It is a common misconception that yoga isn’t really for men. Where does that idea come from and how can we convince more men to start doing yoga? When most people think of yoga they think of women in their 20’s and 30’s wearing yoga pants and that might be why we associate it with women today. But, when yoga first started as a meditative practice, most practitioners were male. It’s not uncommon to see meditation portrayed by an image of a Buddhist or Hindu practitioner seated in lotus pose.
Historically, when yoga was being developed into physical practice, the process was mainly done by male gurus. As yoga was brought over from India and popularized in the west, styles such as Ashtanga or Iengar which many people consider classic yoga branches, were presented by men who developed these movements. Many books that focus on alignment, sequencing and yoga anatomy also tend to include postures as demonstrated by male practitioners or teachers.
Is Yoga Good for Men?
Yoga carries many benefits regardless of age, gender, background and size. However, men tend to have high demanding jobs as well as dealing with everyday pressures to adhere to society’s expectations. In that context yoga can be especially beneficial to men as part of their training routine, as well as improving their quality of life in regards to sleep quality, mental health, sense of community, injury prevention and stress management.
Yoga Stereotypes Affect Our Perceptions of Men Doing Yoga
So why is modern yoga so closely associated with a stereotypical image of a young, white, thin woman? Well, some of it stems from associating yoga with flexibility, which we will address further in this article. Some comes from thinking that yoga is more suitable for women due to it being a lower impact exercise than, say, weightlifting.
And in the last eight to ten years, we have social media to thank for promoting this female-dominated image of yoga. Instagram in particular has a huge yoga community, with tens of millions of posts tagged with #yoga hashtag. By comparison, hashtags #yogamen and #mensyoga only have 290K and 166K public posts, respectively.
There is also a huge difference in content – women tend to feature themselves in postures that promote flexibility and balance, while men often go for being depicted in poses that attest to their strength, such as arm balances and inversions. The truth is, yoga practice is not reserved for a particular gender and while everyone has their strengths, you shouldn’t limit yourself to poses you think are feminine or masculine, but embrace yoga practice as a whole.
The Top Reasons Men Should Take Up Yoga
If you are a man, here are a few reasons you should start a yoga practice this week:
Improve Your Flexibility
Most yoga teachers will be able to recall at least one occasion when someone said to them “I’m not flexible enough to practice yoga”. However, in this context, it’s like saying you are too dirty to take a bath. While yoga does not equal contortion, it is true that regular practice can improve overall flexibility as well as increase active mobility. Improving your flexibility could be particularly useful to men with a more stationary lifestyle, such as office workers or those who work from home. One should also remember that flexibility is a spectrum and you could be more open in your hips or shoulders but have tight hamstrings at the same time. Although some consider touching your toes as a universal measure of flexibility, thankfully it’s much more complex than that. And the good news is, if you are especially keen on touching your toes, that can be achieved by practising over time!
Increase Your Core strength
Unlike Pilates or countless crunches, yoga offers an opportunity to develop functional core strength. Many yoga poses incorporate core engagement to the point you might not even notice you’re getting stronger. However, including poses such as plank, boat and chaturanga, as well as spinal twists and standing balances really forces your core to work hard. Yoga also tends to flow slower than certain other exercises, which requires a lot of control, and much of it stems from the core.
Increase Your Upper Body strength
Lifting weights and doing pull ups is a great way to build up upper body strength, and yoga offers a great alternative you can do in the comfort of your own home. Yoga prepares our hands and wrists for weight bearing through repetitions of poses such as downward dog, plank, cobra or even when simply staying on your hands and knees. It subsequently strengthens your wrists and pecs, stabilises your shoulder girdle and increases active mobility in shoulders and spine, which in turn creates access to more poses. As you progress through your yoga journey, you could try your hand at arm balances for a greater challenge.
Increase Your Overall fitness level
Certain types of yoga include a variety of flowing transitions between a set of yoga poses that are aligned with one’s breaths. Examples include Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Sun Power and some interpretations of Hatha yoga. Moving between poses as you match the rhythm of the breath to the rhythm of motions is a fantastic way to work on cardio endurance. You might find this challenging at first, but as your body adapts and becomes stronger, improving your cardiovascular health could help with other physical activities, such as exercise or manual labour. In addition to burning calories, regular yoga practice could be a contributing factor towards improving your metabolic rate, which promotes weight loss.
