As I continue my practice, I notice men are taking more of a liking to yoga - but is it close to being the gender-neutral activity it needs to be?
Although yoga was primarily taught and practiced by men when it all began in India a few hundred years ago, getting men to identify with the practice in our country today is a challenge. The perception of yoga being a woman’s activity is becoming a thing of the past as our society comes to grips with its benefits regardless of sex, but I still find myself contemplating how to get more men away from yoga’s sidelines and into the classroom. I believe it is not only important for themselves and others, but for future generations - I believe it is important for boys to see strong, healthy men practicing yoga, to show them that yoga will help them become strong healthy adults.
Common reasons why some men don’t practice: Not flexible enough. Not enough time. Not challenging enough/doesn’t build muscle quickly. These are all viable concerns. Fortunately, flexibility is acquired through yoga; it is not a pre-requisite! The practice itself is the solution to that problem.
Not having enough time, or just enough time for a “real workout” is another concern I just mentioned, but just like everything else in life, we make the time for the things we find truly important to us. And by truly important I am suggesting yoga - a key component for those determined to live a more viable, strong, healthy, injury/pain-free life (& sex life) as they age. It’s all about balance; accentuating your runs, spin classes, TRX, weight training, and sports practices with yoga to enhance your performance.
Why, specifically, is yoga excellent to incorporate into your strength training regimen? For one, yoga increases access to and strengthens the body’s smaller stabilizing muscle fibers post-stretch session due to a widened range of motion. Activation of these previously ignored smaller muscle fibers facilitates space for growth (muscle hypertrophy), definition, and stabilization in the larger muscle groups, adding to their shape and size. For example, the smaller muscles of the rotator cuff in the shoulders are activated through yoga, which helps stabilize, develop, and define the larger muscles in the shoulders (trapezius, deltoids, pecs, etc.). Not to mention, you are doing yourself a HUGE favor in preventing shoulder injury. Same goes for the muscle groups in your core, hips, and knees. Working these smaller muscle fibers also helps you avoid weight training plateaus, which is vital for improving strength.
Secondly, yoga teaches you to BREATHE deeply (diaphragmatic breathing) through challenging poses, which not only allows fresh oxygen rich blood to circulate the body, but it activates the parasympathetic nervous system and strengthens the cardiovascular system, resulting in a lower resting heart rate and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol (a hormone linked to stubborn abdominal fat). Over time your breathing volume and control will increase, providing your body with more oxygen so that it works as efficiently as possible in your daily life.
Another reason, is body awareness. Developing ongoing awareness to what is really happening in your body forces you to face and acknowledge any physical imbalances you may have. It is once you are faced with what you perceive as your weaknesses that you can begin to understand yourself, your body, who you are, and develop a sense of acceptance so that you can work towards a better you. Such imbalances may not be limited to those muscular- you may also find you need help learning to breathe better, how to relax, how to focus, and how to gain flexibility. Yoga may also teach a guy who's overwhelmed by his many responsibilities that he can accomplish his goals by breathing, being present, focused, and determined.
As my friend would say yoga is not just “sexy stretching in tights” (you know who you are), although I’m sure you will find plenty of that in any given class.
With all these benefits it’s no wonder major athletes and respected teams incorporate yoga into their routines: Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Vernon Davis, Victor Cruz, Ray Lewis, Shaquille O-Neal, the entire New York Giants and the entire Philadelphia Eagles!
When I discovered yoga, it changed my life. It is the greatest gift I’ve ever received because I carry it with me all the time- it’s truly priceless. So when you find yourself surrounded by your male loved ones, or anyone for that matter (gender neutrality, right?), introduce he/she to the gift that is yoga. Take a class together. Get them a gift card. Book a duet class with me! Go on a yoga retreat. Read them this blog post. Whatever! The point is, yoga’s gifts are many, and it’s meant to be shared.
Thanks for reading! Namaste!!!
* I will be leading couples yoga retreats in Amagansett, N.Y starting late summer of 2014. Details on that to follow.