First, a disclaimer:
I'm not a dude.
However, I teach enough of you to be an expert in GUYS, or the Guy's Unawareness of Yoga Syndrome, which culminates in a few different ways. Mostly, though, it ends up keeping you away from a fitness practice that can benefit you in so many ways.
Dude...you gotta try yoga.
It's worth it for me to go there with you potential Yoga Dudes, since the effects you get can be as good or better than any other workout you do.
Now I know, not all of you men are this Dude I'm speaking to. I get it: you're spiritual, you love yoga, and you're good at it, too. This article is not aimed at you. It's for the true Dude, that often overlooked type of man that we assume isn't ever setting foot in a yoga class. They're too busy doing guy sports and gym stuff and drinking after work beers with their buddies.
But let me tell you this, buddy: yoga can be for you, too.
I teach guys just like you every day, and watch their bodies change into a lean, not so mean, but chiseled, strong and flexible work of art. I watch them start to deal with their stress on the mat, not at the bar, and they keep coming back--even without the girlfriend.
Then, in the final coup de Dude, they start bringing their after-work crew to the studio. And that is one fine day for us all.
Allow me to bust some common dude-oriented myths, assuage your worries, and clarify some of the protocol for entering the yoga world, so you might be more likely to try it, and who knows? You might actually like it, too.
Here are the top 10 things I hear from actual dudes about why they're holding back from trying yoga. See if any of them applies to you...or the Dude in your life.
Note: I'll soon be introducing a born-and-bred dude: my longtime student and friend, NYC architect Brent Leonard. This man looks like a cross between Jason Statham and...some other really cute man. So, in true dude form, I'm going to call him by his last name.
1. "I'm going to look stupid in front of my girlfriend. Or...whoever's girlfriend that is next to me."
Despite the whole " we like you better when you're human" thing we keep telling you about, some guys are still hesitant to look less than manly while teetering around like a drunken sailor in Tree Pose, or doing something they haven't lettered in on a high school team.
Leonard calls this "YPA, or Yoga Performance Anxiety," and it ain't just for the bedroom anymore.
Yes, there will always be some things women tend to do more easily in yoga class. Like hip openers and looking cute in yoga clothing. However, you too can master the poses. It just takes time, Grasshopper.
There are usually two levels of students in the floor stretches: the higher one is made up mostly of men. The lower level: hellooo, ladies. I see the worried looks from the male section when they see what the human body is capable of in Pigeon Pose. I know this sounds like a mass generalization, and it is. Because it's generally true.
However, there are many poses in which men tend to have home court advantage. I see the tables turn when arm balances and stamina poses like the Warriors come into play. I have seen many a near breakup occur when some dude wanders into class for his first time and nails Crow Pose, the same one his girlfriend has been coveting and working to attain for years.
One cool thing about yoga is that it's the Great Equalizer: practice enough, and your hips will open, while she'll eventually be floating in that arm balance right next to you.
2. "I'm about as flexible as a rebar".
The more you lift weights, run, bike, whatever, without stretching, the more you will begin to resemble a guy walking around holding two invisible suitcases. And your back will really, really start to hurt.
Do I even need to tell you for which extracurricular activities you'll want to maintain a flexible pelvis and back?
When I say "stretching", I don't mean a couple of foot-flexors on a park bench after your jog. The body needs a holistic, all-around flexibility program to maintain long, lean muscles, and keep you moving freely for a lifetime.
Yoga saves you time by multitasking the stretches right into the strength movements. So as you work, you stretch, which Men's Health Magazine said gives you 75% more muscle mass than just working the muscle alone. And if they say it..it's golden.
So, a Golden Rule of Yoga is: To Become More Flexible, Start Stretching
As Leonard says, "You get more flexible as you practice which somehow didn't register at the start, and after a couple of years doing it, it seems like a miracle when I land in a pose that used to look impossible."
So, practice enough, and you'll cease to resemble Yoda going on Vacation.
3. "I don't know what to wear."
Although in all my years of dating, I'd never heard this sentence uttered by any man, for any reason, even just before a wedding, I now hear it a lot when it comes to yoga.
