When people think yoga, they often associate it with women. For some men, the thought of going to a yoga class is about as inviting as seeing the latest chick flick (if you like both of these things—more power to you!). But in the 12 years I’ve been teaching yoga, I’ve noticed an encouraging trend—more men are showing up.
Listen up, yoga-skeptical men: Yoga is a full-body workout, albeit in a different (and often necessary) kind of way. It isn’t all about sitting, chanting, meditating, talking about feelings, or any other stereotypes. According to some scientific research, yoga can build strength, increase flexibility, and improve balance, stability, sleep, and relaxation.
If you still think that yoga is too girly, consider how many athletes are jumping on the yoga bandwagon. Jocks around the country are turning to yoga for functional strength, injury prevention, and mental preparation. In a USA Hockey Magazine article, Florida Panther goalie and 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Tim Thomas describes how he includes yoga in his training routine. And many NFL players do yoga to become better athletes too. For regular weekend warriors, yoga can help with muscle soreness while improving focus and boosting overall energy level.
No Bros: Why Dudes Don’t Do Yoga
A recent Yoga Journal survey found that only about 18 percent of the 20.4 million people who practice yoga are men. Such was not always the case—if you go way back in the historical archives, evidence suggests that yoga originated in India about 5,000 years ago and was originally designed to be practiced by men. So why is yoga not as popular among the hairier, deeper-voiced set these days? The myths and stereotypes about yoga are one of the major turn-offs for many men. Dudes often claim that yoga is too touchy-feely, too feminine, or too New Age.
In addition to being too hippy-ish, some men don’t consider the stretching, poses, and deep breathing exercises a “real” workout. What they don’t realize, of course, is that yoga is exercise of a different stripe. Not every workout has to be a butt-kicking rush of adrenaline, like boot camp classes or CrossFit. The focus and intention of yoga is different—it’s all about the connection between mind and body. Yoga enthusiasts go to class to shift their energy and find inner peace. But that doesn’t mean yoga can’t make you break a sweat. Yogis build power and heat while “flowing” (aka moving through a series of poses), they discover strength in warrior and plank poses, and they challenge themselves with balancing, inversions, and other body-twisting advanced poses. And all that’s done with mindfulness, a sense of stability, and a deeper connection with oneself.
Men commonly avoid yoga because they claim to lack flexibility. That’s a lot like saying you don’t want to lift weights because you don’t have big muscles or you don’t exercise because you’re overweight. Even if the first few practices are a little challenging, lack of experience is no reason to avoid down dog-ing. Like any form of exercise, becoming a confident yogi takes time, effort, and plenty of practice.
Asana Awesomeness: Not Just For Ladies
It’s a shame that yoga is often considered a girls-only club, since yoga is good for everyone. Studies suggest practicing yoga can lower heart rate and blood pressure, relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia, as well as improve overall strength and flexibility. Other studies indicate a link between yoga and a reduction in lower back pain.
There are also specific benefits just for men: Yoga can be an outlet to release mental and physical tension, especially for men who have a tendency to internalize stress and anxiety. It can also help stretch hip flexors and hamstrings, areas where men (or anyone unaccustomed to stretching) often have tightness. Yoga can be a wonderful complement to a fitness and mental health regimen—for everyone. So dudes, don’t get intimidated or put off by the Lulu-clad ladies filing into your yoga class. Anyone can practice yoga and reap the benefits, even from the first pose.
Chris Freytag is a nationally recognized health and wellness expert with over 20 years of experience. Freytag is an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified group fitness instructor ACE health coach, personal trainer, and published author and speaker. The views and opinions expressed herein are hers and hers alone. Follow Freytag on Twitter or check out her website for more information.