Why don't more men practice Yoga?
It is obviously apparent of the health benefits of a strong yoga regiment. Most professional athletes practice yoga to strengthen their breathing, and to stretch muscles tightened during use. Since it helps smooth out tight muscles, yoga can be a wonderful complement to weight training. One Asana posture that’s ideal for those looking to develop upper body strength and muscularity is the chatturanga dandasana, which differs greatly from the standard push-up we all learned in gym class.
This yoga push-up is a precise, contained movement in which the body is held firm in one line like a plank of wood, leg muscles as tight as iron, and lower belly drawn in, hollowing out the abdomen. The hands are flat and fingers spread, and the elbows are pressed into the side ribs, as opposed to jutting out like chicken wings. This pulling back of the shoulders protects vulnerable shoulders from strain and wear.The pose itself requires a tremendous degree of overall body strength—especially core—to correctly execute it. Many strong guys who’ve put up impressive numbers in the bench have come into my class and been totally floored in attempting the correct practice of the chatturanga.
The Health Benefits. In Short.
Study after study has linked yoga to healing or at least slowing the onset of various chronic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, MS, and Parkinson’s. And for those among us who seem to be growing older every day, well it takes the kinks out of every nook and cranny of the body, leaving us fabulously renewed, open and fluid, and—when practiced correctly and with an experienced instructor—wonderfully pain-free.
The practice of Yoga is also known to help digestion, curb food cravings, increase creativity, boost brain function, and reduce cortisol levels, which reduces stress and improves sleep. Those all seem like some really great reasons to bring yourself to the mat, doesn't it?
A slice of Yoga
Although women seem to have cornered the market so far on yoga here in the West, that’s far from the case in India, its birthplace. Krishnamacharya, one of the fathers of what we consider “modern yoga,” developed his physically demanding poses at a school for boys, and many of the moves incorporated into today’s yoga sequences remain elusive for women, because they lack the upper-body strength to fully attain them.
There are currently many different forms of yoga, all of which have gained varying levels of popularity in the West. One of the most widely practiced is a form of vigorous Vinyasa or “flow” yoga, which has also been called “power” yoga. The Bikram, or “hot” method, utilizes a heated room to up the sweat factor and increase flexibility in muscles, while Hatha and Iyengar emphasize perfecting body alignment, symmetry, and form. Ashtanga yoga is a set series, akin to a martial art form. Yin Yoga is the practice of staying in certain poses for a length of time in an effort to stretch and loosen exceptionally tight muscles.
So Why do more men not show up to the studio?
Time to address and debunk 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. Just ask your teacher or local studio for a suggestion of what class to take.
You have to know all the pose names and jargon before you go
Think of it this way: You didn’t take the class Beard Shaving 101, because you already knew how to shave. You might have researched some good oils or wax to keep that beast under control when you decided to grow a beard, but who hasn't? It’s a class; you’re there to learn. Nobody is an expert when they start, and classes are often a mix of beginners to advanced practicioners. 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. My hamstrings are naturally inflexible, as are the case with many new students. Being inflexible can actually help as you learn the moves slowly and correctly, 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.
Yoga, on the other hand, offers us the chance to take a break from the noise of our lives and to hone our inward focus. When ideally and correctly practiced, the intention of yoga is a deliberate and conscious nurturing of ourselves. It is a well-deserved “time out” from the overwhelming sensory overload of our modern digital lives.
The most surprising and liberating byproduct of a consistent yoga practice is the realization that the doing of the yoga is the benefit; the experience is the goal. It’s the old adage of “the journey is the destination,” but rather than trying to understand this concept intellectually, the body and spirit begin to embody it.
And that’s the “goal” of yoga, if there is one: calm, clear, internal focus of the self. The fact that it will also empower your body and give you a strong, muscular, defined and long-lined physique happens to be a nice bonus for the yogi’s efforts.
I hope to see you all on your mat sometime soon!
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