Three main things you must know about doing yoga and your attire:
1) You will be barefoot, so bust out the tough actin' Tinactin if you need it before giving those puppies some air.
2) The Aerosmith T-shirt you've had since college? That sucker will fly over your head faster than you can say "Down Dog", revealing the true Beer Karma you've built up around your middle. Stay cool, and covered instead: go for one of those Fruit of the Loom tight sleeveless tank tops instead. Yeah, yeah...I know what they're called.
3) If you go into your drawer, and pull out a pair of those tiny runner's shorts from when you were going to run the marathon a few years (and a few pounds) back...put them right back in. Remember: you will be moving in new and interesting ways, and believe me..the teacher sees all.
4. 'Yoga is for Wussies."
By "wussies", I know you mean "girls." It's cool. But I still shake my head in wonder at any man who sees a whole roomful of beautiful women, and says,
"Oh, no, that's not the place for me."
And, though yoga was created by a bunch of guys, which should speak for itself, I still will refer you to reasons #5 and #7.
5. " I can't get a good workout from yoga!"
I know there's this crazy myth that says yoga isn't cardio, and won't burn that many calories. It all depends on the type of yoga you choose.
A flowing style like Vinyasa, Power Yoga or Ashtanga with a challenging instructor that keeps you moving can blast as many calories as any hour you spend at the gym.
Enter the personal trainer from Equinox who came up to me after class last week, and shook my hand. He said, " I've been training people to lift weights for 10 years, and I'm pretty hardcore. I've never had my butt whipped like that before...and I loved it!"
He's been back three times since then, amazed at how good he feels at the same time he's trying to do a full on handstand like this wussy, or on his 10th breath in Chaturanga, a.k.a the hardest pushup, ever
6. "I like hamburgers too much to start with this veggie-loving yoga stuff."
I'm with you. In fact, I was with you last night when I picked up some prime Angus steaks from the store.
Yeah, the store was Trader Joe's, and yes, the meat was organic, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free. But that's just smart. And good with pepper sauce too.
Some yogis feel they need to adopt a certain diet to reach their goals. I say, whatever your chosen diet, be as aware as you can about choosing food in a way that helps balance the world. Less meat, and WAY less factory farmed meat? I support it.
But a true yoga teacher will never judge your path, your plate, or view you as less yogic because of it. Period.
7. "Yoga won't build my muscles"
Every day I teach, I see the body-weight lifting process of yoga build ripped abs, sculpted bodies, and men that look like they should be in a catalog. In fact...many of them actually are.
If male models do yoga...don't you think you should consider it?
8. "I Don't Want to Waste My Gym Time."
When in the gym, it's often a choice between doing cardio, stretching or lifting weights.
With yoga, you actually save time by multitasking all three things at once. You get your heart pumping with a vigorous style. You lift your body weight with tons of muscle groups at once, not just a bicep here and a tricep there.
While you're doing these things, you're stretching, and releasing stress, focusing your mind, and learning how to breathe efficiently for more endurance and more detox.
Yoga saves not only time but your body from wearing down through the repetitive stress of your gym and weight routines. In fact, it can cross-train you spectacularly to keep you doing what you do for longer.
Here's Leonard: " I approach other physical activities very differently and am now conscious of the integration of the core in everything. I can swim easily for miles, and even run better, I think because of learning to breathe more effectively. And also, I can't wait to get to the gym and strength train the day after a yoga class, because I feel my movements and lifting have become more fluid and effective."
9. "I'd Rather Die Than Om."
Yoga, like everything else, runs the spectrum from " This totally works for me" to somewhere around the orbit of Jupiter.
There are people who Om, people who talk about Krishna, and then there are teachers who bring in a Jason Statham quote from the movie Snatch, like "I fail to recognize the correlation between losing ten grand, hospitalizing Gorgeous, and a good deal." and then teach you how to find the good deal within any bad deal...and then Om. I pride myself on being the latter.
The Om, fyi, is an empty sound that we put our own meanings into as a dedication to our ultimate goals before we begin the class. You Om [or at least listen] because you're going to need your dedication in 15 minutes when your quadriceps are screaming uncle.
