Yoga is both yin and yang so it's a mystery why the yang energy in American yoga classes is so out-of-balance. In Eastern cultures, yoga is dominated by men; in the West that ratio is flipped on its head. Many men don't do yoga even though its advantages are just as awesome for men as they are for women.
Too Tough for Tough Guys
Studies cited by Yoga Journal show men make up just about 18 to 20 percent of yoga classes. A mostly female class translates to an off-putting imbalance for some men, as does the mistaken notion yoga is too easy, or the hard truth that men can be less flexible and therefore fail at some of the poses. But yoga can kick butt, as those who dip a toe in the asana pool discover. And a good teacher will tailor the moves to the student; yoga teaches focus and patience as a newbie learns to manage breath, form, and flow with more and more confidence. Men are socialized to be aggressive and competitive in Western culture, to challenge themselves physically, and to push through pain for the win. "Winning" at yoga takes a different strategy; it's the difference between courage and bravado. The tough guys who figure that out unlock all of yoga's many benefits and leave their macho buddies in the dust.
Bro Yoga: It's a Thing
Most yoga classes are heavy on the spandex and pretty mats and a lot lighter on the grunting and sweat work of the weight room. However, men don't have to jump right into power yoga to feel at home. Classes in every yoga style that cater to men create a no-nonsense, no-excuses comfort zone where men's tighter muscles and competitive approach are acknowledged. There is encouragement to work incrementally to increase flexibility. Sequences are adapted, poses are modified, and competition gives way to contemplation. Growing assurance in performing the poses and a deeper understanding of the body-mind connection are the results. You don't need a guys-only safe space. An experienced teacher will create that learning comfort zone for all students in the class, whether they're weightlifters or willowy sylphs. For guys, that includes minor adjustments and use of props to counter upper body bulk or lower body stiffness.
Fierce and Flexible
Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine is famously addicted to his yoga practice and credits it with making him more focused and successful. He went from a tight performer who couldn't touch his toes to a ripped and toned paragon of serenity and strength who can slide right into a full split in monkey pose.
"A lot of times people will think, 'I'm strong, I'm in shape; why can't I do this pose?'" Levine told a news reporter. "But that's not the point. There's nothing to win in yoga. You just do what you can do, one day to the next."
And then you reap the rewards:
- A yoga practice increases range of motion because it is whole-body engagement that targets areas of stiffness and constriction you may not even be aware of, like tight shoulder and hip joints.
- Improved lung capacity and oxygen loading are a by-product of pranayama, the attention to breath during poses and the breathing exercises that retrain poor breathing habits.
- Better balance and body stabilization comes from working in unfamiliar twists and positions that challenge balance and strength in myriad ways. Headstands, crow pose, or one-armed planks, anyone?
- Yoga breaks the pattern of repetitive exercise that delivers less and less the longer you do it. Inversions, forward and backbends, standing and sitting poses; you're moving it all, all the time.
- You're lowering killer stress and blood pressure while you're building strength and flexibility. As an added bonus, when you lower stress you unleash feel-good endorphins and more energy.
Every asana has its gift of gains in strength and endurance, and that holds for your love life as well as your athletic prowess, and breathing exercises can support your well being.
- Bring your inner and outer warriors together in holistic harmony with the warrior poses.
- Stretch tight hamstrings and calves and enjoy the oxygen-enhancing brain boost from a partial inversion pose in downward-facing dog.
- Work those abs in plank (but you knew that) and give some love to your lower back in cobra.
- Cat-cow pose flexes and protects your lower back.
- Haka (horse pose) builds lower-body staying power.
- Crow is impressive to behold as it pumps your arms and kills your core.
- One-legged king pigeon pose is a groin and hip opener that mimics the wind-up posture of a baseball ace on the mound. Awareness in the pose provides the added benefit of releasing the tension, stress, fear, and anxiety instinctively held in the hips. So, a gentle confrontation with stress and anxiety increases flexibility, develops self-knowledge about negative feelings and tension, and might just make you a better, injury-free pitcher.
- Pranayama improves performance, in bed and on the mat. Breathing exercises are central to a solid yoga practice.
- Nadi Shodhana (single-nostril breathing) lowers your heart rate and clears your energy channels.
- Ujjayi breathing (conqueror breath) quiets your brain and enhances calm control.
Pumping Pigeon Pose
Men have the same choices as anyone in yoga. Embrace the ancient practice with its rich spiritual underpinnings and complete mind-body integration. Or focus on the physical, improve your fitness, and notice over time how that thoughtful practice improves the quality of your life as much as your health. For men, doing yoga is good for supple joints and muscles, serenity and self-confidence, physical and emotional balance and, quite probably, a longer healthier life.