Guys. Yoga IS For You.
Your wife is doing yoga. Your sister is doing yoga. Your girlfriend is doing yoga. Heck! Where are all the guys? Do they do yoga, too? Indeed they are, but not as many as there should be. You've thought about trying it yourself, but you're just not sure about it. You're hesitant about the whole thing. We get it. It's totally expected. You're not sure if it's right for you, but let's address some of the questions guys ask about yoga. Let's see if it's something that IS right for you.
"Why do I need yoga? How will it help me?"
You've heard that yoga can help with flexibility. You know you're probably not as limber as you used to be, so maybe yoga can help with that. Do you play any sports? Perhaps you want to improve your golf game, or basketball layup, or you want to keep up your endurance on the soccer field. Yoga has been known to improve your stamina so you can maintain your competitive edge. If you want to stay active on the field, or court, or even in the weight room, yoga can assist you there, too. Feeling stiff or sore after those heavy workouts? Yoga will help with lengthening those worked up muscles and increase your recovery time so your body is ready to hit the weights again. And what about that tension you've been building up at work? Your tight shoulders, those headaches, the stress of a deadline. Yoga can certainly help you reduce anxiety and stress so that you can be more focused, motivated, and productive on the job. Maybe you already knew that yoga could possibly help with all these things, but what's stopping you from heading into a yoga class?
"Where's all the guys?"
If you've peeked into a yoga studio, you've probably noticed that most of the students are probably women. They are there with their best friends, sporting their yoga outfits, and seem to be very good at this yoga thing. It's pretty obvious that they have been doing this for awhile: they have the right equipment, they know the proper movements, the names of the yoga poses. A little intimidating, right? We get it. It's no fun walking into a situation where it seems everyone else already knows what to do, but you feel a little unprepared. Guys like to know what they're doing. But we all have to start somewhere. We were all beginners at some time; whether it was learning to change the oil in the car, play baseball, or drafting plans for a new high rise, you had to learn the basics first. We all don't step into a situation as a pro.
But we understand; you don't want to be seen as "the new guy," the dude that's inflexible, or the one in class that falls out of balancing poses. But guess what? You don't have to worry about that; you're not in a yoga class to impress anyone else. Yoga is not a competitive sport. You are there for YOU. You don't already have to be good at yoga to do it. Yoga is considered a "practice;" it takes time, effort, and consistency to learn it, just like everything else you have already learned.
But you're still wondering where all the guys are. Let's take a trip back in time for a moment to understand a little bit about the history of yoga. Back in the day.....yoga was primarily practiced by men and boys. The yoga movements and postures helped them build a stronger core, opened their hips, and straightened their spines allowing them to sit comfortably for longer periods of time, mainly for silent meditation. With continuous and consistent practice, these boys grew into productive, well-rounded, self-aware, strong men. They were not only athletic, limber, and agile, but also had focused minds as a result of their regular yoga practice. So what happened? Aren't these great traits for any man to have? Why did men stop practicing yoga? Or did they?
Well, as yoga eventually made it's way westward in the 20th century, its popularity grew just as the aerobic exercise and "jazzercize" scene exploded. Yoga was showing up in gyms, studios, and recreation centers and it was women that were gravitating to this new source of exercise; they saw immediate benefits from the physical practice and never turned back. Meanwhile, the guys were left in the dust. But it's time to jump back into the game! It's time for guys to return to the yoga mat. And don't worry...it's not too late. (It's never too late to start yoga.) If your body feels like a bag of rocks and you're as enlightened as a dark room, you can still make strides as a new yogi. Here are some reasons why you should start now.
