Yoga is no longer just for women. It never was, but for some reason, it got painted with the feminine brush and given a bad rep. We must admit, there was a time where it was overruled by women in tight pink yoga pants with a Starbucks coffee in hand getting the latest gossip – an insult to true yogis.
But men have fought back to make it gender-neutral for anyone who wants to improve their overall wellbeing, and we’re so here for it. We chat to Ben Harrison, yoga instructor for the British Armed Forces, about what yoga involves for men (could it get any more macho than that ladies?).
When we think of yoga now, we think of something completely different. We think peace, mindfulness, and inner strength – a real representation of the practice approved by yogis. “When someone first thinks about undertaking something therapeutic and helpful for mental health, yoga is probably one of the first things that come to mind,” says Harrison.
“It’s a challenging time for men. Men consistently self-report lower levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Faced with this reality, men are left to help themselves.” Yoga is on the rise amongst men helping them to take charge of their lives. While yoga can be taken up by both men and women, there’s no doubt that our bodies are different.
Poses that benefit women may not have much of an impact on men – if they can get into the position that is – and vice versa. We’re built differently. Harrison says, “the most relevant difference physically is that of a male tendency toward a great proportion of fast-twitch muscle fiber.”
Which basically means they’re suited to more powerful, strenuous exercise but for a shorter period of time. As a result, Harrison recommends men practice shorter sessions with high intensity.
For those new to yoga or looking to make sure you’re getting the most out of your practice, we’ve created a guide to the benefits of yoga as well as a roundup of the eight best yoga poses for men to try if you dare.
What even is yoga anyway?
“Yoga means ‘yoke’ which signifies ‘union’ so I think about the practice in terms of integration, that is, becoming more of oneself,” says Harrison. It’s all about becoming one with your mind, body, and soul through a series of postures that can prompt a spiritual awakening. Or boost your physical and mental health at the very least.
The benefits of yoga
Before we convince you to get into position without so much as a dinner date, let’s get the benefits to do the sweet-talking.
Improves heart health – You may think that emotional stress doesn’t have any effect on the body, but scientific evidence has shown stress can have a physical influence on the body, especially the heart.
Stress releases hormones such as cortisol which can narrow arteries and increase blood pressure. The calm yoga-heart connection that a yoga practice inspires can significantly offset this stress. Many yoga poses and flows are also great for increasing blood and oxygen circulation, helping to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels.
Better sexual performance – If this hasn’t got your attention, we don’t know what will. There are countless yoga poses that help boosts your libido, bedroom confidence, and heighten your senses. Yoga also helps your mind-body connection. By being at one with your body and the sensations around you, you’ll lead a more fulfilling sex life as you feel everything to the extreme.
It’ll also boost your strength, flexibility, and balance so you’ll be able to enjoy a wide variety of positions that you couldn’t even dream of getting into before.
Strengthens your body – Yoga isn’t always easy. In fact, many of the poses and sequences are challenging and, hence, strengthening. Yoga allows you to work and strengthen your entire body through bodyweight resistance and poses that require the support of your strongest muscles. So while yoga is different from the heavy weight lifting you might do at the gym, it’s an effective way to strengthen your body and build muscles with a lesser chance of injury.
Be more present in the moment – Yoga is not only about improving your physical fitness as it equally benefits your mind as well. We’re encouraged to take a step out of our busy, fast-paced lifestyles to focus on our breathing and clear our heads. You’ll learn to train the mind to focus on what is, not what it was or what it will be.
Mindful eating – People who regularly practice yoga are more in touch with their bodies, including being sensitive to eating habits. They’re able to pick up on hunger and fullness (something many of us have blurred the lines between. Thanks lockdown). Mindful eating can lead to a healthier relationship with food and your weight.
A new-found appreciation for your body – Yoga diverts your attention entirely to your body and its ability at the present moment. Unlike any other fitness class, yoga studios don’t tend to have mirrors. It’s about the relationship you have with your body that goes deeper than your physical appearance. You’ll begin to appreciate what your body does for you and develop a more sustainable and positive attitude to self-love that relies on inner strength and beauty.
Boosts your mood – Yoga allows you to create a safe, happy place on your mat that can boost your mood off the mat. In general, yoga will reduce stress, anxiety, and bring us to a natural state of contentment. But certain poses, known as inversions, are remarkably potent mood-boosters. Inversions are poses that drop the head below the heart, promoting a healthy rush of oxygenated blood to the brain.
8 Must-Try Poses
Chaturanga Dandasana is a favorite among yogis who like to break a sweat as it’s often referred to as a yoga push-up. It increases upper body strength and tones the abdominal muscles, lower back, and arms.
