Let's be honest. You've thought of doing yoga before. Maybe the idea came and went. Maybe you thought, “What's the big deal?” or perhaps you brushed it off as too religious, overrated, or “feminine”. As far as the latter, you should be “man” enough to realize that's a bit silly.
What images come to mind when you think of yoga? Skinny, half-naked Indian men doing headstands? Fit, athletic women in colorful, form-fitting clothing literally bending over backwards? Long-haired, hippie vegans meditating atop their VW buses?
These images may give you the impression that yoga's not for you, but they're not what yoga's all about.
Getting Rid of Ego
In order to try yoga, you don't need to sit lotus-style or start meditating 24/7. You don't need to be the most flexible person in the room, nor should that be what drives you. It's not about who can hold a specific pose the longest or how far you can stretch.
Now that you've checked your ego at the door, I hope I don't confuse you when I say: yoga's all about you. One of the greatest aspects of yoga is that there's a variation for every pose – a way to modify each one to match your exact level of ability. It's all about what's best for you, given what you're capable of and what you're trying to accomplish.
Remember, it's not a competition against others practitioners; however, if you are a competitive man, you can view it as a personal challenge to yourself to dig a bit deeper or go a bit farther with each session.
So the image that comes to mind? It should be of you. A full acknowledgment of who you are in the present moment – your strengths and weaknesses – along with the future prospect of who you strive to become – simply, a better, stronger man.
Sound good so far? Before we move on, let's rewind a bit.
Photo by Lululemon Athletica
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a practice which originated in India thousands of years ago and is still practiced by millions today. Several types of yoga exist; some with methods having been passed down for ages, others created by teachers and popularized more recently.
The yoga we generally see and hear about in Western culture is usually a form of hatha yoga. It's just one of the six branches, also known as paths, of yoga and involves holding asanas, or poses, and doing pranayama, or breathing exercises.
The poses involve holding your arms and legs in various positions, twisting, and sometimes even inversion. You breathe continuously throughout each pose and often sync up your inhales and exhales with your movements. The poses seem simple, but they engage and stretch many muscles at once, so after holding one or two for a few breaths, you'll definitely start feeling it.
Maybe what's stopped you or a friend from trying it is the idea that, by doing yoga, you're somehow buying into a specific religion or cult. This simply isn’t true, so don’t let this keep you away. You’re not going to leave the class with a sudden desire to start chanting Ohms or worshiping the Buddha. Besides, once you understand what yoga is from a strictly physical standpoint, it's tough not to see its potential health benefits.
What's Wrestling Got to Do with It?
Remember pro wrestler Diamond Dallas Page? He believes in the benefits of yoga so much, he practices daily and even created his own yoga program: Yoga for Regular Guys (“YRG”).
He refers to it as yoga meets old-school calisthenics, an age-old practice with a bit more attitude. So it's based in yoga, but he labels some of the traditional poses with more modern, manlier monikers and incorporates other exercises to round out the workout. From the summary for the Yoga For Regular Guys book: “… Dallas understands the things men care about: improved strength and endurance, a better sex life, reduced stress levels, and (maybe most importantly) access to ridiculously hot yoga babes.”
The Right Reasons
One might say something's amiss if an article about yoga from a popular men's online magazine doesn't acknowledge the oft-mentioned, favorably unbalanced Girl-to-Guy ratio present in most yoga classes, so now that DDP has brought it up, we might as well touch on it. If you're curious, I have been the only guy in a class before. Granted, not all of the other students were models, but you don't see me complaining. From my personal experience, the ratio for most classes I've attended has been roughly 5 to 1.
In general, though, make sure you're doing yoga for the right reasons. However, if this is reason enough at least to get you into the studio to give it try, well then, more power to you, but try not to let this be the only motivating factor.
With religion, spirituality, and lovely ladies aside, let's talk about the benefits. Many have talked about yoga providing back pain relief, better blood circulation, and even better sleep, so let's stick mainly to the purely physical aspects associated with the practice.
In practicing yoga regularly for the past 6 months, I've experienced notable improvements in the following areas:
- core strength
- muscle tone
- mental clarity
- breath control
- communication/connection between mind and body
These are just some of the areas in which you may experience measurable improvement after only a few sessions. Given the above, it's clear why more and more professional athletes are adding yoga to their physical regimen and why professional trainers to celebrities are incorporating it in the services they offer. Yoga has also been included in some physical therapy programs for these same reasons.
Photo by myyogaonline
If you'll notice, I left out the spiritual benefits many practitioners often claim, as well as the mental benefits like increased self-awareness and self-actualization. These are largely personal and will vary from person to person.
Vegetarian? No, thanks.
Remember, it's not about becoming someone you're not or adopting a particular lifestyle. After my first class, I felt like I wanted nothing more than to drink green tea and eat salad, but that's just me. I know most people won't feel this way, but it's hard not to want to practice healthy eating when you're focusing so intently on your body for that long. So, don't fret. Trying out yoga doesn't mean you're on your way to being a vegan.
So, you've thought about it and you may be willing to give it a shot. What now?
Well, before you go all out and buy your very own yoga mat or start asking for gift cards from places like Gaiam and lululemon, you should… try it out!
There are many different styles/types of yoga, such as Ashtanga, Iyengar, and vinyasa, and, aside from reading about them, the best way to find out which one's right for you is trying them out. The only type I wouldn't recommend for your first time around is Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot yoga, which takes place in a heated room.
At temperatures sometimes exceeding 100 degrees, it may be a bit demanding if you've never done yoga before. In general, yoga's something you'll want to ease into slowly. Bikram may sound easy, especially if you exercise and/or work out regularly, but remember to check those egos!
A few simple ways to see if yoga is right for you:
- Yoga apps
- This is actually how I got started. A friend was doing his P90X routine, which involved a program called Yoga X, and a week later I tried out a yoga class at my gym. Check it out on Amazon if you're interested.
- YouTube videos
- If you belong to a gym, check and see if they offer yoga classes. This is a great way to get started, as there's no added cost with this option.
- Intro classes
Use Yelp or Google to find some local studios. Make sure you take a beginner or Intro to Yoga class. They often have specials for first-time students like unlimited classes for $25/week or $99/month. This is a great way to get a crash course introduction to different types of styles, classes, and teachers depending on what they offer.
I would definitely recommend attending at least one class with a trained professional / licensed teacher for a proper introduction. Laying even a basic foundation before getting started will help ensure you're holding the poses correctly. Remember this is your body we're talking about, so when it comes to your bones, muscles, nerves, joints, and so forth, you'll want to make sure you utilize proper alignment and avoid overexertion.
Just as one of the tenets of practicing yoga is doing what's right for you, you can apply that same notion to practicing yoga in general. Don't do it if you don't want to but be open to the challenge. Yoga is a fantastic way to learn and improve the capabilities of you and your body.
Give it a shot and discover just how empowering the practice of yoga can be!