Many people step into a yoga class for the first time knowing that they are already stiff and have heard that yoga can help them regain flexibility. That is true! Flexibility is a great byproduct of practicing yoga. The misconception that keeps some men away from a yoga class, however, is that they think they already need to be flexible in order to do yoga. That is NOT true! Come as you are, guys! As said, if you're stiff as a board, then a yoga class should be high on your priority list. Don't worry that you're not flexible right now. In fact, yoga may come a little easier to you when you're on the stiffer side. Why, you ask? Let's use the example of a trained female ballet dancer. She probably is VERY flexible; her range of motion is much farther than the average person. When she goes to a yoga class, doing certain poses, like a standing forward fold, for example, she can probably touch her toes with no problem. Because her hamstrings are already stretched out, moving into a posture like this has no substantial significance (except maybe to maintain her flexibility.) Now...when YOU, the stiff board, move into a forward fold, you may feel your hamstrings light up the second you bend 30 to 45 degrees. If you stayed in this posture (and I would suggest putting a slight to moderate bend in your knees and resting your hands on your thighs to start) and continued to breathe deeply (something your yoga instructor will instruct you to do), guess what? You're doing yoga! That's it! You're gaining the benefit of this simple pose without needing to touch your toes. The ballerina, on the other hand, has to work much harder in order to feel a stretch in her hamstrings. Bottomline, guys, come as you are to a yoga class. It's actually great that you're not already flexible. Overtime, with patience and consistence, you WILL see an improvement in your overall flexibility.
Clear Your Mind
You've probably heard, too, that yoga can help you relax, think more clearly, and relieve you of stress. These are also true benefits of practicing yoga. But another misconception of yoga is that you're gonna sit around on pillows in an incense-filled room chanting and breathing for hours on end. Of course, there are styles of yoga where sitting and meditating is the general practice which can lead to the benefits listed above. But what if that's not your cup of tea (or bag of chips?) Find a yoga class that fits your personality. If you're a laid back guy and wouldn't mind engaging in some breathing techniques to soothe your mind, then perhaps a mindful meditation practice is right up your alley. But what if you're an active guy and you cringe at the thought of sitting still for too long? Try another style: Power Yoga or Hot Yoga - these more physically demanding practices not only focus on the flexibility you're looking for, but imbedded in the moving practice is mindful, meditative techniques that create a sense of clarity that you're also looking for. This is a very cool feature of yoga: you go to a hot yoga class to get your sweat on, but you leave feeling relaxed and clear-minded.
Yoga Compliments EVERYTHING
Yoga is for everyone. It can be seen as a complimentary activity to every other thing you do in your life. If you're a gym rat, getting those muscles pumped and ripped, yoga is going to help you stretch out those muscles and help you recover more quickly before your next assault in the gym. Yoga is for the athlete as well as the stationary person. If you're a nine-to-fiver, stuck in the office cubicle all day, then yoga is definitely for you. Yoga will not only improve your posture from sitting all day, it may even make you like your job even more! And it goes without saying, yoga can improve your sex life! You'll be more agile, flexible, have more stamina, and your blood flow increases. (Google "yoga studios" now.)
By and large, there really isn't any reason why you shouldn't start a yoga practice, guys. Granted, men are still the minority in the yoga studio, but that shouldn't discourage you from attending a class. In addition to the physical benefits, de-stressing your anxious mind, and enhancing what you do behind closed doors, you also form great friends and bonds with people in this inclusive community (men and women) who are just like you - in search of a little happiness and flexible hamstrings!
Still not convinced? Ok. How about some yoga poses you can do on your own at home that can help improve your core strength and leg flexibility? Try these yoga postures to get a taste of what you could experience when you go to a yoga class at the gym or in a yoga studio.
Boat Pose: This is a great introductory core strengthening posture that you can practice at home, in the office, or at the gym. It will build stamina and endurance in your body by stabilizing your abdominal muscles.
Sit on the floor. Lean back so you can lift your feet off the floor. It's recommended that you flex your feet to keep your legs engaged. Hold onto the bend in your knees to keep your upper body lifted, but maintain the leaning back position in your body. (Essentially, your body is forming the shape of a "V," but it's ok to keep you knees bent.) The key here is to take a long inhale to lengthen your spine, and a slow exhale to engage your abdominal muscles. Hold this pose for at least 30 seconds while you're still breathing in and out. Eventually, you'll be able to hold this posture for much longer.
