Yoga can be intimidating. It’s very different from what most guys are typically used to for fitness, and going to a Yoga studio has a different vibe than the gym. It may be hard to believe that a Yoga class could be more beneficial for men than our typical gym workout. It wasn’t until I developed a personal Yoga practice that I realized my own true mental and physical strength. I don’t expect a CrossFit athlete, runner, or weight lifter to change sports and start doing Yoga 5 days a week, and I don’t expect everyone to have the same transformation experience as I did. I am certain that adding Yoga a few times a week can provide men with tremendous benefits-game changers for their everyday life and sports of choice.
History of men in yoga
Before discussing some benefits of Yoga, I would like to give some insight on the influence men have had throughout the history of Yoga. Yoga has been dated back over 5,000 years, and though it is hard to say who actually invented Yoga, the first systematic presentation was Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This was a collection of 196 Indian sutras on the theory of Yoga. Patanjali can be considered the "Father of Yoga".
Tirumalai Krishnamacharya also had a huge influence on many forms of Yoga. Born over 100 years ago, he is often referred to as the "Founding Father of Yoga". His practice began when he was 16, and he studied under some of the greatest Sanskrit grammarians at the Banaras Hindu University. He continued his education for over a decade and eventually mastered the Bihar school of Yoga. He went on to study under several scholars and gurus and in the 1930’s he was very active in yoga lectures and demonstrations which played a huge role in the revival of Yoga. His Yoga spread through Europe, Asia, and the Americas. To this day many styles of Yoga are inspired or influenced by Krishnamacharaya. It’s also worth noting that Krishnamacharaya was very progressive for his time as he encouraged Yoga training for girls in the 1930’s.
There are many more men throughout the history of Yoga who have had a strong influence on practices all over the world. I could probably write a blog every day for weeks just about the individual men who have played an important role in Yoga being a global practice so I wonder, where did the disconnect start between men and Yoga?
Yoga has turned into a female dominated industry, and it is a practice that can most certainly be taken advantage of by more men. I would love to see it moving in that direction in the coming years! If you are a guy reading this, I hope the following sections of the benefits of Yoga encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and creating a new one on the mat.
Mental Benefits of Yoga
I started practicing Yoga because I was interested in handstands. Little did I know that while I was pursuing a physical transformation to handstand, a mental transformation was taking place as well.
I practiced Yoga for at least two years before I realized the shift in my mindset. Six years ago, I had originally strarted lifting heavy weights at a pretty quick tempo (like a robot) without much thought, to take my mind off things. The start to my Yoga practice was similar. Over time things started to slow down, and I noticed that when I was bothered by something I would no longer go to the gym to mindlessly load up some weights. Instead, I would roll out my Yoga mat, move my body through space with a conscious acknowledgement of how my my mind, body, and breath all worked together. This was a huge breakthrough for me, and it changed the way I trained myself and my clients. It made me realize how much control I could have over my mindset even off the mat.
To me this transformation is much more beneficial than my physical practice. Your mental transformation has no aesthetics, you won’t get credit for it because there’s a good chance it’s not the first thing people will notice about you...but it will be the first thing you notice about yourself.
Physical Benefits of Yoga
Maybe you’ve heard this before, you don’t do Yoga because you ARE flexible, you do it to become MORE flexible. This couldn’t be more true, especially if you are a guy and lack natural flexibility. You may fall victim to repetitive movements at work which result in localized tension. Maybe you strength train and notice your range of motion in certain areas has changed. Yoga’s emphasis on flexibility and mobility is a great way to start releasing tension and developing more range of motion. Yoga teachers have a general idea of common problem areas for people, so chances are good you will find some relief for your tight spots in most any Yoga class.
One of the biggest things I stress to people who are new to Yoga is that it doesn’t matter what it looks like, it matters what it feels like. If you are worried about going to a Yoga class and your stretch position won't look like what the other students are doing, don’t be. As an instructor and a practitioner I can confidently tell you that no one looks the same way. It’s about sensation, not aesthetics. If you do Yoga for a couple of weeks based off of how you feel, you’ll notice your body opening up in new ways. You will have more range of motion and better posture. You will develop an understanding of what makes your body feel tight and how to make it feel better.
That’s what it comes down to, feeling better in your body. Yoga is the best way I have found to be able to do the things I love to do (handstands, back flips, pushups, and pullups) and still continue to feel good. Balance and strength building are also very much a part of a yoga practice. As we get older we tend to lose balance and coordination but a solid Yoga practice a few times a week goes a long way in developing proprioception for long term body awareness.
When it comes to strength, I believe that Yoga should be the foundational program for all athletes and the general public alike. It helps develop strength in the muscles and joints all the way from your wrists to your ankles. You develop core strength as you hold different positions and move through different flows.
Last but not least, Yoga is perfect for building ground level strength when it comes to push movements. Two of the most known exercises in all of fitness are the push up and the bench press. They are the same push movement, but one of them puts much more stress on the muscles and joints than the other. A lot of people will dive right in to the bench press with weights before even having a proper push on the floor with their own body weight. I think this is backwards, especially considering that humans have been working out well before there were weights and machines!
The Yoga pose most closely related to a push up is called chaturanga. Chaturanga will develop your push strength in a beneficial manner that will translate to anything you do off the mat, especially when it comes to lifting weights. It will develop wrist strength, shoulder strength, tricep strength, and much more.
Anyone who begins their strength training with the foundations of Yoga will always have one up on the competition. Pro teams and universities all over the country are implementing Yoga in to their athletic training, and if you pay attention to the training programs of some of the top athletes in the world you can count on Yoga being involved. Men all over the world are reaping the benefits of Yoga, feeling better and moving better than they have before, including me. I recently turned 33 and I can confidently say I feel much better than I did when I was 28 and even 25, and I have Yoga to thank for that.
If you end up feeling like the time is right for you to try a Yoga class I encourage you to do so with an open mind, without expectations and without self judgement. Don’t be afraid to try a couple of different classes; if the first one isn't the right fit do some research until you find one that may be more of what you are looking for. Every teacher has a different style and teaching lineage. If you ever want to reach out to me for a recommendation on which class to try, or if you have any Yoga questions in general, feel free!