Yoga is a personal path of transforming into what you most want to become, not a religion. It helps you to act with integrity, learn the Warrior's Way and see the bigger picture about your life so stress and responsibilities don't get the best of you.
If I can show you how doing a yoga pose can help you reach your goals in life, without you feeling culted out or woo-woo'ed to death, then I'm doing my job. You should know why you're doing, or saying everything you do in yoga class.
If the teacher can't give you a satisfactory explanation that parallels your real life, and that you can get behind, look elsewhere.
Find an instructor who speaks to you...not preaches at you.
10. "My Tribe Isn't There"
This is different from #4, in that the focus shifts from "There are only girls here" to "There aren't any other guys!"
Well, this one used to be true, but more and more, it's changing. My classes have a pretty solid 2/3 women, 1/3 guys. And these are often men very much like you.
Leonard says, "I confess that I do a quick survey in class of how many other guys are there and in the odd instance of being the only one (once in two years), my Neanderthal side feels alone...probably one reason why I'm interested in helping to change the misperceptions."
So, one way to solve the issue--bring your friends.
Another way is to realize that it's not just the guys in your class who are your new yoga comrades, but the guy in the subway, in the store, at the gym carrying yoga mats just like you. You won't say anything, you'll just give--and get--a knowing lift of the chin.
Yoga, my man, is the new Fight Club.
All in all, yoga class can be as rewarding for you as it is for any other segment of the population that walks into a studio for the first time. Though it might seem daunting, remember, we welcome you as you are, and the only competition is between you, and you. And boy, it can get fierce!
Leonard adds, "Despite other people around, the energy you get from them is of support and the practice is really an experience about yourself.
It does become an analogy for all of life's situations: think first before reacting and move through it using breath and all of the grace and personal integrity you can create."
Couldn't have said it better myself, dude.
Now, In case you want to try some yoga:
4 GREAT POSES FOR GUYS:
DOWN DOG SPLITS TO CORE PLANK:
Warms and opens your shoulders, sculpts your upper body, works the abs as you release your lower back muscles.
How To: Come into the top of a pushup. Draw your navel in and lift your hips up and back until you're in a V shape. If it's hard to get your arms straight-ish, or your lower back is rounding way up, bend your knees. Put the curve back in your lower back, and stretch through your hands.
Inhale, lift one leg into the air. Exhale, round your knee to chest as you move your shoulders over wrists. Repeat 5-10 times on both sides, then place your knees on the floor, head lowers near the floor on your stacked fists, and breathe.
It's great at parties to answer the "show me a yoga pose" demand, and to build a sense of accomplishment. Works your arms, inner thigh adductors, and abdominals too.
How To: Get your hands on the floor, fingers forward. Bring your knees high on your outer arms and squeeze them in. Round through your back, look forward, and slide your chest forward of your hands to hover your feet off the floor.
Strengthens and stabilizes the lower body; builds your warrior nature to help you focus and dedicate to your goals, stretches hamstrings, calves and inner thighs.
How to: Stand at the front of your mat, step one foot back as far as you can and still get the back heel down to the floor. Your back foot points forward at 45 degrees, your front foot points completely forward.
Bend your front knee, but not past your ankle. Let your hips face diagonally open to the same direction as your back toes, but spin your chest and face forward in the direction as your front toes.
Lift your arms up, and breathe. 5-10 breaths on this side, them step forward, and repeat.
It's a magic pose that targets many stretches at once: it unlocks tight hips, IT band, hamstrings, iliopsoas, quads, releases sciatica and lower back tension. If you run, lift, play sports, walk, or are alive...this stretch is crucial.
On hands and knees, bring your right knee behind your right wrist. Walk your back leg straight out as far as it will go behind you. Moe your right foot forward a little till it's under your left hip joint or farther forward. Don't grab it with your hands, just move where your body can go by itself.
Bring your hands in front of you or forearms down to a couple of phone books or, eventually, the floor. Keep your hips centered in space and press your legs lightly into the floor to help protect your muscles as you stay and breathe into this deep stretch for 2 minutes.
Return to hands and knees, repeat on the other side. When your hips almost touch the floor, you will have transformed your lower body and low back.