. Mostly! However he hasn't had quite such a good week this week as last, and was quite grumpy and clingy for the second half – unfortunate as this was the set of poses I can actually do…and relaxation involved me and him playing with the blinds as opposed to contemplating our inner peace. In fairness to him, we had done Gymboree earlier in the morning and it wasn't the usual level of stimulation or attention he prefers.

However I felt it was worth it – everyone was a bit surprised to see a Dad, but were very welcoming, and I'll defintely be going back. If only so I can try to remember the theoretical feeling of relaxation, if not the actual feeling!