Yoga is Very Accessible
Yoga has a great advantage over other exercises when it comes to accessibility. It doesn’t require much equipment, anything beyond a yoga mat is optional, which keeps the costs low. You don’t need a large amount of space, so you can do it in the comfort of your home. There are various programs and videos available online, as well as phone and tablet apps with options for everyone from a complete beginner to those who are well versed in yoga. Yoga is highly adaptable, and when done right, can be performed by people of all ages and levels of mobility.
Using additional props, such as blocks, straps, bolsters and even chairs makes it available for individuals with injuries, physical disabilities or tissue disorders. The duration of a session can vary from 10-90 minutes, and you could practise as little as once a week and as often as every single day.
Yoga for Stress Relief
It’s no secret that for an average person, life can get really stressful. Men are often faced with a lot of social and peer pressure to provide for their family, to maintain a social status, perform highly at work, and present themselves in a certain fashion.
Yoga offers a way to tackle some of the stress symptoms through physical and meditative practice, as well as providing an opportunity to become more mindful. Setting aside some time for yourself could be the first step towards reducing stress in your life.
Practicing mindfulness for as little as five minutes a day can bring some clarity to your mind, help you focus on deep breathing, improve the quality of your sleep, lower anxiety levels, and allow you the chance to learn a thing or two about yourself.
Yoga For Injury Prevention
While yoga can be considered an exercise in its own right, it can also be used as a means to prevent injuries associated with other sports and physical activity.
Two of the most common causes of injury are repetition and exertion. If you are a runner, you might want to include yoga in your weekly routine, specifically focusing on knees, hips and hamstrings. If you’re a climber, you could use yoga for antagonistic muscle training by focusing on pressing moves to oppose the pulling you do.
If you do any work that relies on repetitive motions over a prolonged period of time (i.e. gardening, drilling, hammering, painting, lifting), you could avoid a potential injury by strengthening the muscles around your joints through yoga practice.
Yoga for Recovery (the secret of many athletes!)
In addition to injury prevention, yoga offers a great recovery option for athletes who have a regular training schedule. Yoga can be included on a rest day or post-workout. Many professional athletes rely on yoga to advance their training, from rugby stars to Olympic swimmers. Whether you are a cyclist, a runner, a weightlifter, a football player or a parkour enthusiast, yoga could help you improve your recovery speed in ways you might not even imagine.
Increase Community Connections
As you age, making connections can become more challenging, and most social gatherings are centered around food and alcohol. However, yoga community is a wonderful way to meet new people and form friendships with like-minded folk among teachers and fellow students.
Yoga Can Improve Your Sexual Performance!
It’s not necessarily a topic that usually comes up in a conversation about yoga, but did you know that yoga can enhance your sexual performance?!
And that, of course, can make a big impact on your whole life. A study published by Dr Vikas Dhikav, MD in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2010 found that men who practiced yoga for 12 weeks reported improvement in all domains of sexual function, including desire, satisfaction with sex, performance, ability to control their ejaculation, and their orgasm. Having a healthy sex life can have great effects on confidence and increase levels of inner focus.
How often should men practice yoga?
Unfortunately there isn’t a set amount that works for absolutely everyone. The frequency of your practice depends on a variety of factors – physical fitness levels, goals, yoga experience/style, workload, and session duration to name a few.
If you’re new to yoga, it’s best to start with one beginner-friendly session a week (45-60 minutes long). As you improve you could gradually increase the frequency up to 2-3 times a week. However, it’s also important to establish what you’re trying to achieve via yoga practice. For example, if you’ve practiced for a little while, reached a desired goal of mobility, strength and balance, once or twice a week should be enough yoga to maintain that progress.
If you are combining yoga with other exercise, it might be worth having a few shorter sessions as opposed to one longer one. You could include it as warm up before exercise or as conditioning after. It’s worth noting that if you have a really demanding job (such as a highly physical job, mentally draining job or simply one that requires a lot of your time), prioritise your well-being.
Fast paced asana based yoga practice can contribute to exhaustion, so why not opt for a gentler style such as Yin or Iengar. If you have any injuries or health conditions, it’s best to consult your physician and speak to your yoga teacher before class to make sure you get the most benefit without bringing any harm to your body.
What should men wear to yoga?
The ultimate rule for choosing your outfit for yoga classes is whether it allows you to have full range of motion. Think of what you would typically wear to a gym workout or when going for a run. Specifics may depend on the time of the year, the style of yoga, and individual comfort. Try not to wear any tops that are too baggy to avoid obscuring your vision in poses such as downward dog where the shirt might gather around your head.
Traditionally, yoga is practiced barefoot (for easier grip on the yoga mat) but if you tend to have cold feet, you may opt for wearing socks at the start and finish of the session to let your body warm up gently and keep yourself warm during final relaxation.