How men can benefit from yoga
Yoga increases flexibility, establishes mindfulness, and enhances athletic performance. If men reap so many benefits from practising yoga, why are dudes almost always outnumbered in yoga classes?
There is no denying the boom in yoga over the past decade in the western world. A US Yoga Journal market study reported that 4 out of 5 students are women and I’d have to say from my observation that would be even less here in NZ. From studying the origins of yoga and understanding its rich history that goes back thousands of years, it’s ironic that today most classes are filled with women.
Did you know that classical yoga was a male-only practice?
Yoga is a system of beliefs — specifically an eight-limbed path — which includes physical and mental exercises. This belief system was once entirely male and once isolated to India.
Yoga is a holistic practice where you can strengthen your muscles, become more flexible, clear headed and focused while improving your overall health and wellbeing - why would you not go to class? I’m going to attempt to clarify a few things that may be holding you or your guy back from this practice that can give you so many benefits.
Saying you’re not flexible enough to do yoga is like saying you’re too dirty to take a bath.
The most common thing I hear from men and one of the biggest misconceptions is, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.” The popular image of yoga can be partly to blame for this, the slim women in contorted positions are plastered everywhere to sell yoga clothes, yet this is not the true image of yoga. Yoga is for everyone, regardless of how flexible you are. It’s like saying, “I’m not strong enough to go to the gym and lift weights.” You’d start with light weights and build up. Yoga is the same, there are plenty of props and modifications to use so that you work your way into poses just like building strength in the gym.
Yoga is friggin’ hard! But you can’t master it!
There is so much to learn about yourself in the yoga practice, which is ultimately one of the main reasons people stay. But for those new to yoga, especially physically fit, strong, able men, this can be really confronting. These are the guys that will be panting and grunting their way through class wondering why it’s so hard. Even the most basic poses continue to challenge long-time practitioners. To do yoga is really to adopt an entirely new way of thinking, a way of thinking that is different and maybe even contrary to the way that men are accustomed to thinking in our Western society. There is nobody to beat and you can’t ‘win’ at yoga. Once guys get used to this way of thinking their yoga practice becomes a welcome relief from judgment and pressure.
Real men do yoga
It is well established that throughout its long history, yoga has been reserved for men, and usually only for those who exhibited great physical and mental prowess. Traditional asana is designed for men’s bodies with its straight lines and angles. It was only in the ‘60s and ‘70s as the Americans adopted a slower more gentle style of yoga, and marketed it at the the ‘stay at home mums’ that things changed. As yoga has been modernised, some of the worlds elite athletes like LeBron James, Novak Djokovic our very own All Blacks and New Zealand Warriors incorporate yoga into their training.
Something for everyone
There really is a style of yoga these days to suit everyone. There are strong power vinyasa practices for the more athletic person wanting more of a workout, slower steady styles to focus and discipline the mind, slow softer practice to relax and destress and aid muscle recovery. So if you go to a class that is too slow and relaxing for you then try something more dynamic (if thats what you want) or if your training is already strong then try a Yin or a restorative style to balance and focus the mind. The moral of the story is if you go to a class and don’t particularly like it, then don’t stop there. Keep searching until you find a teacher and a style that fits you.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of being a beginner. It takes years and years of dedicated yoga practice to really be able to hold your own in an open or advanced class. Accept this reality, and you can set off on the rewarding and challenging journey that is yoga. Let your ego get in the way, however, and you’ll find yourself continually frustrated and unable to get much out of your yoga experience.
Yoga can help you stress less, gain perspective and feel a whole lot better in your physical and mental self.
Nikki Ralston has been working with the human body for over 15 years. She devised the Ralston Method, which blends together elements of hatha, vinyasa, precision alignment and mindfulness teachings. She is also the owner of Urban Ashram in Auckland.