When I first picked up yoga as a regular practice, it was like pulling teeth to get anyone I knew to come to class with me. Maybe it was the mythology, maybe it was the cultural stigmas ("yoga makes you too skinny," "it's for girls"). By the time I started teaching it, the reception was still mixed, with most of my friends choosing a "restorative" class (deep stretches meant to improve relaxation and flexibility, among other benefits) over a rigorous workout class.
As more celebrities step into the spotlight as yogis, I'm happily seeing more and more men give it a shot. Thanks to yoga, they are now enjoying better flexibility, improved performance in other sports, and less injury. So I'd like to finally address some of the issues that keep many men away from this ancient practice, and why it's exactly what they need.
Benefits of Yoga for Men
Digestion and Food Cravings
Everything from boosting your metabolism to giving you a better grip on your diet.
Creativity and Overall Brain Functioning
Focus, productivity, and creative insight are all improved thanks to time on the mat.
Quality and Quantity of Sexual Intimacy
Not only are endurance and stamina increased, but focus and connection can deepen thanks to the breathing practices of yoga. Yoga also teaches you to control your physical energy, meaning you can make sex more intense and make the "big moments" last longer. That should be reason enough to accompany your girlfriend to class!
Quality of Sleep and Relaxation
Yoga reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which means less stress and better sleep. What's not to love?
"Yoga for me has been a godsend for strength training and injury prevention. I have noticed a tremendous improvement in the performance of other activities I do (running, biking, and tennis) thanks to my regular practice of yoga."
-- Ryan, age 37, Spokane WA
Yoga's "Natural High"
Yes, miles logged on the treadmill do give that endorphin rush of satisfaction. But yoga has its own built-in natural high too, which is why you feel so good after a class. Many people call this the "post-yoga glow." Yoga workouts release the essential hormone Oxytocin, the "love hormone," which is the hormone that promotes feelings of well-being and happiness. More benefits of Oxytocin include relieved anxiety, increased sexual intimacy, increased desire for social interaction, and lower blood pressure.
Additionally, the mind-body connection accessed in a yoga class (through connecting movements to the breath, paying attention to the sensations of the muscles, etc.) is thought to be a naturally effective treatment of stress and depression (via UndergroundHealthReporter.com).
For more on the studies proving yoga's impact on the brain, see these numbers from Psychology Today.
Who practices yoga?
I always tried to draw men into class by promising a long, svelte, swimmer-esque physique, knowing that they'd fall in love with the flexibility and strength it gave them for other sports. But now, celebrities like Adam Levine and Colin Farrell do the talking. There are so many forms of yoga today that men can find the type that compliments their lifestyle best as well as offering the muscle definition they desire.
"I can't believe how it's improved my flexibility. Then after a few months of not doing yoga, I could barely get through a workout. I had no idea how much stronger it had made me."
-- Kevin, age 31, Austin TX
What to Expect/What to Bring
- Yoga classes consist of a set of postures held for varying amounts of time in accordance with the breath. "Flow" classes mean you'll be moving from pose-to-pose and likely raise your heart rate significantly. You will experience a mixture of standing poses, seated poses and deep stretches, and possibly balancing poses or inversions. Every class is different; be sure to bring an open mind.
- Typical yoga classes are one hour. An all-levels or beginner class is a great place to start as you learn the terminology and get comfortable with the poses. All-levels classes give you the benefit of altering the workout to your strength level per the instructors offered "modifications" (or, ways in which she suggests you can make poses harder or easier)
- A short meditation will likely open and close the class. This is a chance to focus your attention inward, and get rid of the stress of your day and devote your time and energy to yourself. What other moment in your entire day do you get this?
If you're looking for tips for improving or starting your meditation practice, or getting a few tips for that pre-yoga-meditation part of class, see this blog post.
- Wear clothes that are comfortable to move in. Think shorts that you can lunge in, but aren't too short for forward bends. Think shirts or tank tops that are breathable. Make no mistake: You will sweat!
