Yoga can help you with almost everything, according to devotees and a plethora of articles available at every turn. I’m ready to agree with most of the assertions, with the caveat of finding the right kind of yoga for the newbie and an instructor who’s attentive to individual needs. Given the right environment, yoga can improve flexibility and range of movement, and strengthen muscles that you aren’t using in your other “athletic” endeavours. It can increase your endurance, improve your posture, and help you breath more efficiently. Your balance may even improve, although I’m not convinced of that one just yet. On top of that, it can promote two seemingly opposing benefits, boosting your energy while reducing your stress and calming the mind. Yoga can help you develop mindfulness, giving you the tools to clear away distractions and focus. If you google yoga, you can find yoga for anti-aging, yoga for golf, and a page called “Fix Anything” that has a long list of conditions that can be addressed by the appropriate yoga practice.
The message does seem to have gotten out there that yoga is worth including in your arsenal for good health and well-being, and that it can help athletes improve their conditioning for their preferred sport. But, for the vast majority of men who might be intrigued and for many of us women as well, the culture and image of yoga until recently has been very intimidating. Until I tried a few different classes myself last year, I was a yoga-phobe. My experience had consisted of attending a class at my gym and feeling distinctly out of my element. The yoga instructor would have the class get into a pose that I’d never heard of. I’d watch her do it, try to get into that position and before I was halfway there she’d go on to some other complicated pose, with everyone happily following along except for me. I felt intimidated, inadequate, and defeated. Hardly what yoga had been touted to provide. At least I didn’t have the additional psychological obstacle of being the only male in a roomful of Lululemon-clad women who seemed to know what they are doing.
But that is starting to change. This past week I have joined my husband in a 5-week session of classes in yoga for runners. It’s his second go at it; he came away from his first exposure to yoga for runners last fall convinced that it helped and was pleased to see the class offered again. If he can be convinced, I’m pretty sure anyone can. Men are still distinctly in the minority, but this class is a good example of employing yoga stretches and poses for which the participants can see a direct relationship to improvements in something that matters to them, in this case running. The message that standing in the mountain pose improves your posture, opens up your lungs, and helps your breathing is something you learn in any introductory yoga class, but being reminded that this is critical to efficient running and should be incorporated in your running form makes that message really resonate. There are poses (really stretches) that open your hips and stretch your hamstrings, poses that open your shoulders and stretch your IT band, and poses that strengthen your spine. All without having to twist yourself into a pretzel. You don’t even need to be able to touch your toes or stand on your head. You can stick to simple, doable poses, combine them into your own routine (aka your yoga practice), and hopefully watch the positive results flow.
In looking online to see if the number of men participating in yoga is growing, the verdict seems to be … hmm, maybe a bit. The ratio of men to women in yoga is more or less the same as the ratio of women to men studying computer science or sitting at Board tables in Canada, 10-20%. Interestingly, one study reported that, percentage-wise, more men than women injure themselves while doing yoga. The theory is that men are more competitive and will try to do things they can’t do or aren’t ready to do rather than just take it slowly. I’m guessing that these are young athletic men in classes with young attractive women, taking classes that aren’t sticking to the more simple poses, but that’s just my guess! I learned from my intense research (Google) that men are “tighter” than women, a difference that starts in the early years. I hadn’t known that, although now that I think of it, you don’t see too many men or even young boys doing backbends. The main message is that a yoga practice can provide men as well as women with benefits that complement their other athletic or exercise programs. It could become their only exercise program and still be a good thing. They just need to find a welcoming class, get up their nerve, and give it a try.
My guess is that entrepreneurial yoga studios will start offering more specialized classes, including sports-focused classes and classes for men only. The number of men participating will increase, the yoga studios will make more money, and everyone will be happy. Now if only I could be as confident that the number of young women entering the IT industry will increase or that corporate boards in Canada will start seeing the advantages of a stronger female voice.
Image source: menshealth.com