Yoga for men
(Or why every man needs to add yoga to his workout)
It’s strange to think that the original practitioners of yoga were almost exclusively men in ancient India when, nowadays, the majority of yoga devotees are women in the west.
There are lots of reasons why men don’t do yoga. Often it comes down to long-held misconceptions about needing to be flexible or spiritual or religious or a vegetarian. But the truth is, you do not need to be any of these things to take part and, once you’ve overcome your reservations, you’ll find that a regular yoga practice has a lot to offer you.
If you’re a guy reading this and you’re not doing yoga, you’re really missing out. Here are just a few important reasons why:-
You’ll improve your strength.
Although Yoga is usually associated with flexibility, it is actually strength that is more important in the early stages of your yoga practice. A regular well-rounded practice will help you to develop muscular strength throughout the whole body - not just selected areas. An added bonus is that you may find your continued practice helps you to develop better mental strength and determination.
You’ll improve your flexibility.
We all know that tight muscles are more likely to get injured. Your regular yoga practice will help to release your tight spots and encourage your full range of motion so that you move more safely, easily and efficiently.
You’ll improve your overall health.
A regular practice will confer a long list of other health benefits too such as improved immune function, better sleep, stronger bones, improved digestion, better concentration and reduced blood pressure. Not to mention how it will help you to manage your stress and anxiety and help you to find calm in a manic world.
Okay let’s say you’re a little bit curious now and ready to give it a go but you’re nervous about getting started and not sure what to expect?
If you’re nervous about getting started, here are my top ten tips to get you practising...
1. Keep an open mind. Whatever you may have read about what yoga for men is and what it isn’t, come to class with an open mind. The experiences you have as you practise will be unique to you. Some people come to class to stretch out and touch their toes, others to manage a back problem, others want to learn how to relax or to cope with stress, others come to improve athletic performance. Whatever your reason, just approach the practice openly and without any preconceptions.
2. Lose the competitiveness. We live in a competitive, results-driven society. One of the joys of yoga is that it gives you an opportunity to step away from this, allowing you to switch off from the stresses of the outside world and enjoy the simple pleasure of moving your body and connecting with your breath.
3. Mats and props. We yoga teachers know that not everyone is possessed of a flexible body. This is where having props such as mats, blocks, bricks and straps make such a difference helping you to comfortably achieve poses that would otherwise be out of reach. Help yourself to as many props as you need before the class begins and ask the teacher to show you how to use them.
4. What to wear. The clothes you wear should be comfortable but also make sure that they are not too baggy as the teacher will need to see the contours of your body to check your alignment is correct. Also don’t forget that when you’re doing some of the upside down poses, clothes will ride up so make sure tops are fitted or can be tucked in. Also remember to bring a jumper and socks for the relaxation section at the end of your practice.
5. Do a little research. Do a little research about the teacher and class that you are thinking about attending. If possible, ensure that the teacher is fully qualified - you want to be confident you will be in safe hands and receive proper instruction in good alignment.
6. Breath awareness. The breath is one of the most powerful tools that we learn to work with in yoga. Becoming aware of your breath and then later learning to control it, will help you to relax, hold your postures for longer and move more deeply into them. This will often have a knock-on effect helping you to reduce your anxiety, manage stress and sleep better.
7. Listen to your own body. Yoga recognises that every single body is different and what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Although a well-qualified teacher will be checking to ensure correct alignment, modify the posture as you need to ensuring that it is right for your body. If something doesn’t feel right, stop. Use props when you need to (see above).
8. Get used to slow, controlled movement to develop strength. In yoga, a lot of poses are held in static form in which the muscles are engaged isometrically (holding the fibres long against resistance). Get used to establishing a different kind of control over your own body.
9. Give yourself permission to relax. This is so, so important. Nervous exhaustion is common in both men and women and one of the key elements of yoga is learning tools to rest, relax and restore our nervous system.
10. Dive in and enjoy! Finally, don’t be be afraid to just dive in and get started. Like so many men before you, it may well be one of the best things you ever did.
Photo credit : Patrick Beach and Men’s Yoga