- You will only need a yoga mat. If you do not own one already, call ahead to the studio to ask if they have mats to rent or borrow for the class. If not, you'd be surprised who sells yoga mats today! Don't think you have to spend $75 at a sports store; Burlington Coat Factory in New York City (of all places!) sells yoga mats for $8.
Misconceptions of Yoga for Men
Time to address the questions and issues holding you back from class:
Yoga is for women
Most lineages of yoga were started by men, and practiced only by men. Yoga sequences are designed to strengthen and open every single muscle in the body efficiently and effectively. That means that while machines at the gym target only one muscle without also improving it's mobility, every yoga move does both and to more than one muscle at a time. Think of downward dog, for example: while the calves are being elongated, the shoulders are building strength, holding the body up. The lower back is also getting a stretch, alleviating day-to-day tension, while the core can be activated by pulling the bellybutton to the spine. One move, many benefits. Can your shoulder press machine do that??
Yoga is easy; yoga isn't a good "workout"
Take one Ashtanga yoga class, and I bet you'll be singing a different tune. Ashtanga yoga is a style of specific postures held in flow-sequence (continual movement) for an hour or more. Many students, including myself, sweat buckets from Ashtanga. It's like getting your cardio and your weight training all in one, glorious hour. It's also a great practice in willpower, diligence, dedication, and patience.
You have to know all the pose names and jargon before you go
Think of it this way: You don't take a class Beard Shaving 101 because you already know how to do that. It's a class; you're there to learn. The instructor is there to help guide you through, and will not only explain how to move and when, but will also demonstrate the moves at the front of the class. The point is: Be a student again. One should never stop being a student.
You have to be flexible to practice yoga
Again, fortunately, not true. In fact, natural flexibility can be a disadvantage as you first start yoga. In my experience as a teacher, students who were naturally flexible often focused too much on going too far into a pose right off the bat. As a result, injuries are more likely and they also didn't give much attention to the muscle-strengthening moves either. I am naturally inflexible, as are many new students. This can actually help as you learn the moves, since your body will need to be eased into deep stretches. Not only that, you'll naturally build up the muscles around your joints as your practice improves, keeping them safer as you take on more challenging poses.
Yoga classes are too full of religion
If you want to know the philosophy of the studio before you go, just check out their "about page" or call and ask the front desk what to expect. I cannot make a statement for every studio in existence, but I can say that for the most part, no yoga class will ever ask you to convert, to pray, to practice any religious rituals, or subscribe to any philosophy.
One last note:
As teachers, we try to steer our student's attention to their own mat, not worrying about what another person is doing beside them or how they might look in a pose. Men are often the first to look around, and try to go as deep as the person on the mat beside them. But yoga isn't competitive; it's an individual sport. It's about taking care of your "temple," your body, by conditioning it and also appreciating and respecting it.
I'd love for you to give yoga a try, but I hope you try it mostly for yourself, with the knowledge that you deserve to live well.
As the body ages, it won't be able to do the same workouts and activities it did in younger years. Motion is Lotion, as they say, and yoga is one of the few work outs that can keep joints healthy and lubricated, as well as giving you the stamina and strength to live fully.
So while you'll enjoy toned muscles and an instant jolt to your performance in other sports, keep this in mind: Your workout should help you not only look and feel better, but live better in every aspect. And the people you love will thank you for it to, because you'll have the clarity and presence to truly connect, and keep the stress at bay. No matter your age or physical fitness level, it's never too late to start a practice that will help you live life to the fullest physically and emotionally.
A Man's Introduction to Yoga, Primer Magazine
Are You Man Enough for Yoga? Muscle and Fitness Magazine
7 Benefits of Yoga for Men, US News
10 Professional Athletes who Practice Yoga, Men's Fitness Magazine
5 Reasons Yoga and Strength Training Combine Perfectly,
10 Yoga Poses for Runners, Fitness Magazine
Rachael Yahne (@RachaelYahne) is a writer, blogger, and 10 year cancer survivor. You can read more of her articles about healing from life's big struggles, plus more on well-being, and living with passion on her website, HerAfter.com.
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