Matthew McConaughey. Adam Levine. Robert Downey Jr. LeBron James. Even the manliest American men are finally catching on to the health, fitness and general feel-good benefits of yoga. Case in point: Lululemon plans to open standalone men's stores by 2016, and Broga, a nationwide chain of yoga-based classes geared toward men, has expanded to 15 states since it opened in 2009 and says there are more to come.
That said, last time we counted, women far outnumber men on the mat. Does your dad still need convincing that yoga is for bro-gis, too? In honor of Father's Day, here are 4 reasons why your dad (and all dads) should be doing yoga, according to Dr. Loren Fishman, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Rehabilitation and Regenerative Medicine at Columbia Medical School in New York City and author of Yoga for Back Pain, who uses yoga in his NYC rehab practice.
1. It reduces stress.
Heart disease is the number one killer of men in the U.S. (it also strikes men at a younger age than women), and stress may affect behaviors and factors that are proven to increase heart disease risk: high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating, according to the American Heart Association.
If the dad in your life suffers from stress (and who doesn't?), a yoga mat could be the best Father's Day gift you give him this year. Several studies suggest that yoga activates the vagus nerve—a very influential parasympathetic nerve affecting the heart—and so the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) becomes more dominant than the adrenalin-based sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight), Dr. Fishman says. This reduces blood pressure and consequently the workload of the heart, he explains.
Suggested poses for reducing stress: Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) and many other forward bends, which stimulate the internal organs, all of which have sensory connections to the vagus nerve, Dr. Fishman says.
2. It improves flexibility.
Men often complain about not being flexible enough, and just about every yoga pose works to improve joint range of motion and muscle suppleness. "I usually start men and women with poor ranges [of motion] with lots of props and standing poses like Trikonasana (Triangle), Warrior I and Warrior II, forward bends like Upavistha Konasana, and simple twists," Dr. Fishman says.
But go easy on yourself, guys. "In men, the problem is that we often pit our greater strength against our reduced ranges of motion and hurt ourselves," Dr. Fishman explains. "So patience, being kind to yourself and ahimsa (non-violence toward all living beings) are really quite important."
3. It helps ease back pain.
Yoga's ability to alleviate back pain is possibly its strongest swaying factor when it comes to winning converts, says Dr. Fishman, who adds that it's about 80 percent successful in his medical practice. He recommends poses based on the patient's specific condition—for example, Salabhasana (Locust Pose) and Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) for a herniated disc.
4. It may shrink that beer gut.
There are a number of yoga poses that stimulate the stretch-receptors in the stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine between the stomach and middle part of the intestine), which helps turn off the appetite centers in the brain, Dr. Fishman says. Doing Warrior I, Warrior II or Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) about 20 minutes before a meal usually reduces caloric intake, he claims. Also, getting better acquainted with your own anatomy and its workings often curtails the urge for that next helping of almost anything, Dr. Fishman adds. Something to consider before your Father's Day barbecue!