To do Chaturanga, begin in a high plank with your shoulders slightly ahead of your wrists. Push back through the heels, engage your lower body, and create a straight line from head to toe. On your exhale, bend the elbows and slowly lower yourself to the floor, keeping your body straight and tight.
2. Warrior One
The Warrior One pose, also known as Virabhadra’s pose, is all about embracing your spiritual warrior. We all have one but sometimes it takes getting into this position to find it. It’s a lunge variation and will stimulate the calf as well as strengthen the knees and hips.
Begin with your arms straight up in the air, then step your right foot straight back, keeping your heels in line. Turn your right foot to a 45-degree angle and keep your left foot pointing forward. Square the hips and press your weight to the outside edge of the back heel. Bend your left knee to about a 90-degree angle and sink down into the pose.
3. Chair Pose
Chair pose, or Utkatasana, can bring even the toughest men to tears. No judgment here. It’s hard. Utkatasana, which means “powerful” or “fierce” lives up to its name and seriously targets the arm, leg, and back muscles, all while stimulating the heart, building stamina, and increasing determination.
To get into the Chair pose, begin standing tall with your feet firmly on the ground. Deeply bend both knees as if you were sitting in a chair. Put the weight in the back of your heels while still keeping toes on the floor. Keep inner thighs pressing together as you lift up out of the hips. Extend the arms alongside the ears and hold.
4. Upward Facing Dog
We’re all about the Upward Facing Dog with so many hours spent WFH sat at a makeshift desk. “If you’re a cyclist or desk worker, then perhaps prioritize backbends. Always think about what’s lacking in your movement; that’s the area to work on,” says Harrison.
You will want to begin on your stomach, with your feet hip-distance apart and your hands beside your lower ribs. Extend all ten toes straight back so your nails can press firmly into the mat to activate your quads.
Push yourself up, keeping your arms straight and your hand shoulder-width apart. Your legs will be slightly lifted off the mat, and your chest will draw forward and up, mobilizing your thoracic spine.
5. Half Bow Pose
Ardha Dhanurasana, or Half Bow pose, is a beginner-friendly pose that builds core strength, lengthens and energies the lower body as well as improving spine flexibility.
To start, lay flat on your stomach. Place your palms face down in front of you and lift up out of your shoulders, pressing your forearms firmly into the mat. Point the toes and bend your left knee. Reach back with your left hand, holding onto the ankle from the outside of the foot. Engage your right leg by pressing your right foot into the floor. Release and switch sides.
6. Hero Pose
The Hero pose, or Virasana, is a meditative pose that promotes focus and alertness. You’ll want to begin kneeling with your knees a little narrower than hip distance.
Slowly separate the feet wider than the hips, keeping the tops of the feet flushed to the floor. Inhale, lengthen the spine and sit between your feet. If you need to work your way up to this, begin by sitting on top of your feet or on a yoga block for support.
Bridge pose targets the hips, pelvis, and glutes – areas that could really use some TLC after a long day of doing absolutely nothing. Plus, it’s super relaxing. To get into Bridge, you’ll want to begin laying on your back with your legs bent towards you in a way that allows you to easily lift your shoulders and upper chest away from the floor.
Keep your feet planted firmly on the ground, about hip-distance apart, and arch your back, lifting your hips up towards the ceiling. You can keep your arms comfortably by your side or use them to support your lower back.
8. Boat Pose
Boat pose, or Navasana, is perfect for strengthening the abdominal muscles, legs, spine, back, hips, arms, and shoulders – basically everything. Navasana calls for both flexibility and strength, as you’ll start seated on the floor with your knees bent.
Lean back a little, engaging your core, and lift your legs off the ground. Keep your spine and legs straight as you extend your arms forward. You can also modify this pose by keeping your calves parallel to the floor rather than extended.
- Yoga can still be for intense gym-goers. If you like to push yourself as you do at the gym with timed reps and circuits, yoga might not seem like it’s for you. But it can be. “Neurologically, one of the main differences in men when compared to women is the predisposition for an interest in data. I think it’s beneficial, if untraditional, for men to measure some of the variables in their practice ie: how long can you hold a handstand? Or how many chaturanga push-ups can you complete in a single test?” says Harrison, who sees impressive results and progress from men with this teaching method. If you like a challenge, turn up the heat and aim to break previous records.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone’s on their own journey in yoga and in life. You can’t possibly compare yourself to someone who practices daily for the last 3 years if you’re only 3 days in. One of the best things about yoga is the no judgment rule, so don’t be so harsh on yourself.
- Wear loose clothing. But not too loose. No one needs to see inside your shorts. Wearing something comfortable will give you the confidence to try any position and more flexibility to do so.
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