This posture fosters great strength in your center. It even allows you to stand up taller and adds a sense of confidence to your demeanor. Having this core strength allows you to take on challenges and face obstacles that you thought were impossible. Further, core strength provides full body support. When you engage your ab muscles, you create a bracing feeling throughout your body that fully supports you. That physical support translates well to mental and emotional support in the long run, too. And it goes without saying, core postures, like Boat Pose, define your abs, too. Who doesn't want a ripped six pack?
BEND OVER BACKWARD
Much of our daily activities involve being hunched over: we are bent over our computers at the office and our steering wheels while sitting in traffic. This can wreak havoc to your posture; you'll end up in a constant slouching position. Not good! Practicing backbends can counteract that hunch-back feeling.
Bridge Pose: After you practice Boat Pose, lie back on the floor, knees bent, and feet firmly planted into the floor. Take a deep breath in to fill up your lungs and open your chest. When you exhale, press your feet strongly into the ground and lift your hips off the floor. This is Bridge Pose. Another basic posture, but demonstrates the re-opening of the front body that we all need. Not only is this a great antedote to that slouching body, but it also stretches and opens your thighs, hips, and abs.
TWIST & SHOUT
Another set of poses that you want to add to your new yoga regime is twisting postures. Why are these important? When you think about your most common movements, you do a lot of twisting and turning. This can create a lot of wear-and-tear on your back and hips. Might be a good idea to strengthen these areas and twisting postures can help with that.
Seated Twist: Sit up from your Bridge Pose and cross your legs. To set up the pose, do these things first: place your left hand on your right knee and place your right hand on the floor behind you. Now you're ready to twist. Take a deep breath in to sit up as tall as you can and when you exhale, engage your abs, then take a mild rotation toward the right. Now, you DON'T have to twist too far. That's not the point. You're just creating a mild twist to engage your oblique muscles. Hold this posture for a few breaths. Holding this pose will strengthen the areas around your rib cage, back and hips. Be sure to repeat this on the other side.
STRETCH 'EM OUT
Seated Forward Fold: Sit on the floor (or yoga mat) with legs extended in front of you. Flex your feet to engage your leg muscles. (If you need to, keep a slight bend in your knees. You can also place a rolled up towel underneath them for more support.) Inhale to extend your arms into the air. As you exhale, while hinging from the hips, start to slowly fold forward. To involve more of your hamstrings in this yoga posture, lead with your chest toward your toes rather than dropping your head down toward your knees. This creates more flexion in the back initially. Instead, you want to feel this more in your legs at first. To get an effective stretch and release of those tight hamstring muscles, you don't have to force or push your body too hard (or fast) into the pose. It is better (and more yogic) to go slowly, gently, and to only go to the point where you feel the sensation of a stretch that doesn't create a stress-response in the body. (Remember the example of the flexible ballerina above.) Hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute before releasing.
SIT LIKE A SHOE MAKER
Cobbler's Pose: This is a common and effective posture that opens the hips. Still in your seated position, bring the soles of your feet together so they touch. Your knees will naturally drop open to the side. Sitting tall like this can gently open the hips, but if you're needing more sensation, begin a fold forward (much like the movement described above.) You want to feel this in the inner thighs and hips rather than too much in the low back.
Remember, these are basic yoga postures, but they pack a big punch. They are poses you will encounter when you go to a full-length yoga class. The above postures are designed to get you started in a regular yoga practice and provide a great benefit to you as you're starting out. If you practice them regularly (try 3 days during your work week, and 1 day during the weekend), you'll notice a difference in your body (and mind). You will also see some improvements in other areas like your sports team or in the board room. So what are you waiting for? Try some of these poses today....and we will see you soon in yoga class!