A guest post by Silica Larkin, RYT-500:
Articles in Men’s Fitness and Men’s Health, the Washington Post, New York Times, and others are touting the benefits of yoga for guys, and nationwide the number of men attending yoga classes is climbing. Better focus, better performance in other sports, better sleep and better romantic life are some of the many benefits reported by men who practice yoga. Add to that the fact that the physical postures that we think of as yoga were developed and practiced almost exclusively by men until very recently, and it seems only natural that more and more guys are rolling out their mats to get started reaping the physical and mental benefits of this ancient practice. Yoga is a non-percussive weight bearing exercise that emphasises mental clarity, fuller, smoother breathing, and full-body awareness. The equipment needed is minimal, it can be practiced indoors or outdoors, at home, at a gym or studio, or while travelling. It has helped many thousands of people find more energy, reduce medication, reduce pain, and report better quality of life.
Some of the reasons commonly given by men not to try yoga (or not to return) are that they will be ‘the only guy in class,’ ‘that they ‘are not flexible,’ that ‘it doesn’t seem very manly’ and concern that the the teacher will be too “mushy-gushy or spiritual.’ Luckily, the numer of men in yoga classes has been rising steadily over the last ten years. Many of the ‘big names’ of the yoga world are men, and more and more classes are being taught by male teachers, which may help make yoga feel more accessible to guys. It is true that, statistically, men tend to be less flexible than women. Ironically, this means that, generally speaking, men also have a lot more to gain than women, but starting out can be tough. Luckily, yoga’s popularity means that there is a larger spectrum of yoga to choose from, including all-male classes in some of the larger citites. If you don’t have any all-guy classes in your area, you may choose to begin with a class with the words “power” “vigorous” or “athletes” in the title or description to find a class that plays to your strength: strength. If you are rehabbing a bad back or other injury, even an old one, look for words like “gentle” “yin” “for every body” or “restorative.” Because men tend to be more stiff, they often benefit more from classes that move slowly and hold poses longer, giving the connective tissue sheathing around muscles time to ease into the posture and reducing the temptation to force yourself into poses using strength and leverage, which can lead to injury.
As with starting any other new physical endeavor, willingness combined with some self-respect for your body’s natural boundaries will go a long way toward making your new activity work for you. Most yoga asana (poses) strive to bring the musculature into a healthy balance of strength and flexibility. Men and women alike are often surprised at how effective yoga can be at building strength, especially in our weaker areas. Yoga can truly be a panacea and the perfect cross-training regime. Like anything else, though, it is posible to injure yourself doing yoga, and it’s definitely one arena where a ‘no pain, no gain’ attitude is more of a liability than an asset. It’s important to know that any kind of sharp, shooting, burning, tearing, or other ‘risky pain’ sensation is a clear signal to back off–“pushing through” sensations like these will not help and could seriously hurt you. Questionable sensations in at-risk areas such as the knees, neck, low back, or anywhere you have been injured should also be taken very seriously. In cases like these, the most long-term benefit comes from modifying or taking an alternate pose that eliminates or greatly reduces the risky sensation. For these reasons, Yoga Teachers that have more experience working with men, athletes, the elderly or other populations and teachers who regularly offer and encourage modifications may be worth seeking out. The teacher bios on yoga studio websites can give you a better idea if the class will be a good fit. Look for terms like “rehabilitative” or “yoga therapy” and a focus on students as unique individuals.
Yoga is (mostly) a non-competitive sport, and long-term rewards come from a long-term perspective–dedication to a regular practice will yeild results over time. As the number of men trying yoga to improve their game, ease chronic pain, sleep better, create better overal health and vitality and other reasons increases, this beneficial exercise will only become more ‘normal’ for guys of all ages, activity levels and backgrounds.