Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Doctor’s Orders: MEN, DO YOGA
That’s right. You heard me, guys. DO YOGA.
Some of you out there in cyberspace may be asking yourselves, why on earth does this message even need to go out to the men of this world? Hasn’t the truth about yoga seeped into every nook and cranny of American, no, global consciousness? Isn’t the evidence so abundant regarding the benefits of a regular yoga practice that you’d be a fool, of sorts, not to at least give a beginner’s series a try?
So, at the risk of being redundant to the mass of information out there, fellas, here’s a few compelling reasons why you should do yoga:
It decreases stress
It increases flexibility, stamina and strength
It improves concentration
It benefits sexuality, relationships, spirit (even though you won’t cop to the spirit part, some of you guys are actually interested in this!)
So, what is still holding you back? Is it the misconception that yoga involves sitting around on the floor (not actually so easy for a lot of men) and doing languid stretches and possibly even, god forbid, chanting? It’s 2012, and the good news is that there are many, many kinds of yoga classes for you to check out that are nothing like this. Many involve just as much strength and stamina as they do stretching. So, for the man who is used to doing lots of activities that already tighten you up, the stretching part could actually be of benefit in bringing you back into a healthier balance. And for the man who is interested in a practice that could improve other athletic performance, the growing list of professional athletes who turn to yoga as an adjunct to their training should be compelling.
I also hear men, reluctantly, admit that they are often intimidated and embarrassed to be in class where they don’t feel competent. It’s like we are unwilling to be beginners ever again in some way. We often like to envision ourselves at our athletic peak, as when we were 18, and have a hard time when working with how we really are right now. All I can say is, I get it, I’ve had moments of feeling that way, too. And then I found that the benefits of my practice far outweighed this potential roadblock to doing yoga. And one way to move past this worry around a public class setting is to think about doing a series of private one-on-one sessions to give you a sense of what yoga asana is like and to start to give you a beginner’s sense of developing competence with yoga. Another option would be to look for a men’s only class, as more of these are popping up all the time.
I have also heard some men complain that they prefer competitive sports, and yoga seems the antithesis of this from what they hear about it. And although yoga is not a competitive sport, despite the one or two “competitions” you may have read about, it can still have the quality of setting goals and working toward them, which may appeal to many men. As an example, when I first started doing yoga, I struggled with the pose known as Handstand, not because I did not have the underlying strength to do it, but because I did not have the openness of the shoulders to hold it for more than a few seconds. I set the goal of being able to hold the pose for one minute and gave myself a generous year to accomplish. It was quite gratifying to finally achieve this milestone in my practice.
And finally, my favorite excuse for men not doing yoga is summed up in this phrase: “I’m too stiff to do yoga.” News alert: These are exactly the reasons TO DO YOGA! Your yoga will likely improve this, and in the process, done gradually and intelligently, even logically (sounds promising, logic …) reduce your chances of injury or improve conditions you already have, say like the epidemic of low-back pain for men in our culture.
So, where do you start, fellas? Honoring the fact that many men hold significant tension in the hamstrings, hips and shoulders, not to mention tightness in the spine, particularly in the low back, I like to start out with dynamic movements and move toward held, static movements. The first dynamic method will warm up and loosen tension in the muscles and joints, the second static method will build isometric strength and stamina in the body. Examples of two poses that are almost always a part of a beginning yoga practice are Downward-Facing Dog and Standing Forward Bend. Let’s look at applying the dynamic method to help us stiff men ease into these poses.
For Down Dog, I suggest you start on hands and knees with your hands shoulder-width apart and about 12-inches forward, your arms straight, and your back neutral. Turn your toes under and become aware of your inhalation and exhalation. On the next inhale, allow your spine to come into a small backbend by lifting your head up, letting the belly drop down, and lifting your sitting bones (butt) up. This is sometimes referred to as “Cow.” As you exhale, lift your knees off the ground and push your hips (butt) back toward the wall behind you as you attempt to straighten your legs (it’s OK if you can’t; your knees can bend as much as needed to keep your back in its starting neutral shape). Let your head hang loosely between your straight arms. This is your modified Downward Dog. As you inhale again, bring your knees back to the floor and take the Cow shape. On the exhale, lift back up into the Down Dog shape. Do this, going between the Cow pose and the modified Dog pose, about 6 times, gradually warming up to the full pose.
If your body is feeling stretch with out pain in the lower back or shoulders, you might try staying up in Downward Dog for 6 breaths or so after your dynamic exploration. Come down, sit back on your heels and rest and notice how things are doing.
For our second example, stand up tall and check in with the rhythm of your breath again. On an inhale, swing your arms out to the sides and up overhead. As you exhale, fold forward from your hips, bending the knees slightly if your hips and hamstrings are really tight, letting your arms to drop toward the floor. (Don’t worry if you can’t bend too far; you don’t need to touch your toes to do this correctly.) On your next inhale, swing back up to arms overhead, and then exhale the arms down to your sides while standing tall. Repeat this series of moves 6 times, coordinating your movement with your breath. If you have acute or even chronic back pain, you might want to hold off on this forward bend until you can check in with an experienced yoga teacher for additional advice on doing it safely. However, if you have tried it successfully, you may want to come into the forward fold and hold it, with or without bent knees, and stay for 6 breaths. Your hands can rest on the floor, your lower legs, or you can grasp your elbows and let your arms hang. Roll up to standing on an inhale, and take a moment to see how your body feels.
So guys, doctor’s orders: give yoga a try!