If you judge only from magazine covers and clothing ads, you’d never know that historically yoga was pioneered by men or that it benefits the male mind and body just as much the female. But I do yoga, so I can assure you that yoga is for men, too. I’m a guy, and I practice yoga.
I started yoga because I was bored with my old gym routine and the people I met there. It’s not that there’s anything wrong the gym or the folks, I just needed a change of venue and I didn’t need more bulk or machines. I realized that what I really wanted when I went to the gym was a sense of relief from the stresses outside the gym, and to leave feeling better and healthier than when I went in. The gym had become one more thing to do, and do right.
Yoga was offered where I work and I went for the first time because it was free, close and available at lunch time. I knew the lycra pants I saw in slick ads weren’t going to afford enough room for me to move, so I wore my usual workout gear. I picked up a Manduka Black Mat PRO after my first class. I wanted a mat that was as tough. A manly mat. Then I was off to the races. Or the anti-race, as the case may be.
These days I carry a Manduka mat and practice at a studio in the morning, and I still go to the gym, too, sometimes. I’ve added yoga into my total fitness routine because nothing beats yoga for getting me a one hour total body, body weight workout that leaves me feeling energized and not depleted. I’ve also found that relaxation is not the opposite of energized. In gym workouts, relaxation is a phase of an exercise ending and the muscle returning to doing nothing. In yoga, relaxation is the ability to stay in a yoga pose with the least effort and most comfort in the body. The stretching is definitely beneficial and complementary to what I do in the gym, but I like that yoga also builds strength in a different way.
If you wonder how yoga poses can build strength, I’ve got one word for you: “Chaturanga.” It translates to “Four limbed staff pose” but is essentially the down phase of a really well aligned pushup. Sometimes you stay in this pose for multiple breaths, but usually you’re moving through it between Plank, which is the top of a pushup position, into Cobra or UpDog, which are backbends with your legs on the ground. In Vinyasa yoga you may go through this sequence twenty times during class, with a variety of other poses in between. There is nothing like it for your triceps and shoulders, not to mention the core.
The back pain I used to think was just a part of not being 18 anymore, that’s gone, too. My compatriots who don’t practice yoga still complain about it and pass around the anti-inflammatory medications. The attention I pay in yoga to alignment, all the back and forward bends, the twists that balance it all out and the inversions, all go together to wring me out just enough that hunching over the computer or steering wheel is counteracted and my back has never felt better. I’ve offered to bring my friends to class, but so far no takers.
Everything about my life has been enhanced by taking up yoga. Two of the mental activities you cultivate in yoga class are focus and concentration. My ability to focus and concentrate had sharpened even before I knew I was working on it because it happens naturally as a result of better breathing and the instructions during class. I’m better at my business and in my relationship, and my commute is less pressured because I’ve learned to just let a lot of things go. Yoga has helped me zero in on the people, activities and characteristics I think are most important. When I spend a little time each week thinking about that, the rest of it seems to sort itself out.
So, yes, I’m a guy and I practice yoga. And I’m a better for it.